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Establishing Credibility with Brian Hart

George Grombacher November 24, 2023

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Establishing Credibility with Brian Hart

LifeBlood: We talked about establishing credibility, what credibility marketing is, how it’s different from paid media and advertising, who it’s a good fit for, how much it costs, how it’s changed over the past 20 years, and how to get started,  with Brian Hart, Founder and President of Flackable, an award-winning PR agency.       

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Brian Hart

Brian Hart

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Brian Hart is the founder and president of flammable they are an award winning public relations agency. He is the author of the forthcoming book credibility marketing. welcome Brian

Brian Hart 0:12
Dortch. Thanks so much for having me on. Yeah, excited

george grombacher 0:14
to have you on, tell us a little bit your personal lives more about your work why you do what you do?

Brian Hart 0:20
Yes, so I am a public relations strategist. I’m the founder of flammable. We’re a public relations agency located in Philadelphia, serving a national client base. And we’re a very niche agency, our primary focus is growing financial services firms, and more specifically, we do a lot of work in the RIA space, which is registered investment advisors. Behind the work that we do, because public relations means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What I focus on is a concept called credibility marketing. Also in line with, with the title of the book that we’ll be publishing, and what credibility marketing is, is it’s the process of earning and leveraging third party credibility, and within my knees, working with these investment advisors. Credibility, marketing is everything. But it’s not enough just to earn the credibility, it needs to be woven into your branding and marketing verticals. So we bring the whole recipe together and produce, you know, pretty pretty, you know, outstanding results. Through that process.

george grombacher 1:34
You have something personal, Brian.

Brian Hart 1:37
It’s something personal. Well, I have been a lifelong renter, and I just bought a house so excited about that. It is a wild time in the real estate market right now. But I went in, I went in very business, like I think being an entrepreneur for the past decade, prepared me well, for going into a market climate like this. I came in bold and decisive. And I think I had a little bit more luck in this market that I know a lot of other people who are looking for homes or are having because it is a bit of a struggle with such a low inventory, and all the other factors that are contributing to that.

george grombacher 2:18
bold and decisive I like it a logical approach. You you you learn from your clients who taught you and making big financial decisions, you need to remove the emotion. So I appreciate that, Brian. All right. So I’m interested in digging into all of this. I wrote down on my notes, I’m curious how you suss out PR marketing, I understand sales, but what what are the intersections there?

Brian Hart 2:45
It Yeah, well, a lot of it’s a lot of us with my background, you know, the credibility marketing concept was so natural to me, because of my unique journey throughout my career. You know, I studied public relations at Temple University. And my senior year, I found a paid internship with a financial services PR agency. And I was like, This is great. I don’t know anything about finance. But it’s paid and the place looks legit. And let’s give it a go. And that it was really that experience. Because these guys are amazing. And I still have a great relationship with this firm. where I started my financial services PR career, but working with them. And and seeing understanding that anything going on in the world is going to have a money angle to it was just such a cool idea I did not, I didn’t realize back then how versatile financial services communications could be. And how much creativity and allows for where you can connect the dots, whether it’s a big story in Hollywood or sports, or, you know, the housing market or anything else that impacts our lives, you know, that people focus on whether for entertainment, or for just living day to day, it’s all going to have that money component. So being able to put experts out there to talk about to weigh in on these stories from that perspective is such a cool type of PR. So that that’s how I went down that path. Now, when I graduated, the job market was horrible. So I not only could I not get an interview with any public relations agency, you know, upon graduation, you know, there just wasn’t anything out there. And eventually I pivoted and found a financial services sales job. And and that’s where I started my career. I took the financial PR experience from the internship leverage that to get this financial sales job and I was in the boiler room, making 100 150 cold calls a day, and it was such an invaluable perience because it allowed me to learn the business development goals of growing financial services practices, you’ll write from the ground floor. And it gave me a big advantage when I moved on from there and worked at a big New York PR agency. And that eventually when I spun off to start blockable,

george grombacher 5:21
I appreciate that. And invaluable, yes, but not necessarily the most fun in the world. Crashing the phones will

Brian Hart 5:30
tell you what, cold calling like that you learn a lot about people you learn a lot about yourself. You know, but, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It does make me a better communicator, a better businessman, and just better within my niche because I had that experience.

george grombacher 5:51
So money touches everything. So really, to your point very invaluable that you got the first 10 experience. And there’s so many different ways to connect the dots. There’s an art and a science behind most everything as well, in art and science between building a financial services clientele. And I imagine that there’s an art and a science behind credibility marketing. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Maybe the metrics and how you think about that?

Brian Hart 6:17
Yeah, that’s exactly right. So you know, some people look at public relations through an advertising lens. And PR agencies are some of the worst propaganda propagators of that, because there is a metric called ad value equivalents where these PR agencies will go out, get their clients quoted in places and whatnot. And at the end of the quarter, they’ll come back and say, look, we got you $2 million of ad of ad value with with the PR efforts we did. It’s I don’t know how they do that with a straight face. I never bought into that metric, because PR is not advertising advertising has its place. I you know, when people say is it, should it be PR or advertising. I mean, you know, for most businesses, it should be all of the above in a very strategic integrated way. And not all of them have the budget for that. But public relations is not advertising, you know, public relations, the big thing that you get with PR versus advertising is the credibility factor. You know, think think of a billboard, on the, on the highway, anybody who can write that check and have that billboard on the highway, so you’re not getting credibility from that billboard, but a big feature, you know, you know, a feature in the Wall Street Journal, or even your local paper or whatnot, that can’t be bought, you know, if it’s true journalism that can’t be bought. So there is a credibility factor. And listen, you know, Wall Street Journal writes a profile on you, it’s not a direct endorsement from the Wall Street Journal, but it kind of is, um, you know, I mean, it’s showing that they find you influential and good at what you do, as long as it’s a flattering article. So part of what it is, is there, there is a, you know, a credibility control matrix, when you look at public relations and advertising, advertising, high level of control, lower credibility, public relations, high level of credibility, but a much lower level of control. You don’t get to go and editorialize in an article after it’s been printed. Reporters after they interview you, as long as they’re good and ethical, they’re, they’re not going to give you a preview or let you go through and edit it or add hyperlinks or whatever you want to do. You don’t have that control factor, but you get the credibility part of it. That makes it and that’s something I have to explain, you know, because, you know, a lot of a lot of the types of clients that I work with, especially those who are new to public relations, which a lot of the ones I work with are the first and only PR agency that they work with. You know, with them, I have to do a lot of educating out you know, right from the get go. And explain to them how journalism works. You know, I always cringe when I have a client on their first phone interview, and they’ll they’ll midway through the conversation, they’ll say, oh, and off the record and then start saying things I was like, No, you can’t you have you can’t you can’t say something and then say oh, yeah, by the way, that’s off the record that doesn’t work that way. That’s something I need to negotiate before I set up the interview. So but they see it on TV, they think it’s a thing they think it’s some kind of legal protection. So I have to educate these clients on you know, some basic First Amendment principles and journalism and journalists, journalism ethics, you know, Believe it or not, I mean, these journalists are by and large, very ethical. There’s bad actors in journalism. But there’s bad actors in every profession, my profession, your profession, and everyone in between, there are going to be the good ones and the bad ones. Journalism shouldn’t be characterized by the bad ones. Because by and large, the majority of journalists take a lot of pride in their work take a lot of pride in doing their work ethically, and they’re very good at it.

george grombacher 10:27
I appreciate that. So it’s different than it was 10 years ago, and completely different than it was 20 years ago, there’s still New York Times, and still Wall Street Journal, and still, you know, whatever. But now we have the Joe Rogan experience. He’s the biggest journalist on the planet, or the biggest outlet on the planet, however you want to think about it. So how do you go about figuring out where am I going to get George and his financial firm? PR?

Brian Hart 10:57
Yeah, no, absolutely. Um, you know, there are a multitude of factors, where you have value in earned media and an earned media strategy. And not every opportunity is going to check every box. Net, I’ll take that further. I mean, no opportunity is going to check every single box. So you look at how many boxes you can check. All right, are we talking about the topic we want to talk about? Is it hitting the audience that we want to we want to talk to, is there credibility behind the outlet? And how much credibility are we getting from being quoted or featured in this particular publication? Are we going to get a hyperlink back to our website, you know, I mean, so when you’re when you’re, when you’re looking at an opportunity, there are so many different factors where you can get value. So you got to decide how many boxes do I need to check to make it worth pursuing this opportunity? You know, and that’s what I help talk to my, my clients about, and, you know, again, you know, some firms, especially the ones new to PR, they’re, they’re gonna want to check every box with every opportunity. And it’s my, my duty to educate them that that, that if you want to check every box, you’re looking for that control factor that you’re only going to get from advertising. You’re not You’re not You’re not looking for PR, if you want to have complete control over, you know, in our immediate placement, because at that point, it’s not urgent, you got to run your Facebook

george grombacher 12:27
ads. Yeah. Which is awesome. And people should do that. So. Okay, so what are what are some of the other big misconceptions or, and or what are the big opportunities these days?

Brian Hart 12:45
Yeah, so, you know, one thing, following the pandemic, that that became normalized, was for broadcast and I’m talking about traditional broadcast, you know, some of the big cable networks, again, I worked with a lot of financial folks. So, you know, I’m looking at Bloomberg, Fox, business, CNBC, and so forth. What the pandemic did was it normalized, being able to do appearances via zoom, or, you know, a related platform. So it made broad appearing on broadcast more convenient than ever, because prior to the pandemic, oftentimes, they would want you going to, you know, either in studio in New York City, or going to a local, you know, syndicated network, where where you would, you know, appear via satellite from there. So, you know, a TV spot would be, you know, in the past, it would be at least a half day commitment. Oftentimes, oftentimes, it just wiped out your whole day. Anytime you are going to live on TV. Now. You’re looking at, you know, just getting yourself prepped, you know, as long as you’ve got good equipment, good lighting. George, I already told you, I’m in between homes right now. So I know, my lighting is not that great. It’ll be better. I’m settled in. But you know, getting the good equipment, you know, getting the good lighting, the good backdrop and everything. If you’ve got all that, you know, you’re looking at less than a half hour of your day when you’re appearing on TV, you know, for a little five minute segment. Whereas again, before that little five minute segment would have wiped out half of your day, if not the entire day. That’s a big opportunity. I’m preaching right now.

george grombacher 14:39
Yeah, for sure. It is a it’s wild how our behaviors completely changed in a very, very short amount of time. So in terms of cost, is this something that I can spend a little bit and I can probably there’s there’s no limit on what the high end of spending could be?

Brian Hart 14:59
Yeah, so With public relations, there are different pricing models. One of the most common pricing models is a retainer model. And that’s the model that I do. Now, my, my retainer model is unique because I also have a credit system built into that, which I’m not going to get into all that, but it’s clients love it. And it’s fair, it kind of balances out the retainer, some people don’t like the retainer, but it’ll it also matches the retainer with very measurable, you know, output. So that’s mine, mine’s kind of a hybrid retainer credit model. Most of retainer, you’re gonna be signing up for a six month contract. On a monthly retainer, you renew that contract every six months or so. There are practitioners out here out there who will work hourly, or project to project and then this new thing, and I’m glad I’m glad you asked this question because this, this is something I’ve written about. I wrote a big opposite op ed expos a in PR week, a few years ago about this, and this is something that has been deeply concerning to me, is you’ve seen these guaranteed placement, PR shops pop up, where they say guarantee you only you only pay when we get you published. And and I get why that would sound appealing, especially for a brand that’s never engaged in PR before. And they say well, this is great, we know exactly what we’re spending and exactly what we’re getting. The problem with that model, is that the relationships that these companies who promote that model work under is they’re largely either setting up these back door on ethical relationships with reporters and editors, where they’re giving them just money personally directly to that individual behind the publications back to guarantee that they’re getting paid. So they’re essentially collecting commission for approving something to get published and whatnot. And it happens a lot. And and, you know, I wrote a letter to the FTC, I wrote a public letter to the FTC years ago about it right after I published that big Op Ed, I hope that they start looking into this because it is happening a whole lot. Again, these are the bad actors in the media that I talked about before. media professionals are overwhelmingly excellent at what they do and highly ethical. But there are bad actors, and the bad actors in that profession are some of the worst. So that anytime you see guaranteed placement, keep in mind that there should be some big red flags, because some of their conduct could be very, from highly unethical to even illegal. And that was something that I mapped out with my letter to the FTC.

george grombacher 17:59
Whenever I hear the word guarantee, and absolute, and I just gives me just gives me gives me the willies for lack of a better term. Like, very few things are guaranteed, if any, and absolutely nothing is absolute. So anyway, excellent. Well, Brian, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with you?

Brian Hart 18:20
Yeah, absolutely. Well, Giorgio, you mentioned my book earlier, that’s going to be published in early 2024. So keep your eye out for that. If you want updates on the status of that. Definitely follow me on Twitter, I or x as it’s called now. I post on x a lot. So my handle is Brian Hart, PR. I’m easy to find on LinkedIn if you want to connect there and then check out my website too. It’s And you can learn a little bit more about my work with with, you know, financial professionals and I do do work beyond that. You know, I look for folks where credibility is the Hokey Pokey. You know, when credibility is what it’s all about. I’m probably a good option for your PR pursuits. I love it.

george grombacher 19:16
If you enjoyed this as much as I did, so bring your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to Aflac And check out everything that Brian is working on follow him on X or Twitter, Brian Hart, B R I A n h AR T PR says handle and then look for credibility marketing early 2024 Thanks again, Brian. Yep, thanks so much. Till next time, remember to do your part doing your best

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