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.
When I immigrated to the United States at 7 years old, at first, this country was so completely foreign to me that I didn't yet understand that there was any such thing as living in a "poor area."
Moreover, I couldn't even begin to conceive that I was most definitely living in one. The inner city was the only United States I knew.
I couldn't understand that there were different types of schools, charter schools, private schools, magnet schools... There was just school (public, of course). Going there every day simply became routine: Get up, go to school, go home. The option of extracurricular activities was scary to me at the time, and the area was already considered unsafe so I was never exposed to anything outside of that routine until I was about 12 years old.
I know firsthand that inner-city and underprivileged kids don't always have the same opportunities and resources to thrive in society as others.
Living in the inner city affects all families and people of all ages, but nobody is affected more than children. Growing up as a child in the inner city is challenging, and unfortunately, there is a natural disadvantage that comes with it. One that I understand firsthand.
Inner-city youths usually don't have adequate facilities to promote a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. Parks aren't always clean or safe, there isn't a variety of sports and other extracurricular activities outside of school. And the education isn't always on the same level as other more well-off areas. For most kids, a solid education is perhaps their only chance at getting off the streets, so they can create a better situation for their own kids. But if these inner-city kids aren't given the same educational opportunities as others, then they never will get out. The cycle continues.
Personally, I'm not sure who I would have been if it weren't for the opportunities my parents strove to create for me. If they hadn't believed in me enough to put me in modeling classes, I probably would never have been able to find my passion for performing in front of people, which then led me to join theater, which then segued into me competing in my first pageant. And, if you know me, you know that pageants have changed my life in a big way.
Because the environment I was living in, outside of my home, wasn't an inspirational or motivational one, I felt such a disconnect between the successful lives people were living on TV and the life that I was living or the future that I thought was attainable for me.
If we do not empower our inner-city youth it does our entire society a great disservice. We lose out on thousands, millions of potential doctors, innovators, entrepreneurs, politicians, and creatives. Think about where the world would be if people like Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr, or Marie Curie hadn't grown up in supportive families or environments? Would they have believed in themselves and achieved all they have? Maybe note, and the way we live would certainly be very different.
I give all the credit for my success in life to my parents. I was lucky enough to have a mom and dad who supported me beyond all belief and had the ability to go so far out of their way in order to give me the opportunities that got me where I am today.
When I was 12, my dad would drive me two hours to a modeling school, sit in his car in the brutal Boston winter for four hours until class was out, and then drive us back home another two hours. Or when I changed schools and could join the band and learn how to play an instrument, my mom saved up all of our extra money on the side so that I could afford to be a part of the band and learn how to play the tuba and the trombone.
My parents always reminded me that they believed in my abilities, my passions, and my potential to really make a difference in the world. And knowing this became a driving force for me. If my parents thought I could do it, it gave me all the reassurance I needed.
To this day my parents constantly emphasize that I have the capabilities to achieve anything so long as I am kind to others, work hard, and have faith.
My parents have truly helped me become who I am today. Now that I am reaping the rewards of the seeds my parents sowed in me, I want to be a guiding light for the kids that may not have parents like mine. I may not be able to solve all the problems out in the world, but what I can do is give inner-city kids the hope and confidence they need to achieve a successful life despite their circumstances.
Growing up with the notion that we either are enough or not enough, just one or the other, is simply society's way of trying to cap our abilities. The place you are born, the economic class you are born into, and the parents you are born with should not decide where you end up in life. We are all more than enough, period.
That's how the name of my initiative came about, with the mission to instill confidence and empower inner-city youth to live to their full potential despite their circumstances.
The "More Than Enough" initiative consists of school talks, workshops, and one-on-one mentorship. But first, I like to focus on sharing my personal story, because I believe that when they hear about someone they can relate to and when they see what I have been able to do with my life, I can become an inspiration just by standing in front of them and telling my story.
Then I focus on building up their self-esteem and confidence within themselves, and shifting how they view the world around them. I always tell them that everything and anything they need to succeed in life, they already have inside of them. Then I give them the tools and concrete ways so they can stay on track and navigate who they truly are, what they want to do, and how to do it.
Working with inner-city and underprivileged youth is something that I am dedicating to doing for the rest of my life. I believe in the positive impact that this work will have on our society. Because no one should be capped on their capabilities.
If these kids don't have a role model in their lives, I am committed to being that for them.