Kelly Fletcher is the owner of Fletcher Marketing PR, an agency that has worked with brands of all sizes, from local businesses to Fortune 500 companies. On this episode of We Built This Brand, Kelly shares why she feels business is personal, and the mindset that she’s built to overcome the setbacks and challenges of building an agency from scratch. Chris and Kelly explore how the skills for building a brand and building a business differ, and Kelly shares why it was important to her to focus on selling the value of her team’s expertise rather than their time, as well as the importance of always looking forward towards new technologies and opportunities to maintain a constant edge above the competition.
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(01:35) Chris introduces Kelly, and she explains how she got her start in PR and Marketing
(05:14) How Kelly relates her performing arts background to her success as an entrepreneur
(06:20) Kelly and Chris discuss maintaining a healthy mindset as an entrepreneur
(18:10) Kelly’s early career
(23:49) Kelly describes how her PR skills and business skills differed
(28:30) The steps that Kelly took to set herself up for success when starting her own agency
(34:17) How Kelly keeps her agency forward-looking and moving in the right direction
(37:17) Why Kelly shifted from selling time to intellectual capital
(41:30) Kelly on the skepticism needed when evaluating agencies
(47:22) What the future of Fletcher Communications looks like
(54:10) Why Kelly can’t stand influencer marketing
(56:32) Kelly’s favorite brands right now
(59:17) Where you can find out more about Kelly, her podcast Ms. InterPReted, and Fletcher Marketing PR
- Website: https://www.fletchermarketingpr.com/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelly-fletcher-fprca-bb2b966/
- Email: email@example.com
Chris: Welcome to We Built This Brand. I’m your host, Chris Hill, and today on the podcast, we’ve got Kelly Fletcher. Kelly, I’ve known for a long time and this conversation was just fantastic. We kind of go all over the place: we talk about mental health, we talk about being a parent and running a business and the adventure that is, and we talk about how she built Fletcher Marketing and PR into the business as it is today.
Now, Kelly has over 25 years of experience in integrated marketing and communications and she is really good at what she does. She’s worked with regional companies, local companies, but also international and Fortune 500 companies. So, she’s got a lot of experience. I loved talking to Kelly, and yeah, I just can’t wait for you to hear this interview.
And I—by the way—do mean hear this interview. Unfortunately, due to some technical difficulties—and maybe me forgetting my cameras at home; I don’t know—we ended up not having cameras for this shoot, so you are going to have to listen to this one. If you’re watching on YouTube, feel free to just, you know, listen and go about your day, do other things. You may be doing that anyway if you’re watching this, but yeah, just know, it’s audio only. Of course, the podcast experience is always there and available for you. And if you’re listening to this as a podcast, you won’t hear a difference in anything that’s said. Hope you enjoy it. I really enjoyed this conversation and without further ado, let’s get into it.
Chris: Welcome, Kelly, to We Built This Brand.
Kelly: Thank you. I’m happy to be here and I’m excited about your new podcast.
Chris: Well, thank you. Glad to finally have you on and I think this will be a really fun conversation. So, the reason I wanted to have you on is, you know, over the years, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with you all at Fletcher. And it’s been a great experience, and one of the cool things has been seeing you build this business from the ground up. You know, even before I worked at Fletcher, I had the opportunity to observe Fletcher come, more or less, into the world, and Fletcher rebrand, and all the growth that you’ve had in the ensuing years, and so I think this will be a really cool opportunity to talk about literally how you built this brand and how you help other businesses build their brands.
Chris: So, let’s dive into it. And the first question I really wanted to start with is, where did you get your start in PR and marketing?
Kelly: Oh, it’s really a long story, but if you have a minute—
Chris: Oh, we got a minute.
Kelly: So, I’m really an accidental entrepreneur. And I got a degree in communications with a concentration in PR as a backup to a degree in music and vocal performance. I went to college on a vocal performance scholarship and I wanted to be a singer, an opera singer, a legitimate musical theater singer. So, that’s what I did really all through my 20s. I did have an agency job early in my 20s and decided that I didn’t want to do that and I really did want to pursue music.
So, I ended up moving to New York. I got accepted into a voice studio there with a teacher I really wanted to study with and got an agent, eventually. I eventually got another agent and was working as a, you know, working singer, actress—I use the word actress loosely. And it was a really hard life. I had always wanted to have a family and have a traditional life and so—or somewhat traditional life; it didn’t turn out that way.
But I just got so tired of living out of a suitcase. Because you live in New York and that’s where all the auditions are, but it’s hardly where any of the work is. The work is all over the place. So, you might leave and go and do a tour, you might leave and go and do a short sit-down run somewhere, and then you come back to New York and you start all over again to get another job. And so, it’s hard to make enough money to survive.
So, during that time, I also had some temp jobs and some freelance jobs in comms, but I didn’t really know much about it. And when I decided that I just needed to take a break from the whole New York thing, I was lucky enough to get a job at an ad agency in Atlanta, really because I knew somebody who worked there. And they put me in business development and that was the best thing that could have ever happened to me because I just tried to get us in doors. I didn’t even really know exactly what we were going to sell when we got in there, but my job was to just try to open doors and get us through doors. And then over time, after observing what everybody else did and what we could bring to the table, you know, I got good at talking about it.
And after, you know, seeing the work that we were doing with clients and being involved, especially in the startup and the handing off of it, I got to be pretty knowledgeable and learned the most important skill that you have to have as an entrepreneur which is you got to be able to sell something, whether it’s an idea, whether it’s a business plan that you’re trying to get venture capital for, or it’s your first couple of clients, you’ve got to learn how to sell and the nuances of selling.
Chris: Yeah. Now, having the acting and the performance background, I’ve always found an interesting correlation between auditioning and trying to sell a product.
Kelly: Yes. Yeah. So, I always joke around and say that being in the performing arts gave me a really tough backbone and prepared me really well for being an entrepreneur and being able to sell. Because when you go into an audition and you’re a singer, your body is the instrument. It’s not like you’re picking up an instrument or you’re going to sit down at a keyboard. You are the instrument.
And so, when you take so much rejection over and over, it’s really easy to walk into a boardroom or, you know, walk into an executive meeting and talk and present your ideas because it’s never going to be any worse than getting rejected as, you know, your instrument as part of your body. So, you learn how to take rejection and you learn how to bounce back from it really quickly because if you don’t, you won’t survive in the performing arts and you won’t survive in business.
Chris: That’s right. And yeah, I’ve always found that correlation fascinating, so that’s really cool. And yeah, you’re right. It’s hard to survive in business when you can’t take rejection.
Chris: Because it’s a day-in, day-out, I’m sure you’re—
Chris: Even feeling it to this day, I know I am [laugh].
Kelly: You’re going to fail… often. What separates the wheat from the chaff—is that how they say it—
Kelly: Okay—then is the people that are able to bounce back. And so, I’ve just implemented some of my own little psychological warfare in my head. And one thing is the 24-hour rule. So, when something happens, like, maybe there’s an issue with the client or maybe we didn’t get a piece of business that we pitched and we really wanted to get, or maybe a client moves on for whatever reason, I just allow myself 24 hours to feel sorry for myself [laugh] and the business, and I’m like, “Okay, 24 hours is up.” I kind of set the timer. I’m like, “Okay, you have from 6 pm till 6 pm tomorrow to, kind of, wallow and, you know, eat some bad food, and then you’re going to have to move on.”
Chris: I think that’s a healthy way to deal with it [laugh].
Kelly: [laugh]. Well, you got to acknowledge the pain because business is personal and… even though some people may tell you it’s not. When it’s your business, when it’s your name on the door, when it’s your brand, and when you’re responsible for the work product of other people—inevitably—then it is personal. And so, if you don’t allow yourself some time to just grieve some of that loss and some of those failures, then they’re going to stick around and build up longer than if you just put them aside and pretend, like, oh, it was no big deal.
Chris: I think that’s really good advice, I might actually start implementing that rule myself. I feel like I already kind of do it a little bit, but not on that scale, so I like it. I like it.
Kelly: It works in your personal life, too, you know, whenever you’re just—something crappy happened or you didn’t like the way a conversation went or you don’t like the way something’s going, and you just say, “Okay, like, let me just dwell on this for 24 hours and then come up with a plan for how I’m going to move on from it and leave it behind.”
Chris: Yeah. I deal with some anxiety, so sometimes I find myself getting in these mental anxiety loops over things.
Kelly: Oh, gosh, I definite—I’ve struggled with panic attacks. I don’t so much anymore, but I’ve definitely been through periods in my life where I’ve struggled with panic and it’s usually related to when I don’t feel in control of something. It’s very much a control thing for me. So, I’ve gone through stages in my business where I’ve suffered panic attacks. And then I went through another stage where my son—I only have one son—and he was going off to college and he was moving to London, and I started having panic attacks again.
So, I went to—and I think a lot of business people do and a lot of entrepreneurs. Actually, I’m going to digress and tell you a story about a friend of mine in Florida, Dave King. So, he was an entrepreneur. He sold his business in Atlanta, he moved to the beach, and one night he thought he was having a heart attack and dying. His wife’s an ophthalmologist. She’s driving him to the ER but in this part of Florida, it’s quite a haul to get to Panama City to the ER.
And he literally was passing out and she pulls into a fire department and the firemen—you know, the fire rescue people come out or whatever. And they just said, “Just breathe. Just breathe. Just breathe out as hard as you can. You know, expel oxygen.” And he did and then he was okay. And the guy says, “I see this a lot with you entrepreneurs that retire and come down here to Florida. And your body doesn’t know how to physically relax, and it puts you in a panic because you’re so accustomed to being in fight-or-flight mode that you start having panic attacks and then you think it’s a heart attack.”
And if you’ve never had one, when you have one, it is the scariest thing. And I think of a lot of us entrepreneurs, because we are high achievers, and we’re all a little bit of a control freak or we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. So yeah, I’m all about therapy for it and I’m all about learning physiologically what goes on in the body because I went to some special therapy to learn about the physiology of panic. And so, whenever it starts to come on, which most recently—I’m really passionate about talking about this because I don’t—I think people are embarrassed and they don’t talk about it—it happens to me on planes when it’s hot and we get stuck on the tarmac. And that happened last month. We were on the tarmac in Atlanta. It was a thunderstorm. They said the air conditioning was on on the plane. I do not believe it was.
Kelly: And I’m starting to panic because I’m like, they can keep us up out here up to three hours. And so—but I said, “Okay, not today, Satan. You’re not going to have a panic attack.” [laugh]. Remember all your skills. So, the first thing I did is I went up and I told the flight attendant. I said, “I have anxiety, and I’m having anxiety right now and it’s a lot worse when it’s hot. Can I have a bag of ice and some water?” So, he gives me a bag of ice and some water and I’m like, standing there just holding it trying to cool down. And then, for some reason I had on compression underwear, and then about ten minutes later I was like, this underwear has to come off. So, I go in the [laugh]—
Kelly: I go in the bathroom in the little… thing, and it’s really hard if you’ve never, like, taken off your clothes and take it off your panties and bra in an airport bathroom—
Chris: Not often.
Kelly: On an airplane. And then I like, wad them up and I’m carrying them out trying to, like, nobody will see that it’s my underwear. And I’m just like, “Oh, that feels so much better.” And then I just started writing in my journal. Because if I write and I stay cool and I breathe, I—and I was so proud of myself because I used to carry around a prescription, and if I started feeling like I was having a panic attack, that was my crutch. And I decided I’m not going to do that anymore. So, you know… how do you struggle with anxiety?
Chris: That’s a great question. A lot of it has to do with these anxiety loops I get in. I don’t know if I’ve ever had, like, a full-fledged panic attack, but—
Chris: —as I’ve built my business, it feels like there’s more opportunity for these things to happen. And I just obsess over things. I get stuck in loops and my brain just gets to a place where it’s like, okay, I’m worried about this too much. I need to put it aside and I just don’t think I can. The one thing that has helped me in the past few years has actually been CBD.
Chris: CBD or any strain in between, like, has really helped me. And I’m not ever advocating for anything illegal here, I want to be very clear on that, but I have used, like, full-spectrum CBD and stuff like that. And I remember the first time I was trying to do a vape pen; I’ve stopped for reasons, just mainly because I had—and I wasn’t doing it that much, but I ended up getting walking pneumonia a year or two ago—
Kelly: Oh wow.
Chris: And scared me to death. And I was like, “I don’t know that this was the cause, but I don’t want to take a risk.”
Kelly: Don’t want to mess up your lungs.
Chris: Yeah, stop with the vaping. But I still occasionally smoke or things like that, but you know, just mostly for fun. But when it comes to this, like, I took a hit on it, and it—I just—the loop I was in got cut short. It just stopped. And that’s when I realized, like, this is something chemical in my brain.
Chris: So, when I was able to recognize that, you know, I found that exercise really helps, you know, good sleep, of course really helps. And I’m really bad about that. That’s, you know, part of being an entrepreneur, too, is how much sleep will you ever get, right?
Chris: I’m already a night owl to begin with, and running a business just helps exacerbate that. Yeah, and then I’ll take, like, CBD at night when I need to, if I’m feeling like I’m in a loop. And generally, that’s enough to help. I mean, if it’s really bad, I might just be on edge, and you know, there have been some times, you know, especially with the economy being the way it is right now over the past year where it’s been like, “Oh, gosh. You know, I’m really worried about the business or really worried about this thing or that thing,” and yeah, that’s where I tend to struggle with it the most, or that’s how I tend to deal and cope. And of course, you know, I have personal faith and things like that, so prayer and things like that help as well.
Kelly: Exactly. Meditation.
Chris: Meditation, all those things, yeah.
Chris: Meditation is actually a really good one, too.
Kelly: Two things that I’ve learned that may help you and may help some of the listeners out there—whether you’re an entrepreneur or not; we have just so many pressures in modern-day life—one of the things I learned in anxiety therapy is anxiety can’t manifest when your body is in motion. So, I’ve been in hotels in the middle of the night and I will go get on the treadmill. Or sometimes I go out and I’ll, like, walk around my neighborhood if I wake up with anxiety. The other thing I learned is if I will run or walk a mile, if possible—just a mile—before I get on a plane, there’s something about whatever the release is that helps keep you calm.
And then secondly, I went through the Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” training back in the day, and I don’t remember much about it, but I remember one thing, and that is—you know, the teacher drew this circle up on the board, and he drew a little tiny circle in the middle of it. And he goes, “Okay. This outer part of this big circle is your circle of influence, and this little tiny part in the middle is your circle of control. So, you need to live in your circle of influence because there’s only cert—you’re not going to be able to control very much of outcomes. You can do all the things that influence the outcome, but sometimes you can do all the right things and you still don’t get the outcome you want. So, if you live in that little bubble of control, you’re going to not be very successful at anything in life.” So, I started thinking about, okay, I’m going to live in the circle of influence more.
Chris: That’s smart. I like that. That’s awesome.
Kelly: All these little tricks I’ve taught myself to manipulate my mindset [laugh].
Chris: Well, you have to do something to keep yourself sane, and you know, keep the business moving forward, and you know, keep life on track. So.
Kelly: Yeah, the one thing that keeps me sane is being grateful for not driving into an office to work for somebody else [laugh]. I remind myself of that a lot when I’m—[laugh].
Chris: I think I got more anxiety when I had that tight business situation, recently, I got more anxiety out of thinking about having to go to work for someone else than anything else going on.
Chris: You know?
Chris: So, I get that.
Kelly: It’s just a personality thing. It’s just a personality thing.
Chris: Yeah. And over time, it’s like, I don’t want to go back. No. I’ve worked hard. I’ve built this. I want to continue.
Kelly: Well, and it’s not that you work less. You actually work more, but it’s the autonomy of, like you said, building it and being responsible for it and nurturing it, and then getting the rewards from—not always financial rewards; that can ebb and flow, but the reward of seeing your clients have success and run successful campaigns and impacting positive outcomes for clients. And then it’s really been rewarding on the employee side to help mentor and coach up, you know, the future generation of communicators and marketers.
Kelly: And people. Just people.
Chris: And on that note, just kind of getting back on track, Atlanta.
Chris: Let’s take it back to Atlanta. So, what happened with sales? What happened after you were learning and getting your stride in sales?
Kelly: Okay, well, I met a guy—he was a professor at the University of Tennessee—through mutual friends, and ended up moving from Atlanta to Knoxville to marry him, but I was able to keep my job remotely. So, my territory was the southeast. And there was—I sold my, kind of, partner—it didn’t start out that way; it started out that we were just two salespeople doing our own thing. And then we said, you know, “Hey, when we go out on meetings together, we do so much better. Like, we’re so—you know, we’re a really good team.”
So, we partnered up, and—Vince [Vide 00:19:03]; we’re still friends—and we traveled the southeast. I mean, we were always on the road, and you know, going into meetings. And this was the day where even an introductory meeting—can we just come in and meet you?—was in person. There was—[laugh] so you flew.
Kelly: I had flown once to a meeting in North Carolina and the VP of Marketing forgot about it and he wasn’t there.
Chris: Oh, my gosh.
Kelly: And I told Vince, I said, “This is the best thing that’s ever happened because now he owes us.” [laugh]. And we ended up getting the business and it was Lowe’s [laugh].
Chris: That’s good. Wow. Wow, that’s a big one.
Kelly: It was a big one. So, he felt so bad that he just kept having this back until finally we could fill a need. So, I kept doing that for a few years, and then I had my son, and I was—it was hard to travel with a baby. And I did it for the first… year, and then decided to—Jewelry Television had been trying to get me to come to work there, on air. I knew some people there and also had some on-air experience, and so I said, “Okay, well, I’ll try that.”
And I tried that for a year and it really wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like I was very good at it. They felt like I was doing fine; I didn’t feel like I was doing fine. And so, when I resigned and they asked me why, I said to the CEO, I said, “You know, if I can’t be the best at something I’m doing, then I don’t want to do it, and I don’t feel like I’m the best at this. And I’ve given it a year and I should be better and I just think you’d be—” and he goes, “Well, you know,” he said, “You’re the first person that’s ever been honest and just admitted that you didn’t like not being the best.”
And so, then I went out and I freelanced. I freelanced for Ackermann PR and I freelanced for RIVR Media and I went in-house for a division of RIVR Media called Erroyo; it was video production. And we were—I was VP of Business Development and we were trying to sell video for training purposes. This was back in the early days of video training being delivered via the internet and via intranets. And so, I was helping us get in doors to do that.
And then I ended up going back to Jewelry Television as their first in-house Director of PR and Corp Comms. And that was really my first official job in PR. Before it had been primarily business development. Well then, and I freelanced for Ackermann. I did writing and pitching for Ackermann. So, that’s how it all kind of—that’s the trajectory. Kind of a very [laugh] splintered career.
Chris: But it’s a—you know, I think most people think, “Oh, you probably went to school for PR and you’ve been in PR for a long time and that’s just why you’re in PR,” and it’s not that linear of a journey. I mean, I could speak to that personally, just with everything that I’ve done to build into what I’m doing now at HumblePod, having done a sales background in telecom even—you know, not even podcasting—and then learning to do this building a business out of it. Yeah, I totally get that.
Kelly: Well, you saw an opportunity. I remember when I first met you and you had the beer podcast, and you still have the beer podcast.
Chris: I do. I do. We have a couple episodes that have been recorded and just need to be released.
Kelly: Yeah. But I was so intrigued by that because nobody was podcasting yet. Like, I feel like you were one of the first people in Knoxville who was really learning how to do it and embracing it and talking about it. And then you turned it into a business. So—
Chris: Well. Thank you. Yeah, it was definitely—we got voted best podcast in Knoxville two years in a row with Knox Mercury. And that was really cool. And then the Knox Mercury closed down, so we’re definitively, you know, Our Humble Beer Podcast was the best podcast ever in Knoxville—
Chris: By my estimation. So.
Kelly: There is no ranking. Cityview should do that.
Kelly: [Either 00:23:18] Cityview or—
Chris: They may have already taken that over. But yeah. Yeah, we should definitely get back on that list. Yeah, it definitely is something that, yeah, as a talent. It’s not something that there was even an industry for, you know? It’s something that is still coming up, even though podcasting dates all the way back to, like, 2003, if you go and look at the history. Like, it is something that has grown from being called audio blogging into podcasting, and—
Kelly: Audio blogging and now vlogging, and video podcasting. Well, you know, PR just comes very naturally to me and I can see a strategy in my head, like, what needs to be done to achieve certain things, and also, risk management. I feel like I’m really good at risk management in communications, looking at what are all the possible risks associated with this messaging, this campaign, with what we’re doing from a marketing standpoint, and then advising executives on how to manage through those risks on the front end instead of having to deal with them on the back end. And so, all that has always—pitching comes really easy to me. Writing is a skill that I continue to develop and hone. And I think if you’re a writer, you will feel always like you could be a better writer.
But ot—you know, business comes not so naturally. It took me about, oh, probably the first—after about the first five years of being in business, I remember sitting down, downtown [Mark Field 00:24:58] from the Knoxville chamber and just saying, “Okay. Like, I’m at this point. I don’t really know what to do next.” I had some employees, I had an office downtown, I don’t know, we probably had about 6, $700,000 in revenue. And so, he goes, “Well, you either have to decide if you’re going to stay small or if you’re going to try to grow it.”
And I was like, well, at that point, there wasn’t—I was like, “Well, of course I want to try to grow it. I just don’t know how.” Like, if we have money in the bank, I think we’re doing good. If we don’t, I’m like, “Oh, crap. We better go sell something.” And so, he suggested that I get a business coach.
And so, I joined Kevin, Craig, and [unintelligible 00:25:36] with Estrada Strategies, which is no—he’s no longer coaching, but he’s still coaches a few of us that won’t let him go. So, he became my business coach and I joined a cohort of entrepreneurs who he was coaching. And we—that was an amazing group. We would get together one day a month and have, like, a full-day meeting. And we—it was confidential; we trusted each other so we could talk to each other about issues that we were having.
There’s still some people in that group that I still call today to say, “Man, I’ve got this situation,” or, “How are you doing through Covid,” or, you know, “What do you think can be—you know, what can you be—what can be done here?” One of them is Neal Green from All Occasion Catering. We commiserate a lot about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. And those relationships that I built through the coaching cohort were really invaluable.
Chris: That’s really cool. It’s good to have mentors and guidance as you go along the journey. Because it’s—I mean, founding the business on your own, like, you’re a solopreneur. Who else do you have to lean on? Where else do you get insight and guidance? That’s—
Kelly: That’s right. And so, I call that my street MBA because we took… he had a training program that took—that broke business down into four core—no, six core areas. And then under each of those six, there was a whole subset of subcategories under processes, finance, HR, getting your ho—getting your business house in order to where you could actually say, “I have a business, yes. We have all of these core functions. We are buttoned up in all of these ways.” And that took a couple of years. And it was painful. And it’s painful to maintain it the way that you should maintain it. But it’s just it’s fundamental to business.
Chris: And learning those things is important. I think I went through—I mean, to be frank, I would love more mentoring. I’m just in that stage of my business. But I definitely feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to fail in business before this [laugh], and so I can understand, like, having to learn that for the first time—not to fail, but to learn all those core business competencies is a lot, especially when you’re only used to one facet of the business and all of a sudden, you have to be responsible for payroll and taxes. And—
Kelly: That’s right.
Chris: —all those things.
Kelly: Most people start a business to do what they love or something that they’re passionate about, whether that’s a product they developed or whatever, but then you end up doing sometimes what feels like everything, but. And so, it’s figuring out how to delegate that was really hard for me is to—I’ve gotten a lot better at delegation and of just staying out of things. But that’s a hard one. That’s a hard one for people like me to let go of.
Chris: So, when you started your business, you came out of Jewelry Television, you go out and start on your own. What was that moment of validation for you? Because I’m sure it was already a risk leaving. Like, what was that moment of validation for you with the business where you realized, oh, I can do this on my own?
Kelly: Yeah. Well, so the way I was able to leave Jewelry Television—and I’d gotten divorced, by the way, or I probably would not be an entrepreneur, just because it would have never occurred to me. It was never on my wish list of things I wanted to accomplish in my life was to own a business. That was never on the list. But when I was at Jewelry Television and I’d gotten divorced, and I had a son, [unintelligible 00:29:10] was six when we got divorced and so he was nine, eight or nine.
And I wanted autonomy. I wanted to be able to—if he was sick—stay home with him and work from home. If it was a teacher work day, I could work from home, if it’s spring break, fall break. I wanted to go on field trips. I wanted to be the parent reader. I wanted to be a room mom. I wanted to do all those things. I figured I’m probably not going to have another one.
So, somehow over a period of quite a few months, I started putting the bug in the ear of the executive team at Jewelry Television about, “You know what? Hey, I could do this job freelance on a contract basis for less money and no benefits. And because I can do—I do this job and twenty—you just need to know, I already do this job in 25 hours a week.” And I did. I mean, I could—I’m fast. I get a lot done in a short amount of time.
And so, finally they said, “Okay.” And I’ll never forget Charlie Wagner, who was chief legal counsel—who is now a mentor of mine—he was very worried. He was pacing around the conference room basically trying to talk me out of it because he knew I was a single mom. And said, “No, I’m doing it.”
And I got… RIVR Media was—I had as a client and those two clients equaled my salary that I was making for a year. And I had a year contract with both. So, that’s how I started. It was very much bootstrapped, I very much thought that I was going to be a freelancer. And then, when Fletcher—my son’s name is Fletcher; that’s my maiden name. He’s not Fletcher Fletcher—when he got to—you know, when he was older, I would go back into a corporate setting or another agency, but I just wanted those, kind of, pivotal years to be able to have some flexibility.
And then it just started to grow and we started to get clients. And I don’t know if there was a single moment of truth. I remember getting our office downtown on Market Square and thinking, “Holy crap,” you know, “I guess this is getting real. I just signed this expensive lease.” And then another moment of truth was when [Cellular Sales 00:31:24] called. And then another big milestone was we got Clayton Homes.
And then I thought, “Wow, these people think I’m credible. I guess I am.” [laugh]. I guess we know what we’re doing. I don’t know. And we had those clients for years until they both went in-house. But in-house is our biggest competitor. When companies—when we started out with both of those, they were on huge growth trajectories. And so, as they continue to grow, they brought more and more of communications and marketing services in-house. But those were two, really, moments of pride and just okay, you know, this is the—we’re really good at what we do.
Chris: Yeah, I can again, I can relate [laugh]. There’s a lot of that, like, “Oh, my gosh, they’re—this big company has reached out to me. They must think I’m a real business now.” [laugh].
Kelly: We ha—you know, as entrepreneurs, I feel like wi—impostor syndrome is very real. It’s very real. And then I’ll go to these conferences, and I’ll just be so mesmerized by somebody’s bio or what my opinion of their work is, and they’ll get up there and they’ll speak and I’ll be like, “I could have done that. I pretty much know pretty much what they just told me.” But you don’t—it’s hard to see yourself in that light because when you start and scratch your way up, it’s hard to sometimes maybe see yourself in the same light as other people do.
Chris: Yeah, it’s been interesting. I can imagine how that perception—you’re building a brand. You’re building your own brand and people are starting to recognize you for what you’ve done in your past in your career. And sometimes as an individual, it’s hard to, I don’t know, reconcile that, if that makes sense. Like—
Chris: Oh, this thing—
Kelly: It’s hard to separate your business brand from your personal brand and identity.
Kelly: Yeah. My—Speaking of Fletcher, I remember when he went through the phase where he didn’t want to be friends with me on Facebook anymore because he didn’t like it when I posted to him about it. So, he unfriended me and I was like, “You can’t. You cannot unfriend me. You are part of my personal brand.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I know. Everywhere I go, people are, like, ‘Oh, you’re Kelly Fletcher’s son. How was your last football game?’” or whatever. And I was like, “You can’t do that to me, Fletcher. You’re part of my brand.”
Chris: [laugh]. That is something, again, like, I feel like I’m saying this a lot, but I can definitely relate to that. I think you know, my dad, Allen Hill—
Kelly: Yes. Yeah.
Chris: —and I am Allen Hill’s son to almost everybody, starting out. So I—yeah, Fletcher, I feel for you. If you listen to this, I feel for you, buddy [clear throat]. I totally understand that. Well, that’s great. What keeps your agency moving forward?
Kelly: Well, we’re always trying to look forward in what’s coming our way. You know, what new technologies are coming our way? What is going on in the media landscape that’s constantly changing? How can we adapt to it? Right now of course, AI is big on all of our minds, and as an agency, we’ve been experimenting with different ways to use AI to try to make our work better and do some things faster, but not as a content generation replacement tool, more of an idea generator and content ideation generator.
So, you know, we’re… we’re always, I feel like, good at keeping up with what’s going on out there, even though we’re a small agency. I read at least an hour, industry news an hour a day and try to—this is the first thing I do when I wake up—which is probably very unhealthy; I should probably do something like exercise or eat breakfast or pray, but no, I [laugh] read industry news for an hour. And then I pray, Lord helped me get through this day [laugh].
Chris: I was about to say, you’ll want to pray after [laugh].
Kelly: What kind of industry have I gotten myself into? That helps me to think about things in a different way and bring new ideas to our clients. I think another thing that we do really well is that we have brainstorming sessions, and we try to do them quarterly, if not more often. And they’re their client brainstorms. I mean, there may be clients that we’ve worked with for a number of years and we’re like, okay, what can we do to shake it up?
What can we do to bring new ideas to the table? Let’s come up with five new ideas and take to the client and see if they’re intr—sometimes they don’t want to do any of it. Sometimes they’re like, “We’re good. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Just keep getting us positive press coverage. That’s all we want you to do. Protect our reputation, build our reputation.” And then other times, they’re like, yeah, we want to do that.
And it might lead to an increased scope of work or just some new project work or a new direction, and then that gets us really motivated to deliver. So, everything that we do is based on measurable deliverables. So, we are constantly looking at what we’re delivering against what our contractual agreement is. And that’ll keep you motivated real fast [laugh].
Chris: Yeah, yeah, it definitely will. And it’s good that you align it that way, too, so that the customer knows what you’re doing. I’m sure that’s—
Chris: You know, you’ve probably learned some of that over time—I know I have—of, like, oh, how do I tie this so that they see the value in it? Because there’s nothing worse than providing a service for a client and they come back to you? And they’re like, “Well, we just don’t see the value in this anymore.
Kelly: Yeah. Well, some—you know, we’ve evolved in that regard. So, in the agency business, really all you have to sell is time and intellectual capital. And then I started thinking about it as, we’re not selling time; we’re selling intellectual capital and experience. And if it takes me five hours to do something or one hour to do something, it has the same value depending on what the business outcome is.
So, we changed our model to be more of an outcomes-based fee structure. So, instead of saying, “Oh, we think it’ll take us 40 hours a month to do X, Y, Z, and here’s all the tactics, and here’s what we project the deliverables to be,” we say, “It’s going to cost this much and this is what we’re going to deliver. And if we don’t deliver it, then we’ll keep working until we get it for you.” And we won’t charge you, you know, if we don’t get what we agree on upfront and we don’t produce the outcomes that we say for this amount of money, then we’re going to keep—we’ve got a client right now that we’re going to continue to work for because it’s been more difficult than we thought to get the level of press coverage they want in top-tier media. And so, you know, our engagement is up and we’re still going to work because we still need to get him about eight or ten more top-tier placements. And we’ll stick by that.
Chris: I’m glad you’re committed to that. I think that’s, you know, definitely a standout part of your offering for most businesses. Because there’s nothing worse than working with an agency and being disappointed that, you know, they said they were going to do this, but they didn’t, and we paid them all this money.
Kelly: Yeah. Well, I hear that all the time. And so, one day, we were—I started thinking about it differently because I started thinking about it as far as fee structures go. My payroll is really high because everybody on our team is highly experienced. But yet, some of the clients that we’ve had for a long time, we were still charging the same amount of money. And so, I said, “That’s not right.”
Because every year, we go to them and say, “Here’s what we accomplished this year. Next year, we’re going to do better. We’re going to accomplish even more.” But we’re not going to charge any more money? Well, that’s not a good business model, right?
So, we started to adapt how we talked about our business. And when you talk about it as the outcomes you’re going to deliver and you think about it that way versus time for money—when you talk about time for money, that’s commoditization of a service. And we don’t want to be a commodity. We want to be a high-tier, high-success rate, outcomes-focused communications firm. And to do that, we had to change the way we think about it.
Chris: It’s very, very interesting. Yeah, tying it to that and the way you’re talking about rates and everything, and just yeah, I think that’s the right way to go about it. I mean, you know, the business I’m in like, again, very similar. Like we don’t tell you how many hours it takes do the work.
Chris: It’s not because we’re, you know, doing it in a minute and sending it over; we do a lot of time. But there’s a value in what we provide that goes above just, you know, how much time we spend on one piece of the production. We have management, we have all these other people, so I totally, totally can understand.
Kelly: You know, and it took me 25 years and a lot of experience to get as knowledgeable and quick as I am, so it may take me two hours to do something that used to take me five. Should I not get paid for the value of that?
Kelly: Because only my experience and the level of work I’ve put in over the years allows me to deliver faster and better results.
Chris: Well, as we look at the industry as a whole—PR industry—one thing that’s top of mind for me right now is I’ll get these random emails from time to time with people promising me, like, media placement.
Chris: Is that real? Are those scams?
Kelly: I’ve been seeing those Facebook ads.
Kelly: Um… I tend to think—so you know, we talked about, we’ll tell you we’ll get you a certain amount of coverage. But our contract is very specific to what media outlets are going to be in that coverage. You can’t come to us and say, “I want the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, I want to be on Fox News, and I want to be on Joe Rogan’s podcast.” And that’s the four deliverables. Because that is very aspirational and only a very point-zero-point-five percentage of brands or people is ever going to get all of that.
But if we agree to something realistically, as a partner, as a business partner with you, when we look at the list of targeted media and we have a reason for why we’re going after it, that is very easy to say, “Yes, we can do that.” What I’m seeing with all these Facebook ads—and maybe LinkedIn; I haven’t seen it on LinkedIn, but I’ve seen it on Facebook—you know, “I’m going to get you an XYZ publication.” So, what I think it is—and I probably ought to just, you know, pretend like I’m a client and just see what they say—I think it’s syndicated content. So, I think that maybe some of it is actual earned media, but—so earned media is, in case you’re listening and you don’t know, is when we actually earn the coverage. Syndicated content, we actually even count press releases on the wire as syndicated content now, unless there is an organic story that results from the wire placement.
And sometimes it’s just all straight pickup, it’s duplicate content, and we don’t count that. But there are services out there that they could say, “Yes, I’m going to get you in this and this and this,” because it’s pay-to-play. I can’t imagine some of the promises that they’re making in those ads are real. But you know what? You’ve inspired me. I’m going to go down that rabbit hole and I’m going to find out.
Chris: I can forward you some of them.
Chris: I’ll happily do that.
Kelly: I’m going to go down that rabbit hole. I’m going to pretend to be another business and I’m going to find out what the deal is.
Chris: I mean, because—if anything, I’m just nosy. But I know it’s your industry and I just got one of those emails, like, in the past week, and it was like a really coordinated sales pitch, we’ll say. It was an email I got. All of a sudden, I’m getting paid ads for that same business and I got a LinkedIn direct message from the guy, like, one of those sales navigators, like, CEO reaching out to me type of things, and I’m just like, “Okay, I get it. This is, you know, the new pitch and you’re probably spending a lot of money on this.”
But it was just wild. And that type of thing, like, in the PR industry, I feel like, you know, how do you know how to navigate, like, who’s good, who’s not, and what they’re going to get you? Because every industry is a little different in terms of, like, how to find an agency. But, you know, as a small entrepreneur who might be coming up in the world with a big podcast that wants to get out there, like, you know, how do I find somebody who’s a good PR agency for me? Obviously, I would work with you—
Kelly: [laugh]. You’d better [laugh].
Chris: —[laugh]—but, like, for those listening who, you know, who are just in the throes of, like, how do I find good PR, what should they look for?
Kelly: Well, you need to be very skeptical. You need to look for agencies that have been around for a while that have a solid client list with some recognizable brands on it, and you need to check their references. I’m shocked at how many pitches where I’ll say, “Would you like me to send you some references?” And they’ll be, like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” And I’m like, I would never hire an agency without references. So—or, you know, a firsthand recommendation from a colleague or something.
So—and you just have to know the right questions to ask, too. So, maybe that’s a blog I should write or a podcast that I should do—
Chris: Oh, I think so.
Kelly: About, you know, what questions to ask before hiring, whether it’s just an individual publicist or somebody to help you with individual publicity—your personal brand, or maybe you’re an author, or like you said, a podc—a personality—or a business. And sometimes we’re just not a good fit. You know, like, I don’t like to work with authors. It’s not what we do. There are companies that that’s all they do is promote authors.
There are some things like that I’m just like, I don’t work with realtors. I don’t think that it’s, um… I think it’s really hard to help realtors. And so, there’s… you just, be wary of somebody who’s going to take anything on. Be wary of a Facebook ad of a business that you don’t know anything about.
Chris: Of course. Yeah.
Kelly: I mean, I could run some ads and say, “I’ve gotten placements in all those places, too, because we have.” But I can’t tell you what your odds are without even knowing what your business is. I can’t. You might have a crappy business or a crappy product and there’s no way that you can promise somebody that in an ad without talking to them and really digging into their business to find out how publicity-worthy it actually is.
Chris: It felt like a very shotgun approach when they reached out. And I was like—
Kelly: Well, they’re going to get some very unsophisticated people to take that bait and switch.
Chris: That’s what I’m concerned about and why I’m asking—
Kelly: Yeah [laugh].
Chris: —so that’s awesome. Thank you, Kelly.
Kelly: You’re welcome.
Chris: So, what does the—I got a couple more questions here, and the first one is, what does the future of Fletcher Marketing and PR look like?
Kelly: That’s a really good question. The immediate future looks like narrowing our service offerings. So, we’re in the process of a rebrand and going to change our name slightly to Fletcher Communications. We still will take some marketing clients, but what we’ve really noticed—and I feel like these industries ebb and flow, and I feel like for a while, media relations was struggling to find its relevance with all the digital marketing that came into play, and we were fighting—you know, we very much compete with digital marketing budgets. And so, as we’ve gotten more sophisticated and we’re able to use more sophisticated analytics, especially now with GA4 analytics and some of the other software tools that we subscribe to, we’re able to get more sophisticated with how we are proving our value and proving what we bring to the table in terms of the buyer’s journey or in terms of reputation management.
It’s made me really want to get back to the core of what we started out to be, which is a communications firm. Public relations is kind of a catch-all term; I don’t really like it. Marketing communications, you know? We use communications that drive marketing strategies. And I’ve had this thought rolling around in my head for a long time about how—why communications always gets pushed down and we always have to report up to marketing.
And I think it should be the other way around. Because communications and the message and the essence of the brand, what you communicate, should drive marketing strategy. Marketing strategy should not drive commu—“We’re going to do this campaign. Go come up with some messaging.” That should never be how it works. It should be the other way around.
And so, I’m excited about doing that kind of more work—more of that kind of work and straight-up comms. Crisis management; I just love a good crisis—
Kelly: —except when it happens on the weekend at night, after I’ve had a few glasses of wine, I’m like, “What? I got to talk to the media about what now? Something’s on fire.” But I want to get more targeted in what we do. We went really wide for a while with offering, not necessarily offering everything in-house, but we have partners that we would work with.
And I think that we probably need to go back to our lane because it’s hard to do all those things well. And a lot of those services are somewhat of commodities, whether it’s social media management—I feel like that’s been largely commoditized—digital marketing, websites. There’s not a lot of profit margin in those, but there is in consulting and in building communication strategies that drive business outcomes. That’s a real niche specialty that requires some business acumen.
Chris: And it’s definitely needed, too.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, I know, having worked in so many companies and through different things, like, communications can often get forgotten, or like you said, it’s an afterthought to the marketing where they go with the tactical first. I mean—
Kelly: They go with a tactical first. Yep.
Chris: —and learning to work strategy first is a much, much bigger—better decision in the long run, but it’s also a lot harder. It requires some soul-searching sometimes.
Kelly: I’ve used that Bud Light case study as an example recently with the transgender social media influencer. We all know about that, right?
Chris: Oh, yeah. This is the second time we’ve had this conversation on the podcast, by the way.
Kelly: Oh, is it? So, everything I’ve read—and I’ve tried to read as much as I could about it—I don’t see anything about comms being involved in that decision-making or that thought process or the messaging. And it was straight-up a marketing tactic. And I wonder if comms even knew it was going to come down and happen and so they could say, “Okay, well, that’s fine. We want to do that, but have we weighed out the pros and cons? And have we managed the risk? So, if there does happen to be a boycott of our product, are we ready to handle that? If there does happen to be, you know, protests in the street and people are, like, shooting their cans of Bud Light or whatever, what are we going to do about that?”
Because I don’t think anybody thought through that very well. And in communications, that’s our job to keep that crap from happening. So, I don’t know. I just was like, “Well, I’d just get the comms people in the room, people. I’m telling you.” Attorneys, get the comms people in the room.
Chris: I agree. And I think in that specific instance, they managed to hurt both parties. Like, the people that were offended, of course, were hurt and upset. And then the transgender community, the larger LGBT community was upset by it as well because they abandoned the person at the center of it all. And that was just—
Kelly: Wouldn’t even talk to ‘em again. They just, like, washed their hands of it and… like, nothing, nothing to do with it.
Chris: I did read somewhere where one of their—they fired some, I think some [laugh] marketing executives.
Kelly: They—yeah, two people got fired.
Chris: And I think again, like, in the history of dumb decisions, like, that was probably one of the—
Kelly: That—they ma—that [laugh] one may go down in history and that’s going to be in the marketing textbooks.
Chris: I think so.
Kelly: Yeah, I think in and of itself, the idea of inclusivity is important. Now—but you have to consider who your customer is. Maybe they have research to say that they have a large transgender customer base. Maybe they have that. And if they have that research and the numbers are enough to support going out on a limb on a very controversial, heated topic area right now—it’s very heated right now—a lot of that was just timing. Is sometimes, you have to ask yourself, is the timing right for this?
Chris: You got to have your fingers on the pulse, so to speak. And when you’ve got what I’ll call stochastic terrorism—if you don’t know what that is, go look it up—but it’s basically where someone rants and raves about something until someone acts in violence as a result of it.
Chris: I think it’s a really dangerous time for at-risk communities to be, you know, put out on the front lines like that. So.
Kelly: Yes. I do too. I do too. I think it is dangerous. And I think that I can’t wait. I hope that it’s coming to an end, the era of influencer marketing. It just sticks in my craw. I hate influencer marketing. I probably shouldn’t say that.
Chris: No, why is that?
Kelly: I just think it’s just—if it’s authentic, if somebody’s doing it for the purposes of, “I really do like this product and I’m going to tell you about it. I’m going to tell you about it anyway.” If it’s for the sheer cash or the trade for product—maybe a trade for product is okay because maybe you’re going to go build the whatever kit they send you because you love that kind of stuff and that’s authentic—but paying somebody $100,000 for a post because it’s a Kardashian or whoever, just, I don’t—that is just not authentic marketing. And I think that—I’d like to predict and I hope I’m right—that authenticity is going to start mattering more in marketing because I feel like since this whole era of social media and TikTok and Instagram, that it’s become more and more superficial. And you just don’t know what to trust. And that’s something that we talk a lot about is building trust in the brands that we represent. Because trust is hard one these days.
Chris: It is. Podcasting is still one of those places where you get a lot of listener conversion based on what the host says. I’ve seen as high as, like, 65% of people who listen to podcasts say they bought something because they’ve listened to a podcast host say it. And—
Kelly: I have.
Chris: You know, for them to not be honest about using that product or knowledgeable in that product, like, a lot of times, you can just tell, you’re right. Like, there’s this level of trust you put in someone and then if that trust is broken, in some way, shape, or form, you find yourself in a position where it’s like, well, I’m not going to buy from them again. And I may even stop listening to the podcast because they recommended something that really hurt me or, you know, [laugh] I didn’t really like.
Kelly: Or was like not a good product—
Chris: Not a good product.
Kelly: Or subpar. Yeah.
Chris: Exactly. Any of those things. So, that’s really interesting. So, last question for you. I ask this to all my guests, but what brand do you admire the most right now?
Kelly: That’s a hard one. I love me some American Express. I know that’s a really big brand, but I’ve been a customer for nearly 30 years and I can’t recall one time when I’ve been disappointed in the American Express brand, in their level of service, in the value that you get for what you’re paying for the card. I really like that as a big brand.
A small indie brand that I have a lot of respect for, that I’m following is a supplement that I use called Dose. It’s a dietary supplement in a liquid form, and it’s got, like, turmeric and ginger and I can’t remember what all in it. And so, I was on a subscription—and I just think everything they do is very well done. And their branding is very good—but I was on a subscription plan. Long story short, I have too much product because I travel a lot and it’s hard to take because it’s in glass and it is—you have to refrigerate it.
So, I canceled my subscription because I don’t need any more right now. And actually, a real person actually emailed me and asked me, could I please provide some feedback? And I go, “Yeah, it’s nothing to do with product. I love the product. I love everything about it. I’ve just got too much product right now because I travel and it’s hard to travel with.” So, those kinds of small interactions are what create raving fans. Calling somebody by their name on a call when you’re on a call with them or in a meeting, just those little things are what bring a brand full circle for me. It’s not always the actual product; it’s always the service.
Chris: I wholeheartedly agree there. I mean, I think true fans are definitely the one—become ones when they get identified. We see that all the time in podcasting and stuff when you identify someone on your show and say, “Hey, thank you for listening.” You know, they’re like, “Hey, I was mentioned on the show. This is a real thing. I need to share this with my friends now.” And—
Kelly: [laugh]. Fletcher [Crest 00:58:32], thank you for listening. Maybe he’ll actually listen to something that I do for a change. [laugh].
Chris: [laugh]. Maybe he will. Maybe he will now that you mentioned him. You can tell him we talked about him.
Chris: Anyway. But yeah, that’ll be awesome. But that’s really cool. And yeah, I definitely understand that. So, it’s awesome.
Kelly: Well, um, thank you for having me on. I’m so—
Chris: Yes, thank you.
Kelly: I think it was a great podcast idea—
Chris: Oh, I appreciate it.
Kelly: —and I love the play on ‘How I Built this Brand,’ versus just ‘How I Built this,’ and I know it’s going to be wildly successful. And I hope to—
Chris: Thank you.
Kelly: —be back on when I have more success stories to tell.
Chris: Yeah. Well, I mean, you’ve got plenty. You got many, many years under your belt doing this, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Fletcher. So, Kelly, thank you so much for coming on. Last, last question: how can people get in touch with you if they want to reach out? Yeah, where can people find you?
Kelly: So, shameless plug for my podcast which you produce—HumblePod produces; it’s not always you, but one of your team members—my podcast is Ms. InterPReted—M-S Interpreted—Public Relations Demystified. Ms. InterPReted: Public Relations Demystified. You could just look up Ms. InterPReted.
Chris: I love all the puns in there.
Kelly: Yes. It’s everywhere you get your podcasts, and would love for you to subscribe. And if you have any content ideas, send them to me. You can follow me on LinkedIn under Kelly Fletcher. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to take emails, love to meet people, happy to take a Zoom coffee, or something from time to time if you’re an entrepreneur who just wants to chat.
Chris: Awesome. Well, Kelly, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
Kelly: It’s a pleasure. See you soon.
Chris: Thank you for listening to We Built This Brand. You can keep up with us at webuiltthisbrand.com and be sure to follow the show wherever it is you’re listening right now. Seriously, it’s just a tap or click away, after all. And while you’re at it, if you’ve enjoyed this show, please be sure to give us a glowing five-star review. Our producer and host for this episode is yours truly, Chris Hill. Our technical producer is Ashley Lehmann. Anisa Richie is our assistant producer. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you in the next episode.