Cameron Herold

January 30, 2019

Free PR: Cameron Herold and Adrian Salamunovic

Cameron Herold

Cameron Herold, co-author of Free PR, has been on the show before. He has an amazing story, but today, we’re going to talk about how he built and led a team that generated more than 5,200 media hits for his company during his six year period.

That’s right, over 5,200 media hits. It’s crazy.

These were not small mentions. He got mentioned on CNN, CNBC, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, the Big Idea with Annie Doiche. He was in Fortune, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, huge publications. He’s going to teach you how he did it in this episode.

If you’re an entrepreneur and you want to be chased by the press without hiring a PR firm, this is definitely the episode for you. By the end of this episode, you’ll know how to build your own in house PR team, which will save you thousands of dollars a month and you’ll be able to score great media coverage for free with just a few easy steps. You’re going to be shocked how simple this is.

Cameron Herold: I was a kid and my father owned a gas station in a Sudbury, Ontario, up in Canada, and he owned the gas station and then he owned a little automotive, electronic recycling company that he would rebuild car parts and stuff.

He was constantly in the press, he was constantly getting media coverage, and I remember when I was like eight or nine years old, I’m like, “Why does the newspaper write about you so much? How do they know about you?”

He kind of looked at me and said, “Well they don’t know about me. I just always call them and give them stories. I call them and tell them about what we’re doing.” That was it.

It really stuck with me at a very early age that my dad wasn’t as famous as everybody thought he was. My dad was just phoning the newspaper and they just talked about it. I got it. It really made sense to me.

Fast-forward from there to I was 19 years old, I was running my first company, I was in 2nd year university. I guess I might have been 20 years old, 2nd year university, and I had 12 full time employees.

I was running a house painting company, this was 1986, and I phoned the newspaper and I phoned the local TV station and they both covered me within a week. I was on a TV talk show.

A long segment on a TV talk show and then I was one of the first few pages of the city newspaper with a photo and an article about this house painting business I was running. I just learned at a very early age that the media always needs stories, and if you call them, they’re probably going to write about it because they’re not actually out covering famous people, they’re covering what’s in front of them.

Stop Overthinking Media

Charlie Hoehn: Cameron, you work with a lot of entrepreneurs. How many of them actually know that it can be as simple as that?

Cameron Herold: Well, by the time I’m done with them, they all do. I passed it over their heads. Every entrepreneurial company I’ve ever met is working too hard. In fact, I think every company is working too hard, and they try to work harder and hire really smart people and use all these systems. In reality, this business is extraordinarily simple as is getting PR. PR is extraordinarily simple, you just pick up the phone and contact the journalist.

Charlie Hoehn: I remember you used an analogy that I really liked or metaphor of a fly bashing itself into the window over and over and not realizing that hey, if you just go a few inches over to the right, you can fly out the window.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, there’s two windows, right? They’re bashing their head on one window but if they just turn 90 degrees, the other window’s wide open, why don’t they just go out that one?

I think companies lose the forest for the trees. They don’t really see what’s happening and they just kind of work harder.

They’re saying wait, what will give me the highest ROI on my time, my money and my people? What will give me the most momentum, what would give me the most leverage? A lot of it is a minimum viable—people talked about the minimum viable product. I say it’s minimum viable everything.

Just call the media—who cares? you don’t need the perfect story crafted.

It’s kind of like when we were in high school or university and you want to go hit on the cute girl, that cute guy. You just walk up and you hit on them. You just talk to them.

“You don’t practice it and rehearse and role play and script it all out.”

You just go and start. Well, it’s the same with the media. Unfortunately, most companies just won’t pick up the phone, they’ll try to write the perfect press release or write a perfect news wire or figure out all the angles, or they just get busy with busy, instead of just picking up the phone and calling journalist who are all sitting at their desk today thinking about “what am I going to write about next?”

You Can’t Win Without PR

Charlie Hoehn: What does it mean to not be able to get PR for these companies—I mean, is it really so bad?

Cameron Herold: Yeah, the problem’s not really marketing or sales related. There’s two problems. One is, most companies don’t know how to do this, so they assume they have to hire a PR firm. They assume the PR firm who has sold them really well that the PR firm has all these amazing relationships. The PR firm has none of those relationships. They might have a few.

But they don’t have enough relationships. When I built the PR team inside of a 1-800-GOT-JUNK, we landed 5,200 stories about our company in six years. There’s no way a PR firm can have that many relationships.

We built a six-person PR team from scratch that had no experience in PR, and we simply picked up the phone and called journalists.

I think a lot of companies are wasting time and wasting money and wasting their own internal resources of talking to these PR firms, and often spending $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 a month to have them on retainer to get a very little impact.

It would be much cheaper to hire a full time person for $4,500 a month or $4,000 a month—you could have a full time PR person who’s just pitching your company.

The second part of the problem that this is fixing is most people don’t believe advertising in marketing. We just get simply too much of it. We do still believe what’s in the media. You know, even though we’re hearing these stories about false media or what’s the term they’re using now? Fake news.

You know, the whole fake news thing is true. There is a lot of fake news, but people still believe what they read, they still believe what they hear.

You’d rather be covered by the press than not, and you certainly want to be covered by the press a lot more than your competitors would be.

Press Gets Results

Charlie Hoehn: What did that translate to in terms of bottom line, in terms of building your brand? I mean, how significant was the impact of all that press?

Cameron Herold: Yeah, it wasn’t 5,000 stories, it was 5,200 stories. Don’t take those away from me.

You think about it. I could very safely say, 99% of companies or larger have never received 200 stories in their lifetime, let alone in five or six years. Most will never get five. Most companies won’t be covered five times in the media.

Here’s an interesting point: I left the company as the chief operating officer in May of 2007. That was right when Facebook was starting. Twitter I think was starting a year later. We had no social media to actually amplify—we couldn’t share any of our press on any social media feeds.

Imagine if we could have shared those 5,200 stories today and shared them five times on Facebook, five times on LinkedIn, five times on Twitter. Imagine if Dig or Reddit or StumbleUpon were in existence—we could have shared it on those sites.

“There was nowhere for us to amplify it.”

We literally leveraged the brand just off of those stories alone. We didn’t even email them to people. The real leverage came off of the fact that we were on Oprah, we were on Dr. Phil 17 times. We were in the newspapers, we were on the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle. Name it—we were at New York Times, Wall Street Journal. They all covered us.

Many with half paid articles and photos covered us. The real credibility came from talking about it—from having our office filled with hundreds of mounted press photos and press articles all over our offices, filled with them. When potential franchisees walk through our office, those franchise prospects saw the press. When potential employees worked into our office, they were wowed by the press.

People have never seen this much media.

We got leverage that way, we got credibility that way, we got excitement that way, and the more press that we got, the more the press would write about us.

Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, every single outlet that you listed, Oprah, New York Times, Wall Street Journal. These are the top dogs that everybody’s gunning for, it seems almost too good to be true to hear you say.

Cameron Herold: Well these were the actual print editions too. I personally, in the last three years have been in the physical print edition of Forbes magazine, the physical print edition of Fortune magazine, a physical print edition of Entrepreneur magazine, the physical print edition of Success magazine. Let alone the websites.

Plus, the number of newspapers. I’m talking about the leverage you get off of truly getting media in the actual print editions as well as online is powerful. It’s not really that hard to get. Every single one, you know, CNBC’s Squawk box. Name it, we were pretty much there.

I think the only major news outlet or outlet we did not get was we didn’t get on the Letterman show, and were trying to. We almost had Bud Nelman doing a ride along with one of our junk drivers and got sick and I canceled the episode and never rebooked it. Outside of that, we were pretty much everywhere.

Big Wins, Big Returns

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me the story of your biggest get? What was the one that you really wanted and you finally landed it?

Cameron Herold: Well, Oprah for sure. Yeah, I mean, it was a long episode, it was a multiple minute episode, like probably a four or five minute episode on Oprah with multiple shots off our 1-800-GOT-JUNK trucks, the big blue and green trucks, multiple shots of our drivers, navigators wearing the big 1-800-GOT-JUNK shirts with huge names on the back.

Oprah mentioned 1-800-GOT-JUNK five or six times, the CEO Brian was on set and was on film on the show talking to her as part of the episode. Just crazy media coverage.

You know, Oprah was certainly the holy grail, yet we didn’t get much business from it in terms of selling franchises or making our franchises busy. Now, we’ve been able to talk about it for 16 years, which is pretty huge.

But I’d say the biggest piece that we got that really drove a revenue, we got a piece on CNBC Squawk box, which was around a six-and-a-half-minute episode. I actually had a similar one done on by CNN Money, which is about a three-and-a-half minute episode. The one on CNBC Squawk box was again showing our trucks, showing our drivers talking about franchises, talking about franchise fees, talking about the franchise program. I think we sold 15 or 16 franchises and the franchise fee and franchise territory fees were $40,000 each. We did about 700 thousand dollars in franchise sales because of that one piece.

Charlie Hoehn: Amazing. That right there, if you’d worked with a PR agency for instance, first of all, that piece would have never have come about but it would have more than covered every cost you ever had with a PR agency.

Cameron Herold: And then some.

I have another one. We landed in an associated press writer who wrote an article about us and we ended up in 220 newspapers on a one day period in seven countries. That’s really the holy grail I feel like.

Charlie Hoehn: When that happens, when associated press really ripples out globally.

Cameron Herold: With photo. It was powerful.

My cousin was actually traveling in Thailand at the time and he saw us in a Bangkok press and he sent me a note and he’s like, “Dude, what the–I just saw your name in a newspaper in Thailand, what the F are you doing? This is ridiculous.”

How Relevant is the Press, Really?

Charlie Hoehn: I’d imagine, maybe some people are listening and they’re saying, “Cameron, even though this is all very impressive, that was back in the day, the media has changed so much now. What is it about media today?” Would you agree or disagree?

Cameron Herold: I have two media coverages this week, I was interviewed by two different podcasters on one hour episodes this week, and this is my third. Here’s three media outlets that are carrying me right now. That’s this week.

I appeared in a newspaper about 10 days ago, I appeared in a couple of people’s blog posts a couple of weeks ago.

Yeah, of course it still works, it totally works.

The media every day, every single journalist woke up this morning, sat down at their desk and thought, “What the heck am I going to write about today?”

Every photographer sat down and thought, “I wonder what good photos I could take today that will end up in whatever outlet?”

“Our job is to pick up the phone and inspire them in a two minute conversation.”

Just saying, “Hey, do you have two minutes? I think I have a good story for you.” They’re all going to say yes.

Charlie Hoehn: Is it really that simple to get on the phone with them? I mean, don’t many of them prefer email—and isn’t it hard to get their number?

Cameron Herold: It’s actually easier to get on the phone with them than ever before. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when I first started doing this, it was hard to get on the phone with them because there was a gatekeeper. You had to call the receptionist, no one had cellphones, there was no internet to find the information, there were no internet databases to get the information.

You actually had to phone the outlets and get the phone numbers to call the outlets, and then you would have to get through the receptionist and often leave a voicemail message or a physical mail message that didn’t have voice mail, most of them didn’t have voice mail.

That was really hard.

Nowadays, you can use outlets like media outlets or PR Newswire or Cision and these other databases. You can actually get all the journalists’ contact information.

Even if they say don’t phone me, the reality is nobody phones them. Nobody phones anybody anymore, so they’re going to pick up the phone if you call.

“You’re not going to burn a relationship, because you don’t have the relationship in the first place.”

They’re busy—they’ll forget about you in two weeks if they got upset. If you’re calling to do them a favor, if you phone and say, “Hey, do you have two minutes. I think I have a good story for you,” they’re going to say one of two things. Either, “Sure, what’s the story” or they’re going to say, “No, I’m really busy, I’m on a deadline.”

If they say they’re on a deadline, say “Great, how about I call you tomorrow or Tuesday?” If they say yes, you just give them the story, but the information’s all easily accessible. Even if you don’t want to pay the $1,500 a year for the databases, you can just look up that writer’s name or look up the outlet’s names and their contact information is often on Google.

Charlie Hoehn: My favorite type of advice is uncommon common sense. This I feel fits right into that category where it’s almost so simple and maybe even a little bit obvious that no one does it, because we overthink it.

Cameron Herold: Well, that’s what I mean about business in general—it’s why I’ve been coaching so many companies all over the world. That is why I started with the COOAlliance, it is why my books are selling so well. I see the simplicity in business and everyone else seems to be trying the hard way.

I see the window that’s open that you can fly. You can just turn and go out the open window. Meanwhile, everybody else is banging their head in the window trying harder, trying harder.

It is not because I am smarter, because I am not that smart. You work with Tucker Max, that guy is smart, right? I got 62% in high school, I got 62% in university, so I had to find the cheat sheets. I had to find the quick fixes. I had to find the shortcuts to everything.

I just think I learned how to see the shortcuts to everything now instead of the more complicated ways.

Know Where You’re Going

Charlie Hoehn: A chapter that you have in the book is “know your audience to know your story.” Talk to me about this.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, well it is a pretty simple concept that Steven Covey popularized in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits was begin with the end in mind.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. That is a quote from one of my favorite characters now is the man behind the Cheshire Cat. I think most people just do things without actually pausing for a second to say, “Why am I doing it?”

So why are you doing PR? Are you doing it to raise your brand awareness? Are you doing it to give yourself more credibility? Are you doing it to drive culture inside of your company? Are you doing it to amplify your sales and marketing efforts? What I like to at least at minimum do is make sure that my PR strategy dovetails into our national and regional sales and any to the marketing messaging that we’re using.

It’s just really powerful to apply it and utilize it together as part of that mix, but most people don’t really think about it. They don’t try to tie it in or they don’t have the larger purpose.

Even when we were building 1-800-GOT-JUNK, I joined the company with 14 people at the head office when I got there, and when I left six and a half years later, we had 3,100 employees system wide. When I walked in, one of the first three things I wanted to do, the first one was raise prices. The second one was to really drive PR to leverage the brand, and third was to obsess about employee culture.

“And if we did those three things, we’d win.”

One of the reasons I wanted to get PR was I realized that for us to be in the press, no one else could get to press. If we were to the first to the press in every market, we would always be in the press. It would also drive our credibility. It would drive our company culture, it would help us through with recruiting. It would help us with our messaging—and we didn’t have the money to do advertising. So it is a lot cheaper than doing advertising.

That was the beginning with the end in mind.

Charlie Hoehn: How often do you see companies, entrepreneurs just mindlessly going after PR because that’s a thing that they think they need to do?

Cameron Herold: I would say much less. I think when people do cognizantly go after the media they at least have some reason for doing it. They’re thinking about it in some way—it may not be the right way. It may not be the most effective way. It may not be the most strategic way, but they are at least thinking about in some fashion. They are doing it for a reason. They do understand that they are going to get business from it.

Now most people also think that they are going to get more PR than they probably will, or more business from the press than they probably will. Just because you are covered in some newspaper like the Dallas Morning News doesn’t mean that people are going to beat a path to your door.

Media Lists 101

Charlie Hoehn: So let’s go on to the next part, which is compiling your media list. How do you go about this? Is it pretty straight forward or technical?

Cameron Herold: It’s pretty straight forward. I mean you find out who your customers are or what content your customers are devouring. So as long as you understand your customer habits or who your customer is, you understand where they spend their time and where they learn, where they absorb content and you try to target those.

Secondly, you might strategically think about what markets you are trying to move into and look at who is going to be able to hit that demographic, like a demographic profile.

Third, any outlets that you think you can get into the door with easier because momentum creates momentum, right? It’s not the perfect article, it’s just get a couple of articles in a newspaper that you can get PDFs of. You can get it online, so you can actually share it in all the social media.

It is just “get media,” and the more media you get, the more media will continue to write about you. So every article you get will lead to another article and lead to another article and lead to another article so just get started.

Charlie Hoehn: So I feel like this is a part that people don’t always fully think through. They tend to go for the biggest outlets or the ones that they really love that would mean a lot to them to be on but not necessarily where their audience is.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, exactly. That’s why again, you have to begin with the end in mind. Where are my customers? I mean it is irrelevant what I read, it’s what’s my customers devour. It is what my customers consume.

Quick Pitches

Charlie Hoehn: So how do we make a simple pitch?

Cameron Herold: So when you think about what you’re covering, I want you to think about coming up with a story headline that is a very short story headline, just like the one sentence that might be the headline of the story. Then what are the five core points that make that story important to the reader or the viewer, right?

What core five points do you want them to hear or to read when they actually consume that content?

Charlie Hoehn: Why five?

Cameron Herold: That’s really all that the writer can consume.

So you are not writing the story for them. You are really saying, “Here is my story,” like the book Free PR, it is all around how to know how to craft angles and how to understand the audiences and how to pitch the writers and how to build an in house PR team and how to leverage the PR.

Those are five core points.

So there is enough for a writer to work around, right? To craft a story out of. Ask questions and talk to them about that.

Working Relationships

Charlie Hoehn: That brings us to the next part, which is working with the journalist. What does that actually like beyond just giving them a call?

Cameron Herold: Journalists are more often analytical, amiable, thoughtful. They operate at a more conscientious speed, whereas I like having sales people to pitch PR because they can handle rejection. They’re good at cold calling, they are good at keeping track of their prospects and they don’t get turned away by rejection.

So when a sales person calls somebody, they can scare them off.

“If you come in too strong with too much energy, you’re going to scare off the writers.”

So it is really understanding the writer’s style, their behavioral traits first, respecting the writer’s time because they are busy and they’re often on deadlines. Then it is helping to give them a story to start with and then asking questions on listening. So that they can craft the story, they can craft the points into an angle.

You are helping them frame something, and if you sense that it is having a second story ready, you already got them on the phone and try story number two.

Charlie Hoehn: You also have a third section in the book, which you helped the reader master the interview process on TV, on podcast, in print and online, which is actually huge.

Cameron Herold: Not only can it butcher, it but also you won’t get the proper coverage you are looking for. So as an example, at your company office you should have big logos of your company name and art work that’s powerful and sections where either your phone number, URL are up on the walls. So that when the media comes, you can suggest those good places for photo shoots. You can stand there and talk to them and go, “This might be a good place for a photo.”

You just kind of, “Oh gee, shucks” your way into it.

They are never going to say to you, “Hey can you stand in front of your truck for a photo with the big logo” so the other one is just wearing corporate clothing that had a big logos on them, right? Or making sure that your office is completely clean.

We would have the most detail oriented people walk through our office and tell people to clean up—like tie your cables and get rid of garbage on the floor and Windex, or inside and outside of car windows.

You know, ArmorAll the tires of vehicles, just anything you can do so that everything presents to the very, very high level. No one is going to ask you to do that. You have to understand to do that on your own.

Then thirdly, create photo ops. When we had the Canadian bureau chief from associated press come to our office, we didn’t pick him up at the airport in a limousine. We didn’t have the CEO pick him up in a limousine.

We had one of our PR guys dress up as a truck driver and pick up the Canadian bureau chief in a 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck, but before he got them into the truck, he gave him a uniform to change into.

So now we have Tom Cohan, the Canadian bureau chief wearing a 1-800-GOT-JUNK outfit including the boots, right? And guess what they did? They didn’t drive to the office, they went into the junk removal job first—no writer is going to ask for that experience.

“You have to understand what they are looking for and try to help them with their story.”

That is why the story ended up in 220 newspapers, because we blew this guy’s mind. Everybody else would have the CEO pick him up at the airport.

Charlie Hoehn: You have to set the stage for them to happen.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, there’s really no such thing as investigative journalism anymore. I think that died in about the ‘50s or early ‘60s, where companies would actually send out journalists or writers to go out and uncover the news.

Maybe it went in as late as the ‘70s or ‘80s, but investigative journalism is just far too expensive, and now with social media and with the internet, journalists can actually find more content and more resources at a much faster pace than ever before.

But the reality is they are not out looking for it.

If you do what everybody else does or everybody else writes in newswire, writes a press release, emails it off. Now the journalist—or probably not even a journalist, usually the editor of the city desk—has 400 press releases to read through. They’re going to say no to 395 of them.

Why would you ever try to talk to somebody who is saying no 395 times a day versus picking up the phone and calling the journalist whose only other phone call is probably their mom calling to say hi.

You get through the clutter real fast.

Connect with Cameron Herold

Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for listeners to connect with you and follow you?

Cameron Herold: Over nachos. Although my weight is down 35 pounds maybe not nachos…

All of my books are on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. If they can look up, I’ve done three books with Scribe, I’ve done Free PR, Meetings Suck and Vivid Vision. But all my books are on Amazon, and then also the COO Alliance is really my core internet property where we’re going to be running the only network of its kind in the world for the second-in-command, so that would be a great place for them to start as well.

Go to my press page on that website.

Just take a look at all the press around me, or Google my name. If you’re wondering if this is all true, just go to Google and then go to the news tab and type in my name, Cameron Herold. You’ll see so many news articles and you’ll realize this book is really powerful.

Charlie Hoehn: Wow. Yeah, it’s like a never ending scroll of press.

Cameron Herold: Don’t take my word for it.

Charlie Hoehn: The final question I have is for you to give our listeners a challenge, what is the one thing they can do from your book that will have a positive impact?

Cameron Herold: I would do it this, and exactly this: I would grab a post it note or a piece of paper, I would write down one story idea, something about your entrepreneurial journey or you overcoming adversity or your company culture or something.

It has to be like less of a sales pitch and more of a story about something—how did you decide to write your book. You know, how did a book come out of you? Whatever it’s going to be, and come up with five core bullet points.

Then pick up the phone and call three or four writers at your local newspaper and say “Hey, do you have two minutes? I think I have a good story for you,” and pitch them.

Just try the pitch. See how fast you’ll get through.