Posted on: January 11, 2024
PR practitioners aren’t just publicists. When we do our work well, we’re trusted strategists and advisors, helping our clients navigate some of their most sensitive and confidential challenges.
Jason Mudd, CEO of Axia Public Relations, started his agency 20 years ago to address the weaknesses he saw in the PR agencies he hired as an in-house communications leader. “When I was on the client side, I was often underwhelmed,” he says. “I felt like there had to be a better model for an agency where clients have a better experience and employees are treated better.”
Today, Jason’s vision has certainly come true. Axia, which Forbes named one of America’s best PR agencies, provides strategic counsel to top brands like American Airlines, Hilton and Verizon. By combining basic PR skills like landing coverage with discretion and empathy, Jason and his team have earned the trust of some of America’s most iconic brands.
On episode 246 of The PR Maven® podcast, I spoke with Jason about what people get wrong about PR, how to provide great PR and his tips for the most effective integrated marketing strategy.
PR isn’t just press releases and pitching
It’s ironic that the industry devoted to building awareness and educating consumers is so misunderstood. Jason says that most people don’t really know what PR is — and “when they do PR, they typically do it wrong.”
PR is often seen only as pitching stories to the media. “Everybody thinks PR is all about parties, press releases, and tee times,” Jason jokes.
In reality, a good PR person serves as a trusted advisor to a brand. Jason says that the most effective PR practitioners understand their clients and align with their values. He tells brands to “find someone who can be your Jiminy Cricket in your ear, giving you advice.”
Axia’s clients tell Jason that they value his firm’s strategic counsel even more so than its ability to land coverage. They appreciate being able to trust Axia for valuable — and discreet — advice on confidential matters.
“You need an agency that you know, like and trust,” Jason says.
Delivering great PR through constant improvement
Axia has earned its reputation by following five core values: integrity, ideas, relationships, results and improvement.
Recently, Jason has been focused on improvement. “I find myself getting in the trenches with my team and helping them raise what we’re doing to the next level,” he says.
Often, that boils down to finding the right tools for the team. He’s especially excited right now about artificial intelligence and even created a recent podcast episode about how Axia is using AI as an agency.
“In no way is it going to replace the value of a PR professional, because AI will never be human,” Jason says. He likens AI to “an unpaid intern” — the output needs to be reread and reworked before it can be used.
3 tips for creating a powerful PR and marketing strategy
Jason believes that PR is a necessary component of any marketing strategy, because it provides essential third-party credibility. “Consumers have trained themselves to tune out and ignore advertising,” he says.
1. Start with PR
When Jason started his agency, he drew inspiration from “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR.” The book recommends that you build a brand on PR, then use advertising to support it — not the other way around. Jason points to Tesla, Target and Starbucks as brands that built reputations before they started to advertise.
Brands are often skeptical about starting with PR. They prefer advertising, where they have greater control over the timing, frequency and messaging. Jason tells them that consumers don’t respond as much to advertising, pointing to research that shows that consumers often even attribute a brand’s ads to its competitors.
“People tend to turn off or turn down whatever they’re consuming when the ads are streaming,” Jason says, but they pay attention to the content itself, whether that’s an article or a broadcast interview.
PR also has a longer shelf life than advertising. Jason notes that advertising only lasts as long as you pay — when it’s over, “there’s no Google AdWords, no ads on the air, no billboards in the sky.” But earned media coverage lasts, and appears in search results, for as long as coverage remains online.
2. Create a holistic strategy — and stick with it
Jason says that the most effective marketing strategies are holistic, and Axia’s experiments with advertising bear this out. “We’re always playing around with levers in our organization,” he says. Axia’s levers include PR, pay-per-click advertising and content marketing.
Because Jason is passionate about efficiency, last year he wondered if Axia could accomplish more with less marketing. “I kind of disrupted our engine and removed pieces from the equation,” he says. They produced fewer podcast episodes, reduced Google AdWords spend and even cut back on PR efforts. “And then we noticed, hey, wait a minute, our inbound leads are down.”
The team repeated the experiment again this year with the same results. “It doesn’t seem to matter what we bring back — it needs everything.” Jason says, “It needs a holistic approach to work its best.”
3. Be prepared to do the work
All PR practitioners know that PR is a long game. “I tell our clients all the time that the companies that are with us the longest get the most value out of their PR programs,” Jason says.
But some companies shy away from the work required to make PR a success. Jason remembers how a personal injury attorney that spent millions of dollars on advertising had an opportunity to appear on a morning show in its local market.
“They would say, Man, these morning shows are great, but do we really have to be there at seven A.M.?” Jason recalls. The client wanted to write a check for more advertising rather than get up early. To the client’s dismay, competitors quickly swooped in to capture the open share of voice.
“What’s that they say about business?” Jason asked. “Half of it’s just showing up?”
Jason’s commitment to discipline and habit-building extends into his personal life. He recommended The 4-Hour Workweek and its companion, The 4-Hour Body, as resources to learn how to work and live more efficiently.
PR is hard work, but Jason’s accomplishments prove that the work pays off. In addition to helping iconic brands build customer loyalty and navigate challenging situations, he was named America’s best PR leader by the World Communications Forum last year. Success in PR doesn’t come easily — but if you act with integrity, constantly improve and stay focused on the long game, it can come to you, too.
This is based on episode 246 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.