Brant Skogrand, APR, MBC, CPPM, has an incredibly impressive career, and after visiting with him over coffee on a snowy Minnesota morning, I got the sense that he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Starting in the early ’90s, Brant seems to have done it all: from PR for an entertainment retail company to corporate communications for Thomson Reuters to financial services PR at Thrivent Financial to news editing at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul … with time at different agencies in the area, as well.
And, of course, there’s also starting his own PR firm in the meantime, coordinating weekly articles for the Star Tribune and serving multiple roles within PRSA, including past president of the MN PRSA chapter and chair of the Midwest District.
So, it comes as no surprise that he took all his experience and knowledge and recently published a book for new and seasoned public relations professionals. “Promoting Your Business: How to Harness the Power of Media Relations and Influencer Marketing” takes readers through the basics of media relations, including how to form relationships with journalists and a crash course on press releases. The second half of the book features more advanced lessons about the industry, including interviews with influencer marketers and case studies on companies who dealt with high-profile crises.
I sat down to talk with him about his book, his career and public relations in general.
The world of PR is always changing … except when it isn’t
When I asked Brant if he could share a few examples of how public relations has changed through his career, he just laughed.
“I could tell you specific changes, like how you research media contacts,” he said. In the past, PR professionals had to use Bacon’s books — giant tomes filled with the contact information for journalists, divided up by type of media they worked for, like newspapers, magazines or television shows. Now, finding email addresses is a little bit easier when conducting media outreach.
More so, the advent of social media is another big change that rocked the public relations field, as well as the decline in print publications and the focus on SEO and traffic when pitching stories to reporters.
However, while the way we consume media has changed drastically over the decades, some things have stayed the same.
“Writing,” Brant said. The importance of strong writing skills has remained relevant throughout his career. From pitch emails to website content to news releases, a PR practitioner needs to be comfortable with creating and distributing high-quality content at a fast pace to get their information to a media contact by their deadline.
Brant advises that young professionals or students start practicing as soon as possible. “Write as much as you can,” he said. “Whether it’s for a blog or building your portfolio with writing assignments from class.”
Is influencer marketing just the newest shiny thing?
When social media became a focus in the marketing and public relations world, many companies felt that they HAD to have a presence on every platform to stay relevant. However, Brant explained that the turning point in this mindset was when MySpace bit the dust.
Suddenly, companies experienced “wait a minute” moments and had to make judgement calls to decide if they needed to be on every new platform, regardless of how shiny and exciting and popular it was, knowing that not all new things would last forever.
As with social, influencer marketing is a tactic that may not work well for every organization, but it is one approach to consider.
Brant advised that an individual approach is best when it comes to influencer marketing. If you have a feel for what the influencers write and post about, you have a better idea of whether it will be a successful partnership.
“Influencers are their own little media company,” explained Brant. Even though their main business goal is to make a living for themselves, they also value their authenticity, so companies should take the time to make sure they’re a genuine fit for a campaign.
The MAT Release’s place in public relations
Brandpoint’s Senior Business Development Manager Kristi Marquardt has had the chance to work with Brant on a professional level over the course of both of their careers and was included in “Promoting Your Business” to talk about the MAT Release.
The MAT Release is a piece of lightly branded sponsored content that’s distributed to a wide network to help drive traffic and awareness in marketing campaigns. In the book, Kristi explains, “The value of the MAT Release helps complement your current marketing and public relations efforts.”
And, along with helping clients achieve their business goals, incorporating MAT Releases into the marketing mix can help PR professionals strengthen their media relationships, too.
With print media’s presence dwindling and publications running their websites with fewer journalists, these news organizations are forced to do more with less. To help them keep up with pressing deadlines, PR practitioners who offer fully formed, AP style articles in the form of MATs are helping editors fill space in their editorial calendars.
Advice for those just starting in the industry
“Network, but network in the right way,” Brant said. He advises that recent or future graduates create their own business cards to bring to events that include their date of graduation and area of focus. Remember names and faces, and always follow up in a personal way. He gives an example: it’s easy to click the “Say Congrats” button on LinkedIn when prompted to, but the unique comments and messages are the ones that stand out.
When starting a new job, Brant said to make sure to learn “what keeps your boss up at night.” Knowing the most important things to your managers and the leaders at the company — and acting to solve related problems — will greatly showcase your value to the organization.
“Be knowledgeable about the business side of the business,” he added. Know the financials, such as what makes the company money and its biggest expenses. Becoming a well-rounded communications professional who can speak to all sides of the company will take you far.
Oh, and one more thing: read his book! There’s a ton of information in there for everyone, from students to new professionals.
A look at public relations in 2020
Before we finished our coffee and headed out to brave the icy roads of Minneapolis, I asked Brant what he was most looking forward to next year in terms of public relations. Immediately, he began talking about students — the people who are just about the enter the professional world.
“I’ve always been excited about guiding the next generation of PR professionals,” Brant said. “From being involved in the student relations committee in MN PRSA, serving as a professional advisor of PRSSA members at the University of St. Thomas, and now, advisor for the student-led Tommie Communications.”
Next, Brant said he always looks to the PRSA Classics Awards every year to see the best practices and creative campaigns from the area. He especially noted his interest in seeing more merging of paid and earned media efforts.
Lastly, on a broader scale, Brant referred to some common themes he learned at PRSA ICON this year in San Diego. Companies still need to focus on combating disinformation, and leaders at organizations should work with PR to take stands on issues that are relevant to their brands.
“Promoting Your Business” by Brant Skogrand
If you’re interested in learning more about the basics of PR or hearing some case studies of effective campaigns, “Promoting Your Business” would be a great addition to your bookshelf. The authors — Brant Skogrand, Kate Makowski and Aliki Vrohidis — are an excellent representation of what the public relations industry in Minnesota has to offer.
For more insights on PR and information on Brant’s company, visit Skogrand PR Solutions’ website.