In the 1990s, Robin Kocina’s public relations firm, Media Relations Agency, was asked to introduce Breathe Right nasal strips, the nose strips that claimed to help clear nasal congestion. A big part of the job was to convince reporters on television and in newspapers to feature the strips and explain how they worked to a skeptical public. After dogged campaigning and, eventually, the power of football stars who started to wear the strips, Breathe Right became a success. Kocina’s agency still helps promote products and brands, such as Great Clips and Cargill. Public relations has evolved a lot since the firm, based in Burnsville, started. Kocina recently acquired the women’s networking group, Encourage Her Network. She discussed that investment and career in a recent interview. Some excerpts:
Q: How did you start your firm?
A: My husband was a marketing director for an investment firm and they did PR. He came up with the idea to do Pay Per Interview. He purchased it and this was 30 years ago and things have changed a lot. We actually started in our laundry room. We both had other jobs. He’s the creative, futuristic-looking person. I’m the person that runs operations. I love what I do. The best part is the people. That’s how we started, and in the 1990s, we added the internet because it was a new medium and it came out of a need of our clients. They were asking for help in that area. We had an event company that we sold a few years ago. We’ve been doing this for 30 years. We have clients all over the country and outside of the country. We’re global. One of our biggest clients is out of Malaysia. We have clients in Israel and in the U.K. They usually have a product or service they want to teach the public about and so they rely on us to do that.
Q: How has the concept of earned media changed since when you began the firm? (Earned media spreads the brand via customers’ word of mouth, blogs and news reports.)
A: There’s definitely been a transition. We now get placements on the internet and in blogs. One thing about traditional media is if you have a topic that you want to research, you go to the internet and you can find a lot of surface-level content. We, for years, wrote content that had to go through the filter of the media — good enough content not to bore your audience. We have what we trademarked “media-grade content.” There’s too many people out there so you have to have some good, rich, deep content. Traditional media still reaches many more people than bloggers, but you have to look at all of that and take an integrated approach.
Q: How does the Pay Per Interview publicity concept work?
A: Clients like that because we take on the risk with them ... so they know that we don’t charge them for trying. We only charge them if we are successful. That’s why we have to get good with our content. I always say we have two clients. We have the media and our clients, and it’s our job to make it work together. Usually they have a new product or something that has science behind it that they have to teach. ... That’s really what sets us apart.
Q: Why did you want to add Encourage Her Network under your company umbrella?
A: I have helped Shannon [Johnson, founder of Encourage Her] over the years. Shannon is a go-getter and I love that about her. She was doing this all herself, running the network. It has monthly signature events. It has chapter meetings. It has the magazine. It has the website. She just came to me and said, “I need help, Robin.” She just was bold and asked me [if I] would I buy her out. I hired her. She’s now an account executive here. She still runs Encourage Her. The reason I did that was because I felt like it was God opening a door. I just felt like it was the right thing to do, mostly because it fits with our culture. I was on WomenVenture [a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women-owned businesses]. I chaired their board. I’ve helped WomenVenture. I worked on their conference committee. We sponsored the NABO [National Association of Business Owners] event. We also have a Hands of Freedom. It’s a group in India. Women are taught, the untouchables are taught, they are unworthy and we want to change that. We help them come up with a trade to make money. … We offer office space for the development director. We just helped them hire a development director. The Encourage Her Network fits with that. It fits with really who we have become. I don’t know if it’s a good revenue generator. That’s not why we did it.
Q: How has the process of introducing a new product to the market changed since when you started?
A: When we started the company each market had three or four TV stations and two papers. Now we have hundreds of cable stations and the internet. We have bloggers, online magazines, online papers, online TV and online radio. It’s endless. So we have to be really good at understanding our clients’ market so you go after the right market. The other thing ... is that part of our employees’ role is to be constantly learning. The team that does digital, they are certified and they are constantly getting new certifications and being certified in Google ad words and being certified in Bing. It’s just ongoing learning. You have to be careful what’s out there. You have to make sure it’s a credible source.