Plumber, Swimwear, Dating Site: How PR Evolved These Founders’ Careers
Sometimes, when founders catch the Zen of public relations, the results not only increase the success of their company, but they indelibly change the founder’s career. Three entrepreneurs I interviewed over the past year have experienced that outcome.
Today I reached back to each of them to find out what happened after their big experiences in PR. I loved their stories.
Lori Cheek, who used her crash and burn on Shark Tank to better her product and strengthen her business ended up starting a PR firm of her own on the side.
Candice Galek, whose bikini visual posts were temporarily thrown off LinkedIn is back with a vengeance (for now) as one of the platform’s most highly followed marketers and is now a columnist for Inc.
Sean Kavanaugh, the Chicago plumber who’s comparative review of shower heads resulted in new international partners has left the plumbing business behind for a full time role in internet marketing. (Of the three, Kavanaugh was the hardest to reach. The reason: His team has produced more than 8,000 pieces of content in the first two quarters of 2016.)
PR and communications has grown from the chore they couldn’t afford to ignore to a growing passion and better revenue for each of these entrepreneurs. In my return visits, here’s what each had to say:
From Lori Cheek, the Manhattan-based founder of the dating website Cheekd: The Sharks turned her down on live television, but her gutsy nature helped her to create public exposure at every turn and to convert that painful experience into a steady string of publicity wins.
“For as long as I’ve been doing my own successful PR for Cheekd, everyone kept telling me I needed to start a PR firm. When we pivoted into a free app, I needed income. So I listened to the masses and started CheekPR.com.”
“I usually keep one client at a time, so I can keep focus on both Cheekd and that one client, but I’ve had six accounts so far overall,” she said. “I’ve done many talks around NYC about becoming a ‘PR Bulldozer.’ Cheekd is my main passion, but CheekPR helps float that dream.”
Then there’s Candice Galek, the Miami-based founder of Bikini Luxe. I “met” Candice in March of this year when she instant messaged me during a conference event. “Is there a story in this?” she asked, chagrined that her boundary-pushing images of bikini-clad models in several of her LinkedIn LNKD +% posts had offended a few users to the point of getting her posts temporarily taken down by LinkedIn, despite an outpouring of supportive comments and positive response.
“Perhaps, if you’re willing to tell me both the good and bad about how this comes out,” I replied. She did. The article went live on March 12, 2016 and received more than 215,000 views, becoming the sixth or so most read article for a several day period on Forbes.
Since then Galek has expanded her marketing strategy of “be unique and different” to a set of projects that is catapulting her business. Additionally, while her relationship with LinkedIn’s policies still wavers from season to season, she has become one of the most highly followed personalities on LinkedIn.
“I am actually kicking around the idea of starting my own PR firm,” Galek says. “Swim Week [happening the week of our interview] has been incredible for us. Every single firm/company/brand seems to have reached out to us this year. I am building up my INC column to get some experience and then was thinking if I could leverage that experience in additional ways, things could go really well. I am deeply interested in marketing. Building up the relationships I have with the connections I’ve created is a natural step.”
For her next steps with Bikini Luxe she’s studying successful companies like Amazon for inspiration to help her be “non Amazon” in staying ahead of the curve. For example, she is experimenting with two-hour delivery service in the Miami region, and if viable, may extend that service to other hubs that can be supported with sufficient warehouse facilities.
Her team is creating limited edition pieces that nobody else can offer. And they are posting and encouraging pictures of their customers on Instagram, to promote self-rewarding behavior among the clients they serve.
“You could always jump into the Pokemon craze,” I offered up, jokingly. She was already there.
“We are doing a Bikini Luxe Sunday Funday Mimosa Pop this weekend, and we’ll be buying Pokemon ‘lures’ to ensure our venue will be full of these little creatures everyone wants to capture,” she said. “It’s okay to jump onto a trend if you’re at the very front, and I believe we might be with our Pokemon lures and 2-hour Miami delivery,” she said. “But in all of this, you have to forge your own path. I always say, ‘You can follow others into mediocrity, or you can create something that will be remembered.’”
The marketing world changes at a blazing speed, she observes. As a marketer, you have to adapt quickly to every new app, platform or trend.
For example, “we recently embraced SnapChat. Who doesn’t want to see a behind the scenes photo shoot with babes on the beach? But we have the ability to create custom Bikini Luxe Swim week filters and add them geographically to areas we know that people will be using them to determine which areas to advertise in and when.”
“The real key is finding what the ‘hack’ is, and analyzing every new platform to see what causes things to trend. For example, our target demographic on Instagram or Pinterest is completely different than on Twitter TWTR -0.99% or LinkedIn. So we need to show them different products that would appeal to them based on age, location, and more.” “As long as you do things right and really ‘own it’, the people who follow your ideas afterwards will not be as memorable. They’ll be copycats.”
Finally, here’s the advice from Sean Kavanaugh, our Chicago plumber.
“I’ve been in the Chicagoland plumbing business for 22 years and helped run the family business for 16 of those years,” he said. “I firmly believe that being a subcontractor in any construction trade is one of the most difficult ways to achieve business success. Even in the best of times there are forces outside your control that can make or break you. Delays in payment, bank loans for operating capital, FICA, FUTA, State taxes, change order approval, contract disputes, project delays and insurance claims are just some of the hurdles contractors face daily.”
“Our business finally succumbed to those market forces in July of 2012. We’d fought as long as we could; probably too long.”
In 2009, Kavanaugh felt disgusted with the industry he’d originally loved. “Every morning I would get up and it would take every single ounce of resolve for me to put on my shoes and get out the door for another day.” This was his frame of mind when internet marketing expert Ken Courtright walked in the door.
“I was in,” Kavanaugh says. In short, for each client the business would partner with an expert in a field, research content across the web and develop a content strategy. The partner would write the content and Income Store would take care of the site design, development and strategic marketing to help the business increase its capabilities as a “google authority site.”
“So I asked myself; ‘Why couldn’t I develop content that was better than anything on the Internet?’ I was an English major in college and this would give me a shot to brush up on my writing skills and play the long ball when it came to income.”
So write he did, and segued without hesitation from the close of his plumbing business in 2012 to become Content Director for Ken and Kerri Courtright and their company Income Store.
“It’s funny, when I first began to write for my website www.theplumbinginfo.com my first thought was a rather cynical one,” Kavanaugh says. “I couldn’t wait to make money sideways on an industry that I thought had failed me. I have since seen the error of my thinking as I’ve replayed my mistakes along the way. As Ken would say, ‘the Room for Self Improvement is often the loneliest room in the house’. I was determined to be lonely, if that’s what it took.”
Then his mindset changed. “I knew that I’d blundered along the way, letting ego, ambition and quite a bit of ignorance aid in our company’s demise, but I’d be damned if I let someone else go through the same exercises in futility without giving advice,” he now says. “So my motto is to help the consumer make good choices on the products they buy and the services they pay for and to help the plumbing professional know they’re not alone in their struggles.”
“I’ve walked through the minefield and instead of stepping in another’s footsteps, I left body parts along the way. So I don’t discourage, but I use what I’ve learned to encourage potential plumbers and plumbing contractors to do the right thing, use the right software, align themselves with the right accountant, suppliers, commercial insurance, tell them not to sign a contract they didn’t read thoroughly, etc. But most importantly, don’t be afraid to give of yourself or your knowledge. Most contractors I know are inherently afraid to give away trade secrets. The fact remains that most people who look at YouTube videos or read informational articles on a service based website are more likely to do business with that company. Customers feel like they already know you when they are interacting with your website.”
(Thought leadership at its very essence. I’m impressed.)
“So in a sense I market myself everyday, I put my name and my opinion on display for all to see and I encourage all small businesses to do the same,” Kavanaugh says. “As a small business owner you must be the driving force, the expert in your field and you have to be willing to let everyone in the world know it.”
“Being the content director for Income Store allows me to study everyday trends of how dynamic content affects a business, whether it’s brick and mortar or a $100,000,000 firm. It happens to be the least expensive form of advertising but it’s the most difficult to squeeze out of a business owner because it takes time and there is no instant gratification. I almost always ask a business owner, ‘What is something great that has happened in your life or an accomplishment you’ve earned that was easy?’ The answer is almost always ‘nothing.’ I follow up by saying ‘Why would it be any different with your content marketing plan?’ You must tackle it with the same zeal you had when you earned your bachelor’s degree or MBA or medical degree or when you hit the pinnacle of your business career.”
This is a new age with incredible pressure, Kavanaugh says, but it’s also packed with opportunities. “Literally anyone can market himself or herself. In fact even if you have a full time profession you should be perpetually marketing yourself. This is perhaps the only thing separating you from a new project, a new product or a new profession. You must have the willingness to put yourself out in front of a potential audience and the determination to create your own brand.”
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This story was originally published at www.forbes.com. Information about Cheryl Snapp Conner’s Content University program to help businesses and executives tell their stories better is available here.