Season 4, Episode 2
A Diamond in the Rough: How Digging Deep Uncovered a Wall-Street-Journal-Worthy Story about Lab-Grown Diamonds
Why is your PR effort not paying off and what’s the importance of having characters in your marketing efforts? Tune in to learn the disconnect between brands and journalists, the power of an authentic story, and why (and how) a successful PR campaign is measurable.
In this episode, we talk with Mark Macias, founder and CEO of Macias PR, about the drivers of successful PR campaigns, including insights into the power of characters in media pitches, the intersection of brand journalism and content marketing, and the measurement of ROI in PR. Offering valuable lessons for both PR professionals and business owners.
In this episode, we discuss:
Mark’s contributions to Forbes, Entrepreneur, and CNBC. (And what stories these outlets want to see)
The importance of characters in media campaigns and storytelling
Why media relationships will only get you so far
The value of curiosity and the power of asking “why” to uncover compelling stories
What is brand journalism and why is it important in shaping a brand’s narrative
The disconnect between brands and journalist (And how to bridge the gap)
Why good data points are only half of the story
More From This Episode
(02:30) Mark and Kriste discuss how characters spark successful media campaigns
(04:05) Mark tells Kriste where he sees the disconnect between brands and journalists
(05:44) Kriste and Mark dive into the importance of building trust with clients and the role relationships play in PR
(10:30) Kriste and Mark talk about brand journalism and why it is so significant in successful storytelling
(13:28) Mark talks about how you can measure the ROI of PR campaigns
(18:05) Mark and Kriste discuss the role press releases play
(21:17) Mark covers some of his most successful/memorable media placements
[00:00:04.410] – Kriste Goad
Hey, welcome to How It’s Done, a podcast for curious marketers. I’m Kriste Goad. I’ll be your host. And I’m really glad you’re here. Hello, curious marketers. Today’s guest is Mark Macias, founder and CEO of Macias PR, recognized as strategic PR firm of the year by Finance Monthly magazine three years in a row. Way to go, Mark.
[00:00:30.560] – Mark Macias
[00:00:32.650] – Kriste Goad
City and state magazine also named Mark to their political PR Power 50 list in New York. He’s also a frequent contributor to Forbes, Entrepreneur and CNBC, which happen to be all the same media outlets that all my clients want to be in. So that’s awesome, Mark. Mark, for our listeners, has worked inside the newsrooms of NBC, CBS, KTVK, Arizona Republic and American Journal. As the executive producer with WNBC in New York and a nationally syndicated NBC business show, Mark approved and vetted story ideas from publicists, reporters, producers and viewers. This editorial and programming experience gives Mark the edge when it comes to securing prominent news placements. Also, that’s exactly what our clients want. And in Mark’s own words, it’s like having an executive producer on your team. Mark, thank you so much for being here today. I can’t wait to hear your story and dive in deep for our listeners on what it takes to build a story that the media is actually going to want to cover.
[00:01:42.390] – Mark Macias
Yeah, thanks for having me. I love talking about this stuff.
[00:01:45.670] – Kriste Goad
Well, me too. And then I saw you posted the other day. As a fellow agency owner who spends large parts of every waking day instinctively assessing and mining for elements of a good story, your blog the other day caught my attention and I just had to get you on here to talk more. But for our listeners, your post was titled the value of characters with every media campaign. And it was inspired by a recent story in the Wall Street Journal about lab grown diamonds, of all things. The headline of that story was the embarrassment of having to explain your monster diamond ring. So, Mark, I am so curious. What was it about this story that got your attention?
[00:02:30.260] – Mark Macias
You know, it’s a client. It seems like every time I read things in the news, and it’s exactly what I told the client we needed in their case. And I won’t name names, but they didn’t have a character for the story. It was essentially selling a tech product solution. But without having that character, you don’t really have a story. And that’s one of the things that was one of the biggest mistakes I saw publicists make when they used to pitch me in the media, which was they didn’t have a fleshed out story. This Wall Street Journal was a great article because it wasn’t really about the lab process or how the diamonds are made. No one really cares about that. That’s kind of like inside baseball. No one wants to read how the sausage is made. Instead, the article was really about everyday people like you and me who bought a ring, couples that got engaged and how this ring brought them together. It was only the characters that made that story. And when I read that, I could only tell a client so many times like, hey, we really need characters for this. And that was kind of the total when I read it.
[00:03:46.790] – Mark Macias
This is exactly what I’ve been trying to tell them we needed, and not just from me. Even talking to reporters, former colleagues that said the same thing. You can’t sell this invisible story without having people.
[00:04:00.480] – Kriste Goad
Yeah. What’s that biggest disconnect between brands and journalists, do you think?
[00:04:05.630] – Mark Macias
I think that a lot of, if you’re talking about business owners, entrepreneurs, they tend to look at it from a marketing lens. The media doesn’t care about marketing. They don’t care about your message. It doesn’t matter.
[00:04:20.980] – Kriste Goad
They are actually very turned off by it.
[00:04:22.600] – Mark Macias
Exactly. Yeah. And if you come in, in fact, a lot of them will say, editors will say, hey, we’ll read an editorial or some thought leadership from your client on this, but we just don’t want a commercial. And that’s what a marketing message is. It’s telling you firsthand a commercial.
[00:04:39.940] – Kriste Goad
That’s the difference between marketing and PR.
[00:04:42.300] – Mark Macias
Yeah, correct. And the smart, experienced journalists can read a commercial or a marketing message a mile away.
[00:04:49.970] – Kriste Goad
Totally. Because Lord knows, they get pitched a lot. You were on the other side in the tv business. I started my career as a print journalist. And of course, some of your best sources are PR people like us, and you’re going to listen to the ones that bring you actually good story ideas or something interesting rather than a marketing piece.
[00:05:13.380] – Mark Macias
Definitely cultivating those relationships matters. But I always tell clients and people in general, having relationships in the media is not a strategy. It’s just an assist, you know, one of the questions that I think is really misdirected that potential clients ask me is, who do you know in the media? Who do you know at CNBC? Who do you know at NBC? And trust me, I know a lot of people. I spent a long time, and a lot of those people are still there. But that’s not a strategy, because if they move away.
[00:05:44.190] – Kriste Goad
You can’t just call in a favor, if there’s no story there.
[00:05:47.100] – Mark Macias
[00:05:48.750] – Kriste Goad
So I love that who you know is not a strategy, but it definitely can be a difference maker. So how do we bridge that gap? How do you approach that with your clients to really get them to understand? Is it a case of they either do or they don’t, or are you able to? A lot of times, for us, if you’ve got someone inside the brand that really understands PR and media, they can really assist in that and close that gap and help you put together the pieces of the story that you actually need or mine that story. But then if there’s not that person on the other side, it’s a real education piece. Do you find that same thing?
[00:06:28.580] – Mark Macias
100% It’s really on a case by case, person by person basis. There are some clients that get it, and they’re very open. There’s others. I was working for a long time with an orthopedic surgeon, super smart, brilliant guy, and he knows medicine well, but the medicine is not the media. And I tried, and we still got him great coverage on local tv in Miami and New York and Reader’s Digest and other publications. But the stories he wanted us to push were very inside baseball on surgery and, you know, you can only explain so many times where you sound like a broken record. Whereas some people, entrepreneurs will get it and they’ll say, look, I trust you. We hired you because you know what you’re doing. So take the lead. And I found that those clients that put their trust in the publicist and don’t take the approach, I know it all, those are the ones that have the best campaigns. If I can use a quick example, I worked with Noom for three plus years. I started working with them in 2016 before anyone had heard of the brand. And they had fired their previous PR firm because they didn’t get them coverage.
[00:07:41.000] – Mark Macias
And at the time, they didn’t have a marketing director, they didn’t have a CMO. It was really me talking directly with the two co founders, and they let me run.
[00:07:53.590] – Kriste Goad
What do you mean by that? They let you run?
[00:07:55.740] – Mark Macias
They didn’t put up barriers like, oh, we can’t do that. A perfect example was going back to the client that inspired that blog post on LinkedIn for diamonds. I had an idea using him and his wife. That was an enterprise angle that was like how they built three different companies together. And what’s happening now? It’s not directly on the company, but you can’t tell the story without talking about his company. And he didn’t want to do it. He was like, no, let’s just focus just on the marketing part. And so hopefully, I’m answering your question there.
[00:08:36.120] – Kriste Goad
You totally are. And I do, I struggle a lot of times. To your point, if the client doesn’t trust us to do what we know works, it’s almost impossible to convince them otherwise. Because on our side, on the publicist side, we know how stories come together. We know how the different elements play out and we know how they play out over time. And we know that it’s not always an overnight thing to get some of the best stories. And some of the stories that we know will work aren’t intuitive to clients. But it’s like, if you trust us, this is how over time we’re going to get you different placements in different publications with different areas of interest to bring the full story together.
[00:09:28.790] – Mark Macias
Yeah, and I’m sure there’s a lot of publicists and PR teams that struggle with that and it is a fine line because they’re paying the bills and you want to keep them happy. But I found, and I don’t know if this is the right advice for agency owners or even freelance publicists, but there’s something to be said for having peace of mind. And if a client is giving you all kinds of nightmares because they want to do it their way and it’s not working because they want to do it their way, maybe it’s just not a good fit and part ways.
[00:10:03.700] – Kriste Goad
Totally, because it’s square peg round hole when that’s the case, isn’t it?
[00:10:09.170] – Mark Macias
[00:10:10.210] – Kriste Goad
Hey, let me shift gears a little bit. I’ve always been really interested in this notion of brand journalism, but so few brands really understand it, much less advocate for budgets to do it. What does brand journalism mean to you and what do you think is the difference in brand journalism and these other types of content, which typically can be more almost marketing content?
[00:10:30.920] – Mark Macias
Yeah, I would say the brand journalism is approaching a platform that is more in control and not necessarily inserting marketing directly into the story. It can be a perfect example was the post that I gave on that article, which was kind on the LinkedIn Wall Street Journal Post. It was kind of giving advice, showing my thought leadership and that’s building my brand, but I’m in control of it. I’m in control of LinkedIn. If I would have, I think I did post that on my blog as well, or wherever else I may have posted that. That’s, it’s setting my brand. Hey, Mark’s a thought leader. He knows what he’s talking. You know, depending on your industry, it’s really providing all of that thought leadership and telling a story on a platform that you’re more in control of.
[00:11:30.240] – Kriste Goad
Right. And you’re more in control of it, but you’re approaching the story from a journalistic standpoint.
[00:11:35.430] – Mark Macias
[00:11:36.220] – Kriste Goad
And what I also like to tell clients is journalists are people too. The first thing they’re going to do is Google you and go to your website. And if you’re telling this beautiful story on your own channel, but you’re telling it in this very storytelling, journalistic, editorial way, it’s going to give them all kinds of ideas. They might be like, oh, I like that story. There’s something there. Hey, I saw you did a story about this. Can I talk to those people?
[00:12:07.850] – Mark Macias
Yeah. It can also help you sell. Because I wrote a story a while back for Forbes on East coast or west Coast PR firms or even a local PR firm. Which is best for your business, obviously.
[00:12:24.830] – Kriste Goad
Good one, Mark.
[00:12:27.470] – Mark Macias
And I break it down in an objective way. The advantage of being in the east coast versus the west coast, not to knock anything on the west coast, but if you’re waking up at 09:00 a.m. Pacific time in New York or Miami or anywhere along the east coast, it’s already lunchtime and reporters still work off of, regardless of the media outlet. As far as national, primarily work off the east coast time zone. So it’s kind of going into that. And I use that when people for thought leadership to help explain. So if you’re a thought leader in whatever your industry is, that’s something that you can help sell your brand.
[00:13:11.310] – Kriste Goad
Absolutely. Speaking of helping clients understand how to hire an agency, a lot of clients want to know how to measure the ROI of PR. I know you’ve written about this, too. What’s your perspective of this age old question?
[00:13:28.690] – Mark Macias
Yeah, you can definitely measure a successful PR campaign. It’s not reading tea leads anymore. Targeted media placements. Is the PR firm getting you exposure in front of your potential clients or customers? A press release that’s just put out there that blankets the web isn’t really going to help you, not even with Google, because Google will filter out those. But a targeted media placement will help, and that includes the big publications, whether it’s local tv, if you’re pushing a local brand, or if you’re pushing a national brand story in HuffPost or Reader’s Digest. SEO is another way to measure it. Google and all the search engines don’t reveal much about their algorithms, but they all are very open, saying they value publications, media coverage and quality content. You know, in my case, if I’m writing articles in Forbes in Entrepreneur on CNBC, and I’m being interviewed in different outlets. Google, their algorithm is going to go down and say, okay, in PR, Mark has experience. Mark has a higher rank than just Joe’s pr firm down the street. So that’s another way where you can measure it is where are you going now with your SEO, with your search engine ranking?
[00:15:01.630] – Mark Macias
Sales is another, you know, there’s the anecdotal way our phones are ringing off their hook or we’re getting more emails that might not necessarily come to the story, but you can tell if a story.
[00:15:13.980] – Kriste Goad
Yeah, all the time. All the time. And it is always anecdotal inside the organization. So you really have to be able to hopefully have someone on the inside of that client organization that can share that story with you because there’s no other way to measure it.
[00:15:31.930] – Mark Macias
Yeah. And it’s funny because sometimes I’ll talk to people and they’ll say, oh, I don’t need PR. This happened in the hedge fund industry when I went after that, shortly after it became basically the Jobs Act enabled hedge funds and private equity firms to market themselves. Before that, they couldn’t really go and do news stories because it was perceived as marketing. And a lot of these hedge fund guys that I talked to, they were like, oh, I don’t need to be in the news. We’re private, we’re exclusive, trying to sell the old exclusivity, which is okay, but I told them, and I think you can ask anyone. So if the Wall Street Journal called and wanted to do a profile on your brand, your story, what you do, you’d say no. And everyone said, of course, yes. You’ve got to find a way to stand out from the noise. And when it comes to earned media, that’s what we read, that’s what we watch. We turn away on the commercials. And if something is working for you and you don’t want to do it, great. Keep going on your current path. But if something is not working for you, earned media can really push the needle.
[00:16:44.860] – Kriste Goad
Absolutely. And I think another thing that you probably run into a lot, as I do, is some brands, they think that PR is just press releases. And what I counsel our clients on is, yes, press releases are good. You want to do them because there are certain things, it’s press release material, it’s an announcement. I often find and I tell my clients a lot of times a press release is the first time that a company ever thinks about how to message whatever it is they’re trying to tell the market publicly. And it can bring the company together around. Oh, well, how do we tell this story? What do we want to say? And so it serves that purpose very well. But it also, then at a minimum, or really like the two highest uses in my opinion of press release is to do that, align your story internally to what you want to say externally and then a digital footprint because it is almost never going to immediately result in a media placement per se. Right. And I try to tell clients that there’s the press release and then there’s the story with the characters behind it and that’s the story that we need to go tell.
[00:18:05.950] – Kriste Goad
We’re going to have the press release, but don’t expect a bunch of enterprise stories to result unless we pitch it that way.
[00:18:15.200] – Mark Macias
Yeah. I read a story about Jeff Bezos that when you pitch him or when he was running the company, Amazon, when you pitch him a story on basically a business idea, he wants to read the press release first and the entire board reads the press release. And there’s value in understanding a very concise, here’s the message, here’s the payoff, and that’s something that a good press release is going to bring all of these elements in as opposed to some guy or woman blabbing for 20 minutes trying to explain it. You give them a press release, here it is, and then we have the foundation. Lots of times I like putting together a press release for that purpose, bringing the message in tight. So when reporters ask more questions, I’m not sending them a bunch of different emails. I can send them one document that summarizes what the story, what the problem is, what the solution is, and how the brand is solving it.
[00:19:11.810] – Kriste Goad
Absolutely. I love that. Well, listen, I know we’re keeping this podcast tight because we don’t want to bore people. I think we’ve covered some really interesting elements of what it means to do PR and media relations and keeping the character front and center of your storytelling. I’d love to have you back on to talk on some more topics. You’ve got a lot of great topics on your blog, on your website, which I will share in a second. But before we sign off, I am curious, what’s the best story you ever got placed and how did you do it?
[00:19:54.430] – Mark Macias
Oh, great question. Oh, the best. That’s always challenging because it’s
[00:20:02.130] – Kriste Goad
Or maybe one of your most satisfying placements. Maybe that’s an easier question.
[00:20:07.010] – Mark Macias
Yeah. Oh, man. I think one of the biggest, there’s so many favorites. Just this one comes to mind right now. Plenty of fish. It’s a dating app. I worked with them and the founder, Markus Frind before he sold his company over to IACI, as the new year is basically the moment when that’s the Super Bowl for singles, that’s when they all go out. Just like for weight loss. It’s the Super Bowl. This is our moment. We’re all going to start over in January 1. So I wanted to find a story on who is the most eligible woman, who’s the woman that guys want to meet? And that’s such a, like, first of all, from a topic of conversation, it’s most likely going to get people’s ears. But how do you quantify that? So I told them, let’s go through the data and let’s look. There’s got to be a way to measure this. One way to measure it is like, who’s getting the most messages? So they did that, and they looked and they found out. I’m going from memory.
[00:21:13.410] – Kriste Goad
Oh, they looked inside their app.
[00:21:15.130] – Mark Macias
Yeah. Their own data, correct.
[00:21:16.540] – Kriste Goad
[00:21:17.130] – Mark Macias
And they found that the woman was, and I’m going from memory, she was 28 years old or 26, brown hair, had a dog, has a dog, is Catholic, lives in an urban area, and once we had the profile of her, we ended up finding a person like that. And I found someone in New York, and we revolved the story around, this is the most eligible person in whatever that year was. And it was a great story. It was picked up by Business Insider, the New York Post ran it on page two. TV ran with it. I mean, that one was the story they kept giving because it’s something that, first of all, it’s a great demo because you’re trying to reach younger people. And anyone who has ever been single, you kind of wonder, like, well, who are they messaging? Who’s the ideal person? So that was one that I really was excited. That sticks out in this moment.
[00:22:20.210] – Kriste Goad
How’d you find the woman who was the example of that? You just had to think in cap, or did the company help you?
[00:22:28.060] – Mark Macias
No, they looked. I don’t think that they ended up giving me that person. I think it was just a matter of pushing people, just reaching out and trying to find people who fit that platform.
[00:22:41.600] – Kriste Goad
That’s awesome. I love that so much. That’s such a great example. It’s also a great example of what I always try to push clients, especially if they’re a tech platform or an app or anything like that. Hey, you have a treasure trove of data. How can we mine that data for stories? And we’ll bring clients specific examples of, hey, can you build any data around XYZ, a lot of times they can’t. But when they can, that is money right there.
[00:23:10.480] – Mark Macias
Yeah. The key, I think, taking that a step further is what is the data? What kind of trends does it show? What kind of insight does it show? One other quick example, if I can give it to you. During COVID we all gained weight during COVID At the time, I was working with the nutrition app and I said, let’s go through the data to find out who actually lost weight during COVID and during 2021 and what were their habits that they followed. So we ended up after we had what they did, they drank water because they have to log all of this and all of the other tips that they were doing weighing themselves daily. They actually gave me that character who did all of this. And we revolved a story and got it on television. Got it on NBC. This is what the data shows. If you want to get healthier, this is what these people did. Who got healthier during COVID and didn’t put on the COVID 15 or whatever the weight was.
[00:24:10.270] – Kriste Goad
That’s awesome. And that’s where your journalistic brain comes in, right? You’re coming up with, this is what we need. Go get it and bring it back to me.
[00:24:19.490] – Mark Macias
Yeah. And anyone can. It really comes down to curiosity, asking why and trying to take it a step further.
[00:24:27.610] – Kriste Goad
Be curious. That’s one of our core values. You know, it’s like curiosity is the secret sauce. Like it’s a podcast for curious marketers.
[00:24:40.190] – Mark Macias
Yeah, I love it.
[00:24:41.790] – Kriste Goad
So awesome. Well, Mark, this has been amazing. Thank you for your time. As always, we will include links and background in our show notes. I’m going to include some of these awesome thought leadership blog posts that you have, Mark, including the one on the diamonds that we kicked off with. So everyone be sure to check those out on our website, growwithfuoco.com, or wherever you get your podcast. You can also find Mark at maciaspr.com That’s maciaspr.com again. My guest today has been Mark Macias, founder of MaciasPR in New York. Thank you so much, Mark. I really enjoyed our time together.
[00:25:32.300] – Mark Macias
Oh, thank you for having me. Look forward to talking again.
[00:25:35.340] – Kriste Goad
That’s it for now. Thanks so much for listening. We’re looking forward to keeping great conversations coming your way as we grow this podcast. There’s even more great content from our conversations on our blog. Be sure to check it out at growwithfuoco.com.That’s growwithfuoco.com. Stay tuned until next time. And no matter what, stay curious.
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