Be Transparent. Acting out of fear, I kept a lot details from my team. In the early years, I quit taking a salary and put everything I could back into the business. I think I was afraid the team would think I’d failed with the finances so I didn’t share this information. Our COO convinced me that it was important to be transparent. When the team found out I wasn’t taking a paycheck, they rallied behind me and the company. A year later, they cheered when they found out I was back on payroll. It’s been a slow process, but our numbers are now shared quarterly with the entire team. It doesn’t even freak me out anymore!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristi Piehl, Founder and CEO of Media Minefield. Kristi is a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization and C200 Protégé Class 2017. She is a graduate of Bethel University, and in 2015, Bethel named Kristi Alumna of the Year. Media Minefield has won numerous awards, including Minnesota Business Magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For” four years in a row, and most recently, named one of the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After my layoff from a TV station in Minneapolis, I was searching to find a way to connect my experience as a news reporter with my passion for helping people. A class at my church led me to launch Media Minefield, which is a news-driven public relations firm. Now 8+ years later, we are the only firm, of our size and success rate, solely focused on messaging and securing earned media staffed by former journalists using our proprietary NewsabilitySM process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The most interesting thing is how the business has completely changed my family. I’ve recently hired my husband since his experience aligned with a new role at Media Minefield. The dinner table has given our sons a front row seat to entrepreneurship. This outcome was not one that I ever expected when I launched the company.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We were quite successful in one industry and I was invited to meet some executives at the company’s headquarters. It was my first big sales meeting and I didn’t ask any questions. I showed up in high heels and received a walking tour of the headquarters, which had gravel roads connecting the buildings. Then, I found out at dinner that I was giving a powerpoint presentation to the company’s entire executive team. I was up most of the night creating the presentation. Based on the meeting, I secured a significant long-term contract that paved the road for success.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
Initially, we dabbled in a few services public relations agencies offer, including paid advertising and video production. Within a few years, it was clear the best way to scale was to have laser focus on the areas that we could deliver better than anyone else in the industry. We restructured and focused on messaging and earned media. This differentiator combined with our 100% success rate (every client we’ve ever worked with has received press) has allowed us to secure large accounts while still providing a cost-effective solution to smaller companies.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
When it comes to client work, the most exciting projects are the ones I can’t talk about! It’s exciting to help large and small companies that have experienced negative press start to build positive momentum in the media.
Internally, we’ve outgrown our space and are tearing down a wall to take over more office space on our floor. Thinking about the people who will fill that space and the work they will do gets me really excited.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Pick a focus area. PR covers so many areas, and no one person can be an expert in all of them. We’ve seen large companies looking to replace a do-it-all public relations firm or an ad agency with a handful of firms with targeted focuses. Billion-dollar brands rely on Media Minefield’s expertise in messaging and earned media. Our clients trust us because they know this is what we do best.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I’m passionate about educating people about earned media and messaging. I’ve seen it work and I’ve been working with media since I was in college. I’ve seen it change and I also see how most people don’t understand it. When I network, it’s to help people understand something I know can help them. I also network to learn about other people’s passions. I don’t network because I’m looking for business. I’ve seen networking go awry when it’s business development couched in pleasantries.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
My goal each year is to read 50 books, and there are so many that have made an impact on my business. However, Traction by Gino Wickman is the one that tactically transformed the business. After reading the book, we hired an EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) implementer and spent 18 months integrating Gino’s tools into the business. We rely on EOS every day.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If we could all live by “The Golden Rule” the world would be a better place. Let’s treat each other in the way we’d like to be treated. From the grocery store to social media to the workplace, we’ve lost the ability to appreciate the differences in each other and treat everyone with love and respect.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Think Bigger | My company started at my kitchen table and it didn’t dawn on me to hire employees until a woman I had coffee with sent me an email telling me to hire her. (I did and she is still a part of the company.) When I speak to young entrepreneurs I talk about the importance of thinking bigger.
- You Belong | I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur so I didn’t surround myself with other entrepreneurs until I realized the company and concept had real potential to scale nationwide. Authors like Brené Brown, assessments like StrengthsFinder and networking groups helped me find and embrace my professional “why”.
- Ask For Help | As a former journalist, I was trained to seek out experts on topics. However, it took me time to apply that same concept to my business. I’ve found many entrepreneurs who are more than willing to share knowledge to make my path less rocky. I certainly will pass it on!
- Good Judgment Is Relative | In the early days, one of our mantras was “Use Good Judgment”. It didn’t take long for us to realize that everyone has a different definition of “good judgment.” Oh….do I have stories. We now have very clear and measurable Core Values and metrics. It isn’t fair for team members to guess what the intent of a policy or procedure is.
- Be Transparent | Acting out of fear, I kept a lot details from my team. In the early years, I quit taking a salary and put everything I could back into the business. I think I was afraid the team would think I’d failed with the finances so I didn’t share this information. Our COO convinced me that it was important to be transparent. When the team found out I wasn’t taking a paycheck, they rallied behind me and the company. A year later, they cheered when they found out I was back on payroll. It’s been a slow process, but our numbers are now shared quarterly with the entire team. It doesn’t even freak me out anymore!