Community Engagement is one of the most neglected ways of building a brand. Most people/companies look at this as old school marketing and are not willing to invest the time and energy to win people over in their own backyard.

build a brand

BRIAN JONES

*Article originally published in Thrive Global (1/5/2020)

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As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Brian Jones. Brian is founder of Nuts & Bolts of PR and author of “The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Creating Positive Publicity.”


With over 15 years of experience in branding and public relations, Brian has worked with countless entrepreneurs, businesses and startups to help grow their companies by leveraging the power of positive publicity. 


Brian focuses on ways to organically acquire attention and help companies increase visibility and attract new business opportunities. Brian has helped his clients secure some of the most reputable awards in the United States, such as Forbes 30 Under 30, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Inc. Top Workplaces in the United States, Entrepreneur Magazine Top Company Cultures, and more.


He is a guest lecturer at businesses and universities throughout Southern California, a mentor for the San Diego State University Lavin Entrepreneurship Center and coach for the WIT — Whatever it Takes Program.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?


Starting my business in PR and marketing was a product of time and experience. Living three different lives provided me with valuable experience allowing me to acquire specific tools, leading me to where I am today.


My first life in collegiate and professional sports provided the armor I would need to persevere in my next two lives. I was a Division 1 baseball player and minor league pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. At the time I didn’t realize it, but I was building a “mental makeup” that would allow me to push through during the physically and mentally challenging times.


​After my career in professional baseball, I entered the world of politics. Working for a U.S. Congressman was like being thrust into a hurricane. After seven years of campaigning, meeting with constituents, casework, listening to legislative concerns, doing crack of dawn TV interviews and late-night public events opened my eyes to the power of publicity and positive exposure.


​I was able to acquire communication skills you couldn’t learn in a book. Seven years of talking to people in the community, face-to-face, listening to their concerns, sometimes pleasant other times heated, gave me an uncanny ability to read people.


After seven years in congress I switched over to the private sector. The startup I was working for wanted me to do for them what I was doing for the Congressman. Essentially create a ton of visibility and get people around town familiar with the company.


I jumped in and it was off to the races. We went from being a relatively unknown to the most popular company in San Diego. From a team of 10 to 80 in just four years, with little to no reputation, we’d grow our customer-base, our annual revenue, and become one of most desirable companies to work for in the industry.


All of this in large part due to our relentless pursuit of publicity by any and all positive means necessary.


Fast forward five years and I would have several companies around town asking for my help to build their brand and increase visibility.

Because I had the clientele ready to go before even starting, it made the decision to go into business for myself that much easier.


But if it weren’t for my past experiences I would have never learned what I learned and put myself in the position to do what I do now.


Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?


When I started out, I wasn’t extremely organized. I had never dealt with more than one client at a time. I remember meeting with a potential client and pulling up an old proposal for someone else. As you could imagine, they weren’t exactly filled with confidence. I was embarrassed with myself and with the fact that I wasted the other persons time.


What I learned was to not bite off more than I could chew. I was trying to do too much, too quickly. I learned that if I wanted to succeed on my own, I would have to get organized and put more emphasis on quality over quantity. Oh, and I learned to always double check my work!


What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?


Our ability to leverage bait with attention. Just like fishing, not all reporters, influencers, stakeholders, customers, investors etc. are going to bite at the same bait. One reporter might like sardines, the investor… squid.


Your bait are your stories… it’s what lures people in.


The more effective the bait, the more positive publicity you catch. The more positive publicity, the more opportunity there is to grow, to sell more, to build customers.


When meeting with new clients, I spend a lot of time getting to know them and their companies. In my experience, it’s not always about their product or service. Sometimes the best stories have nothing to do with a product or service.


For example, I worked with a client who had an amazing culture and great workplace environment. We publicized their culture via social media, community engagement and local media in order to attract attention. Their culture helped facilitate more sales and build the companies credibility without ever having to talk about their product or service.


Basically, a genuine marketing tactic that wasn’t trying to sell. Just trying to create exposure through positive publicity.

So, what we do is start casting out lines and seeing what bait gets the bites. The bigger the fish the more attention you get. When people start to see the big fish you’re catching you start building credibility.

Credibility in business is priceless!


Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?


I’m currently working with company that has developed a non-GMO, plant-based algae protein ingredient. The algae can be used as a nutrient boosting ingredient to a number of different foods.

Not only is this a new, healthy food option, but a sustainable and environmentally safe way to address food production all over the world.


Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?


I have a completely different way of looking at this. I hate definitions. In my experience, too many industry pros get bogged down with “defining” and appearing all-knowing, instead of taking action and getting results. Basically, lots of talk and little action.


I love simplicity. I think for many small businesses and startups that don’t have the luxury of spending thousands on marketing and advertising, the only thing they should be worried about is attracting positive attention and understanding that you don’t need to be an industry “pro” to get it.


Positive attention will build a brand and help sell a product, all at the same time. If more people know who you are and trust you, the easier it becomes to sell. A great growth story, company culture story, award won, case study, speaking event, etc. will create organic attention. All of this creates credibility; and credibility facilitates more business.


Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?


I think it comes down to trust, time and opportunity. The earlier you begin to build a brand people trust and lay the groundwork, the more opportunity the future will provide. If you start building a brand at 25 years old you will be in a way better position than the entrepreneur or executive who decides to start building theirs at 35.


In other words, play the long game. A well-built brand might not pay off in the short term, but down the road could open doors you never knew existed. I can’t tell you how many founders and executives I’ve worked with that purposely flew under the radar for the better portion of their careers only to regret not promoting their success earlier in life.


Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.


Thought leadership is a great example of how you can use your personal experiences to create visibility so more people become familiar with you or your business. At the same time, this creates a credibility that will help your business thrive. This is my favorite area to dive into when coaching new clients.


Most CEOs and entrepreneurs have no idea that they can create value just by tying certain life experiences to a certain topic. Let’s be honest, most articles offering tips, tricks or ideas have been covered thousands of times. But, when you add your personal experience it brings people into your story and provides them with an alternative perspective they might not of thought of before. Something that causes them to reevaluate something they might already have known.


For example, I worked with a CEO on an article about how a stroke at the age of 33 helped him become a better business owner. We tied a significant life event to an article about running a business more efficiently. The advice offered was good stuff, not earth shattering, but after blending in some “personal” it became a compelling piece of content.


Applying for Awards is another phenomenal brand building tool. I refer to awards as “instant credibility hacks.” Most awards cost nothing to apply for, so the ROI is great.


And, you don’t always have to win first prize to be recognized.

For example, how many times have you walked by a restaurant and the sign in the window says, “Voted Best Place to Eat” in San Diego, or Nashville, or wherever? Guess what? That same sign is in a hundred other restaurant windows.


They didn’t win first prize, but they were recognized as a nominee. And that’s something to be proud of. People walking by don’t need to know they didn’t come in first place. Awards are just another way to get press material out to the public that you don’t have to pay for and create credibility that you can attach to your name.


Example. One of my clients was recognized as a “Top Workplace” by the local business journal in their home city. They didn’t win first prize, but they received a ton of free press and recognition for being nominated. The company name, logo and description were included on multiple websites and print media. This attracted a ton of local business. At the end of the day the company paid zero to acquire these new customers.


Community Engagement is one of the most neglected ways of building a brand. Most people/companies look at this as old school marketing and are not willing to invest the time and energy to win people over in their own backyard.


Introduce yourself to local leaders and community stakeholders. You don’t need to ask them for anything; just familiarize them with what you do. Instead offer your assistance if they should need anything in the future. Your intention is to create a comfortability.


The more people you bring in, the more introductions you make, the more opportunity you give yourself in the future. These individuals, once they understand your company’s goals, could ask you to host an event, to go on TV with them, or to provide a quote in a local publication about how your goals align.


I was working with a tech startup that had an impressive office space and provided perks that would attract any job candidate. We invited a pretty well-known and respected community leader into the office to show them around and introduce ourselves.


The community leader was so impressed with the company that the next day when they appeared on local television, spent two minutes talking about how amazing the company was. Two minutes of free press coming from a respected community leader gave us a bump in credibility money could never buy.


Philanthropy/Mentoring/Coaching is not only a great way to give back, but also build a positive reputation. And, in a saturated market where there are lots of people offering the same service, it can be the difference between someone choosing your service over your competitors. From a psychological standpoint, people will pick that company because of the reputation that surrounds it.


I have a ton of examples of how supporting non-profits monetarily, doing beach cleanups, hosting events, volunteering to help kids code, working with the homeless veterans, etc. lead to better and stronger brands.


Social Media is like your brand megaphone. It’s a megaphone you control to promote and create credibility. It’s a great way to give followers an inside, almost behind the scenes look of who you and your business are.


Everything I mentioned above should flow through your social media accounts. The purpose is to make more people aware and to extend the life of your content. This will also help you reach potential clients or business partners outside your city.


In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?


Costco. Why? Because I’ve never heard one person say anything negative about them in my life; except for how difficult it is to park there. And the only reason that’s it’s hard to park there is because everyone wants to shop there! In fact, most people I know enjoy going to Costco as if it were an adult playground.


They have loyal employees, good prices, awesome samples, a great return policy and a wonderful in-store shopping experience.

Best way to replicate Costco’s brand. Start with perfecting your product or service. If the product or service is shitty then your brand (or lack thereof) means nothing.


In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?


I measure brand success in terms of opportunity. Generally, when building a brand, you will see an increase of grass roots growth. More people will be reaching out to the company looking to partner or get involved in one form or another. Reporters might start reaching out to you for quotes or thoughts on specific topics because you’ve built a credible brand.


One very telling byproduct of a successful brand that I don’t hear people mention, are resumes. The bigger more positive the brand, the more people will be looking to work with/for you. When you start to see an increase in resumes, you know you’re doing something right.


What role does social media play in your branding efforts?


As I mentioned above, social media is your brand megaphone. Your different platforms provide an opportunity to reach a wider audience. This is where you share consistent and compelling content to a wide audience and create your torchbearers.


Your torchbearers are the people that “talk you up” to others. They vouch for you. They spread the word for you. They are the ones who help build your brand when you’re sleeping.


What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?


Challenge yourself to do things outside your comfort zone. For instance, say you’re hesitant or scared to post a video of yourself talking on social media. You’re scared other people might judge you or laugh at you. Who cares! Challenge yourself and conquer those fears! No better way to avoid repetition and burnout than that.

Instead of posting a motivational quote on your Insta feed, post a video of yourself talking about that quote and what it means to you.


Mix it up. Have fun.


You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂


I would call my movement the “post positive” movement. Too many people on social media are quick to anger and resort to unnecessary name calling and outright verbal confrontations. It feels like we are growing further apart as a country/society because people cannot have civil conversations anymore.


Opinions have turned into dividing walls that separate one team from the other. It’s absolutely disgusting that we have lost our ability to listen to one another and treat each other with respect, regardless of a particular belief.


If more people exercised restraint and posted positive it might just get us pointed on the right track forward.


Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?


“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” — Henry Ford

This quote reminds me that there is no substitute for action and putting in the work. You can talk and dream until you go blue in the face, but without action it’s just empty words and thoughts.


We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂


Dwayne Johnson (The Rock). Respect the hell out of his talent, diversity and work ethic. And, most importantly, I hear he’s a genuinely amazing human being.


Article originally published in Thrive Global (1/5/2020)

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