Ashley Crouch is a woman of many talents. As the founder of Appleseed Communications, a premier PR firm for female entrepreneurs, Crouch knows the ins and outs of public relations like nobody else. Impressively, she also created Master the Media, an online publicity accelerator for business-owners who want to take their companies to the next level.
Crouch is also an award-winning visibility strategist and has written for the likes of Forbes, The New York Times, Business Insider, TIME.com and Refinery29, just to name a few.
We chatted with the PR expert about the changes she has witnessed in the industry, what she sees for the future of media and about tips on how to be the most successful in business.
1. Can you speak a little about how PR has changed in the past decade?
The landscape of public relations has dramatically shifted in the past ten years allowing individuals to hold more power than ever before.
First, the rise of social media has democratized how stories are heard, shared, and picked up by the more “traditional" media outlets. It has given the average person access to top journalists to pitch story ideas, and also share their stories with a global audience. For example, in the case of the #MeToo phenomenon, stories go viral in a matter of hours with global hashtag movements.
Second, media outlets have become increasingly fragmented, specialized and niche, which allows for high concentration of specific audiences and could help generate better ROI, but also allows groups of people to silo themselves off from one another creating cultural blind spots. Political groups are often caught off guard by the success of various candidates because they truly “never saw it coming."
Third, stories are pitched and shared in less formalized ways than ever. Press releases are much less effective and many stories get pitched through text message or growth hacking techniques baked into the product or company itself (encouragement to share on social, take action, sign a petition, are all examples that could lead to publicity). I teach people how to share their stories in pitch letters for maximum impact. It is easier than ever, if one has the skills.
Fourth, companies can generate their own “media" through video and content creation, then cross-publish it on large, national and global outlets, such as Huffington Post or Thrive Global. Or, articles can go “viral" on platforms like LinkedIn and lead to television opportunities for the thought leader.
Fifth, staff writers within media outlets are being let go at accelerated rates, creating a vast pool of high-quality freelance journalists that write for many outlets. If a person knows how to find them and build relationships, it can increase their chances of being featured on national platforms, because there are many outlets one journalist could assign the story.
Sixth, PR was often considered a luxury available to large companies with big budgets. Today, I consider it the new critical life skill that all individuals can and should learn how to do. By the year 2020, at least 40% of America's workforce will be freelancers. These individuals need to know how to position, differentiate, and leverage media to set themselves up for success. My mission is to train 1000 women how to package and share their story in the next six months.
2. When you launched Appleseed, what was the white space you were looking to fill?
Appleseed began to offer women entrepreneurs premier PR services at an affordable price point. Since that time, we have become the first “one for one" PR company to exist through our Seed Fund Project; for every client served, we offer microloans to women entrepreneurs in resource-poor nations to grow their businesses. We are working in nine countries right now with this profit for purpose model.
We just expanded our offerings to include an all-inclusive online visibility accelerator to teach the A-Z techniques for publicity and partner with the best in the industry for training on what really works. Our school of visibility, Master the Media, teaches entrepreneurs around the globe the principles of how to get media, write for top publications, speak on stages (and get paid), and leverage social media for maximum ROI.
3. We've all heard the dismal numbers in regards to how much funding female founders receive vs. men. Can you tell us any thoughts on how to counteract this?
Businesses need three basic things to be successful: 1. a great product, 2. funding in the form of paying clients, customers or investors, and 3. a powerful story. Which comes first? Not every business requires venture capital to be successful. But a company with funding but no story can fall flat. I teach how to package and share your story to leverage media, attract qualified clients and customers or investors if necessary, and demonstrate social proof and credibility. As for moving the needle with venture capital, the more we can increase the legitimacy of female-founded businesses and their proven success rates, the more we can normalize these ventures as sound investments. There are investment funds launching that focus or prioritize female funded businesses, and accelerators designed to help women entrepreneurs reach 1 million in revenue.
4. Editors are no longer necessarily associated with just one publication, how do you keep on top of all the turnover?
Often, media databases are not up-to-date, since there is so much turnover. They are also usually out of reach for small businesses or entrepreneurs to afford. Instead, you need the skill set to know how to find the most up to date contact information and build relationships that transition through all platforms. For example, I pitched a story that went viral to the Senior Style Editor at Huffington Post back in 2013. In 2014, she moved to Mic. and offered to let me write a story for them. Now she is at Racked and we still keep in touch. It is about building real friendships, which I teach how to do.
5. What is the undercurrent philosophy of good PR, if you had to describe it in a few words?
Understand how to package and share your story for maximum impact in media.
I developed a proven Formula that anyone can use to plug in their message. It is already proven to work for students around the globe. You can access it here.
6. What are common PR mistakes you see people making over and over?There are five common reasons why people fail at generating media attention:
- They don't know what to say or how to tell their story well.
- They don't know who to contact so they never pitch themselves at all.
- They pitch themselves, but did it wrong and never heard back. (There are so many reasons people mess up a great pitch opportunity, such as a terrible e-mail title, a boring pitch letter, no story idea, making it too long, not including the right information, and many more. I give people my 5 time-tested pitch templates that proven to work here.)
- They didn't follow up.
- They got the opportunity and were not prepared, so the interview fell flat.
Happily, I teach how to overcome all of these problems with a free online masterclass, 7 Ways to Get Media Attention [In Half the Time].
7. What are the rules for using social media to pitch? Is it inappropriate?
Social media is an excellent tool for generating high-quality media opportunities if done well. For example, I secured an opportunity to produce one week of radio shows for SiriusXM radio for a new fashion brand - during New York Fashion Week - all from a well-timed tweet to a stranger. It must be done well.
For example, leverage social media to begin getting to know a specific journalist, their interests, hobbies, and how they view the world. Engage with them in an authentic personal way. This detective work will help you put your best foot forward when it is time to pitch.
8. You talk about how female entrepreneurs need "a celebration tribe." Can you explain what that is and why it's so important?
Men brag constantly. It is a hallmark characteristic of their performance, networking behavior, and upward social movement. It alerts everyone of their achievements and capability. Women, however, often feel uncomfortable sharing their wins. When speaking with women entrepreneurs around the world about why they did or did not share their professional wins, they told me they “didn't want to toot their own horn," or “look like they were bragging too much." But this lack of bragging or verbal celebration holds back our careers, and our personal performance.
Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle that requires sustained, long-term high performance from every individual. The world's leading high-performance coach, Brendon Burchard, has coached over 2 million students worldwide on the 6 qualities necessary for High Performance. Celebration is not just a nice fluffy thing; it is critical for the health of a company, a vibrant culture, and must start from the top.
So many entrepreneurs run on the hamster wheel, chasing the next metric, goal, or deal, and I was one of them. I remember working in a company where a huge milestone would be met, and there was no team celebration, no recognition, and business continued as usual: grinding. Over the long term, this influences the culture of the company and the morale of all its individuals. One begins to wonder, what is the point?
Brendon Burchard encourages people to “Strive Satisfied." He says we need to integrate the wins at every step of the journey in order to avoid burnout. Just as we need a tribe with whom we can share the struggles, we also need to feel comfortable sharing the wins with each other - without feeling like we are “bragging too much."
Celebration punctuates the journey of being an entrepreneur. It infuses the labor with meaning and offers a feeling of progress, which translates to more purposeful effort.
I foster a culture of celebration within my own company, starting with myself. Each Friday, I have an event in my calendar, “Fistbump Friday", where I calculate the personal and professional wins from the week. Within my media accelerator, students are invited to #BRAG and share their wins each Friday with each other. It is amazing to see how much everyone is accomplishing and encourages us to keep moving forward!
9. How do you see the future of PR and media evolving? Thoughts on bloggers and the power that they hold?
Media platforms will continue to fragment, become more niche, and expand as individuals create their own media platforms by harnessing the power of video and social media. The techniques for storytelling evolve for emerging platforms. Power bloggers and “influencers" will begin to generate as much if not more ROI than large mainstream traditional media outlets. Many brands will become media platforms themselves to maintain a loyal audience and generate buzz that drives behavior (i.e. sales, list growth, clients, and students). Overall, brands will need to know how to tell stories with more authenticity, consistency, and stay visible in an increasingly noisy market.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019