Gini is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PR firm, Arment Dietrich, Inc. She also runs a blog called Spin Sucks, the 2010 Readers Choice PR Blog of the Year, one of Social Media Examiner’s Top 10 Social Media Blogs for 2011 and is currently listed on the Ad Age Power 150, a ranking of the top media and marketing blogs.
I don’t think you can say enough about her acumen in the social media world. Combine that with great writing, all-around creativity, being endowed with some sort of super-productivity gene, and what do you get? One of the smartest and most influential bloggers out there. Gini is also extremely generous and has helped this rookie more than she knows. Also an avid cyclist, I personally wonder how she gets it all done.
I recently asked her a broad range of questions, from net neutrality to Charlie Sheen (that’s right). I also asked her to whip out her crystal ball. Gini knows her stuff, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share this interview with you. Take out your old notepad and enjoy.
Q: We are hearing a lot about weirdos lately, with the arrival of Seth Godin’s new book, “We Are All Weird.” In the book, he writes about weirdness and the fragmentation of culture. How can uniqueness benefit a lone blogger looking to make it?
Gini: I think it’s less about being unique and more about being yourself. We’re all unique so, if you’re yourself, you’ll find your little niche. I remember joining a CEO group about four years ago that was made up of high net worth individuals who had built their companies from scratch and now are sitting atop conglomerates. I was really intimidated. And then I realized they put their pants on one leg at a time. They get sick. They get tired. They get grouchy. They get exasperated. And they’re still successful. We’re all human so be yourself. I’m going to paraphrase Steve Jobs, but he said something to the effect of you can either live your life or the one someone else wants you to live. Which would you rather do?
Q: So how do you go about finding an audience you can truly bond with? How does someone position their blog so their content resonates, and is remarkable to the right people? Is a 1-2-3 approach possible? Can you tell I’m struggling to find a narrow theme?
Gini: It really comes down to vision. What do you want to accomplish? You wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago about why you started blogging (to work on your speech writing) and it has turned into something entirely different. I set out to change the perception of the PR industry and, while that’s still the vision, I also throw in some entrepreneurship and leadership lessons, as well as some goofiness. It’s not all PR all the time. Sometimes you just have to test and see what resonates.
Q: Is finding a niche really that important to success in blogging, and to a monetization strategy? It worked brilliantly for Leo Babauta when he started years ago, but things are different now, right?
Gini: Things are different now, true, but just like anything else, a niche is important. Just like you wouldn’t start a business without a niche, you shouldn’t try to blog without some sort of purpose. Why are you blogging? What do you want to accomplish? If you’re clear about that, your readers will be clear about it, as well.
Q: So this leads me to the Long Tail, the shift away from mainstream products and markets to those niches in the tail. We see less focus on lowest-common-denominator products and more focus on specific wants and needs. Which companies are having a hard time adjusting to this model? How would an effective PR and social media strategy help them survive and convert customers?
Gini: Ha! Most companies are having a hard time adjusting to this model! It’s scary to say, “we only do this” instead of trying to be all things to all people. It goes back to knowing your vision and finding your niche. Once you do that, an integrated marketing communication plan will help you convert customers. But not until you’re clear about what you do. If you aren’t clear, your customers won’t know what they’re buying.
Q: I would love to know how you stay motivated. We all hit rough patches and life does get in the way, often. It’s difficult to keep up a good attitude day after day, especially with a work routine like yours. Are there specific daily habits that help you stay on task?
Gini: Focus, focus, focus. Because I’m naturally an introvert, my routine is VERY important. I don’t do well when it’s screwed up (to the tune of tears produced). I’m very motivated by a task list and checking things off of it. So, if I have a list of things when I start my day, I’ll stay motivated. When I get into trouble is when I’ve been too busy to write the list for the next day. I also run the business so I have an advantage not everyone has … I get to define my own schedule. Therefore, Mondays are staff and client meeting days. Tuesday and Wednesday I spend mentoring my team and working with clients. Thursdays are my big writing days because I write weekly for several publications, with Friday deadlines. And Fridays I work on the business, which is all Spin Sucks Pro all the time. As long as I can stick to that schedule, I get a lot accomplished.
Q: As a self-described introvert, how do you deal with the fear of speaking? And how did you get started in public speaking? Do you really like it, really?
Gini: I actually love to speak now. I still get really nervous, which you would think would have diminished by now. But it’s still there. It’s something I do to really push myself. I dread everything about it, leading up to it. I mean, to the point that I will say to myself, “Why are you doing this?” And I say that every time. Then I get up there and, after five minutes, the nerves go away, and I remember why I do it. But, because I am an introvert, it takes everything out of me. I once spoke five days in a row. By the fourth day, I was on my B game, at best. By the fifth day, I was a disaster. So now we don’t book me for more than two days in a row. Ever.
Q: How does someone with zero street cred break into public speaking? What would be the first step for someone looking to speak at a large event, like say, BlogWorld?
Gini: Funny! I had zero street cred when I started. In fact, EVERYONE has zero street cred when they start. With conferences such as BlogWorld, they take proposals. If you can make your proposal shine and you have a nice little blog, you’re probably going to get at least a panel appearance. You’re going to do a lot of freebies to build your credibility. Look for webinars you can present at, trade organizations that have monthly lunches, and local events. That stuff will get you the experience you need so you can begin charging.
Q: Oh yeah, back to the introvert thing. When you retire to your “cave” what is your favorite thing to do? A favorite guilty pleasure?
Gini: Why read, of course! But, because I spend so much time reading and writing every day, it’s rare I read for pleasure anymore. Riding my bike is a guilty pleasure because it’s my time. There are no interruptions. No one needs anything from me. The only thing I have to worry about is staying up with the men on the team.
Q: We talked about motivation, but now onto productivity? You need to write a productivity manifesto, really. I have trouble maintaining a new blog, commenting, and balancing that with my daily business and family life. Do your days ever go according to plan, really? How many hours per day to you dedicate to blogging? To commenting? And how do you get it all done? What daily habits help you stay on top of the pile?
Gini: Oh shoot! Maybe I jumped ahead when I answered the motivation question above. No, of course they don’t go according to plan. Ever. I spend two hours a day on the blog. I spend an hour on the social networks. I spend an hour (or two, if I’m in a groove) writing my book. I spend an hour every night, before I go to bed, reading and commenting on blogs. If I don’t get to your blog, it’s likely because my hour was up and I’ll try the next day. I stopped feeling guilty about not getting to everyone’s blogs every day. Then I spend eight to 10 hours a day on the business, with clients, and with my team. They’re very long days. But I also stopped working weekends, so I’m very productive because I can no longer say, “Oh I’ll do that on Sunday.”
Q: I don’t think a lot of people outside of public relations know about your podcast, Inside PR. Could you elaborate on that?
Gini: The podcast with my Canadian boys! Inside PR is a podcast with Martin Waxman and Joe Thornley, which we produce every Wednesday. We discuss what’s happening in PR, social media, and communications, overall, that week. It’s really turned into Joe and me disagreeing on almost everything and Martin balancing the two of us. We’re really big in Canada and the UK. Hardly anyone knows about us in the U.S. … I’m impressed you know.
Q: I am not on Facebook. Is Facebook a must for a rookie blogger? Or maybe give me a few reasons why I should be on it. How often are you on Facebook?
Gini: I LOVE Facebook! But I love it, not because it’s great for the blog or for business, but because it’s my own personal stage. I say things there just to see what kind of response I’ll get. It turns out, talking about poop is really popular. Who knew? No, I don’t think it’s a must for a rookie blogger. If you’re going to use anything, I’d use Twitter and Google+. Twitter is our #3 driver of traffic. And Google+ is driving about 18 percent, which is huge because it’s all new traffic. Facebook and Networked Blogs are in the top 10, but that’s from the business page, not my personal page.
Q: I’d love to get your thoughts on net neutrality, or preserving a free and open Internet for all. The large communications companies would love to charge money based on a tiered Internet, and they are not giving up. Will the Internet remain free and open, or is it going to be increasingly under more control? With companies like Verizon, which sued to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality rules, is control slowly creeping in?
Gini: One of my favorite topics! I totally get companies need to make money. We do, after all, live in a capitalistic country. But the issue I have with it is net neutrality allows us all to compete at the same level. So, right now, I have the same access as the global agencies. I am able to use the web to build Arment Dietrich to the point that we can play in the same field as those companies. If companies, and individuals, will be charged for their Internet use, the level playing field disappears and the companies with the most money win. As a small business owner, that really, really pains me.
Q: And what about that NAME? A good PR effort might make network neutrality more understandable to the average citizen, right?
Gini: You know, that might very well be why not many people are up in arms about it … the name. I agree with you. It should be something that makes more sense. Hey Americans! You might have to pay for your Internet usage! I guess that name is too long.
Q: A lot is being said about authenticity online at the moment. Can you truly be transparent online? Should you?
Gini: I don’t think you can be completely transparent. In business there are certain things that are still proprietary and shouldn’t be discussed outside of your four walls. Ever. Personally, it makes me nuts when people use the web as their venting outposts. We almost hired someone who uses Facebook that way. I couldn’t imagine having this person working with us because of it. So, while I’m human and pretty authentic, you can never tell I’m in a bad mood. Unless I say, “I’m grouchy,” which never lasts long because someone will say something that makes me laugh and then I’m no longer grouchy.
Q: What is the single best way for a beginning blogger to drive traffic to his or her site? And if there is one tool you could recommend to measure results, what would it be?
Gini: The best way is search, then Twitter, then Google+, then Facebook, then LinkedIn. But the very first thing a new blogger should do is send the link to his or her database. We all have friends and family. Send it to them, explain the vision, and ask them to take a look. Some people will subscribe and some won’t. But it’s a great starting point. Every blogger has to learn search. If you don’t know it, pay for some help through SEO Scribe, Yoast, or InboundWriter.
And the one tool to measure results is Google analytics. It’s free, it’s easy to install, and it gives you enough data to be smart about what you’re doing. Any blogger not using this tool is, well, insane.
Q: What will blogging be like in ten years? Will social media even be recognizable as it is now?
Gini: Shoot. There is that crystal ball question. Nope, I don’t think social media will be recognizable as it is now. In fact, I think email will die and we’ll all be using some form of social as our method of communication. I think content, or owned media, will continue to grow and evolve and become more sophisticated. So it might not be blogging, but it will be some form of it.
Q: Is there one company, organization, or industry that has PR all wrong at the moment, especially with regard to social media? Could you elaborate?
Gini: Just one?! Ragu just had a big misstep using Twitter. Marie Callendar’s created its own crisis with bloggers. It’s great there are companies out there trying things, but the thing that bothers me about what they’re doing is they’re clearly shooting in the dark. Most of them have large, global PR firms working with them and those companies have digital departments. But the people working in those departments have never used the social tools. Social media cannot be learned by reading and through theory. It has to be learned through doing. And, if you’re a PR pro and you’re not using the tools yourself, other than for clients, you’re not going to be able to best counsel your clients.
Q: Honestly, how good (or bad) is President Obama’s crew at handling public relations?
Gini: Terrible. It’s terrible. They don’t have a message, like they did when he ran. I’m always afraid to say more about the White House because I’m afraid someone will say, “Oh yeah? Put your money where your mouth is and go advise him.” And I have zero desire to do that.
Q: Why was the Old Spice guy such a viral sensation?
Gini: Because he’s hot? You can’t ever tell if something is going to go viral. We have a joke internally, when clients ask us to create a viral campaign, that we advise them to do a video of two guys kicking each other in the nuts. THAT will go viral. But saying you can recreate the magic of the Old Spice guy is impossible. Some of it was the right time at the right place. Some of it was because they were the first. And some of it was because he’s hot.
Q: Not all Spin Sucks fans are PR pros. For the people out there who think that PR is basically sending out press releases and creating “buzz” could you tell us what PR really is these days in 30 words or less?
Gini: It’s reputation management, brand building, and a driver of sales through owned and earned media.
Q: As unethical as it might be, could effective PR save Charlie Sheen? Can anybody save Charlie Sheen? Should they? Do you care?
Gini: I think PR did save Charlie Sheen. Have you seen him lately? He’s been on all the talk shows saying he’s cleaned up his act and the media is agreeing that he seems normal again. THAT is PR.
Q: Could you elaborate on the most beneficial way to use each of the major platforms, especially for a beginning blogger? I’m talking about Google+, Twitter, and Facebook.
Gini: Twitter is a networking and engagement tool. When I started on Twitter, I looked for people who had PR, marketing, or CEO in their bio. I followed them, got to know them, and created my first network of friends. Now I use Twitter as a way to curate content. I tweet a blog or news article at least 10 times a day. Our blog is included in that four times a day, each with a different headline, but same link. People follow me just for the news I’m curating for them.
Google+ is so new you can still experiment with it. I post our blog in there once a day and then measure shares, +1s, and traffic.
Facebook can be set up with Networked Blogs so it does all the work for you.
Really, you should be experimenting and testing different messages on the different platforms. And watch your analytics to see what works and what doesn’t work. You also should test different times of different days. For instance, I know that by 8 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays is best for Spin Sucks. But later in the day on Friday is better.
Q: How did you end up in Chicago?
Gini: I was in Kansas City after college and it got to be too small. I kept running into people I didn’t want to see. It was time to leave. So it was between Chicago, New York, and Madison, Wis. I was actually offered the best job, with the most money, in Madison. But I couldn’t see being there as a single woman without a family. So I choose Chicago. That was 10 years ago. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.
I would like to thank Gini for taking the time to answer all these questions. She has offered some great advice here and I’ve already started to implement some of her suggestions on my site. I certainly hope this provides some value to you.