PR Surround Sound and Taking Clients to the Light Bulb Moment

Tara Murphy, Owner, 360 Media (Atlanta, GA)

Tara Murphy owns 360 Media, an entertainment, lifestyle, and hospitality agency that focuses on public relations, event planning, and digital marketing. In the last couple of years, the agency has expanded into hotel work and commercial real estate. 360 Media will have been in business 25 years as of next January.

In this interview, Tara describes how her agency utilizes a variety of complementary narratives, images, and quotes layered on different platforms (social, email, print TV) to build a “big picture” storyline and cadence a client’s message. Tara explains that a lot of companies have ineffective PR because they fail to link their messages across the various platforms. 360-Media often educates clients on how to figure out message cadencing and how to make everything work together.

360 Media’s expansion into the commercial real estate market segment came about when the agency was tasked to promote Atlanta’s Krog Street Market, one of the first “food halls” to gain global recognition. Tara explains that Krog Street Market could have been a glorified food court, but it became much more than that . . . and was pivotal in rejuvenating the neighborhood around it. 

Understanding a client’s goals and objectives, mapping out a strategy, and then building a PR program with integrated story-telling, place-making, and branding components can change commercial real estate from a B2B proposition into a personal “what’s coming to my neighborhood” lifestyle play. 

Tara provides tips on how to write and submit press releases in today’s environment, what makes something newsworthy, and how to help a client find the unique “angle” that makes a “me too” announcement stand out. (This understanding is the light-bulb moment.) Less is more, Tara says. You have to target your audience, then customize the pieces for each of those targeted audiences.

Tara notes a couple of things she might have done differently when she started:

  • She feels she should have been more ready to follow her intuition, 
  • She made the mistake of extending too much credit to financially-strapped clients

The things that have helped 360 Media succeed for almost a quarter decade:

  • Being open to morph and willing to take on new challenges
  • Keeping a diverse client base

For the past 2 years, 360 Media has published the Atlanta 100, an end-of-the workweek e-newsletter and website (theatlanta100.com), which each week features twelve 100-word stories and 100-second videos on topics of intrigue in the Atlanta area. Lots of information . . . quick and easy access.

Tara can be reached on her agency’s website at 360media.net or on Instagram at 360 Media, Inc (@360mediainc).

Transcript Follows:

Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Tara Murphy, Owner at 360 Media, based in my own hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to the podcast, Tara.

TARA: Thank you so much for having me.

ROB: Thank you for coming on. I wish that we were not sheltering in place and we could then actually meet up in Atlanta and do a live interview. Those are always fun. But we will call that for another time. Why don’t you start off by diving into 360 Media and where 360 Media excels?

TARA: Sure. 360 Media is an entertainment, lifestyle, and hospitality agency. We focus on PR and a little bit of event planning and then digital marketing. Our sweet spot is traditional PR, and we are about to celebrate our 25th anniversary in January of 2021, which is very weird to say. We’ve morphed over the years but always have stayed under that umbrella of entertainment, lifestyle, and hospitality. That’s our focus and the sectors that we work with.

It’s been really interesting the last couple of years. We’ve expanded a little bit into hotel work, commercial real estate. We have a lot of those clients who say that we make corporate cool. We take commercial real estate and turn it more into a lifestyle play, which is really fascinating and interesting. It’s been a wild ride over the years, and we’ve continued to morph. But PR has been the area we’ve always continued to excel and focus on.

ROB: Congratulations, by the way, on that 25 years. Hopefully you’ll be in a good position to actually plan an event for that, because that would be an excellent thing to be able to do from where we are right now.

TARA: Thank you. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of people say the same thing, and I’m like, “We still have 6 months!” But that’s going to fly by.

ROB: For sure, it will. It’s interesting you mention that shift in commercial real estate. What do you think it is that has made it shift so that normal people are interested in development of cities and new things that are happening? Nobody really gets excited about an office building usually, but something indeed I think has changed with the emergence of let’s say Curbed and some of the blogs in the space and that sort of thing.

TARA: Yeah, good point on Curbed. I think they’ve really helped make it accessible. For years, everyone just thought of real estate – there would be a sign in front of a building or in a window, and it was like, “Okay, what tenant’s going to go in there?”

But I would say probably in the last 5 to 7 years, it’s really turned a lot more into the storytelling, the place-making, the brand awareness, because you’re creating these pockets in cities that are little neighborhoods. Obviously, you live in Atlanta; a lot of people these days, because of the traffic and the growth, are staying in their 3-5 mile radius around their home. They want to know, “Do I have those everyday needs accessible?” and “What’s coming into my neighborhood?”, whether that’s a great little restaurant or a boutique or some sort of service that you want to be able to use.

I think people get more excited about “this is what’s coming to my neighborhood.” People are really thinking about the needs of the neighborhood. Also, what’s really popular in Atlanta is not just taking buildings and revving them – actually renovating, going in and repurposing. I think people have gotten really excited, so that’s opened the door to a little bit more interest and knowledge from the general public.

It’s funny; with a lot of the real estate clients that we’ve had, it all started because we got brought on for Krog Street Market, when that got announced here. For those that don’t know, that’s a big food hall in town. It was one of the first food halls that made a mark globally, and it was interesting being part of that because people look at that and say, “It could’ve been a glorified food court” – but it wasn’t that, and it isn’t that to this day. That really helped change that neighborhood.

When we finished working on that project, when the developer sold a couple years ago, it opened the door to a lot of other real estate clients coming in and saying, “Hey, how do you take something like that and make it accessible for the general consumer or get them excited, or how do we get press like that?” It really was an area that I never thought we would get business in, but it’s been challenging and fascinating and fun. I think we bring a different viewpoint, coming at it from the lifestyle perspective rather than the B2B perspective. Clients like that. We’ve been able to get press, so that’s been good.

ROB: I think we do want to hear those stories, these origin stories, these entrepreneurial stories, of something that we hope becomes something bigger. I think it’s something that we lost. Food courts at one point actually were a place of innovation and entrepreneurship and of good stories. Chick-fil-A heavily grew in food courts, and I believe the Great American Cookie Company started in Atlanta, Georgia in a food court.

We went through a season where those things didn’t happen and there wasn’t that entry point for an entrepreneurial restauranteur. And it’s back. It’s cool that you get to be a part of that story.

Now, PR means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some people think about trying to get a software company an article in Forbes or Fortune, and some people think about this very encompassing suite of services, often on a local level. When you break down PR into the pieces and parts, what are the actual details and activities and day-to-day things you’re doing for clients?

TARA: It varies per client. A lot of them will come knowing that they need PR, but not exactly sure what we can do for them or what we bring to the table. A lot of times it’s definitely, especially in our pitching, a little bit of an education as to what we do a little differently than most.

But our day to day varies depending on if we’ve got an event that we’re working on, or if it’s a product or a restaurant opening. From press releases to pitching media outlets – and that’s print, radio, TV, online, influencers now, which is a big taboo topic – pitching all of that, crisis management if there’s an issue, management of the day-to-day messaging and storytelling for a client. We also do a lot with social media and digital marketing, whether that’s us doing it for a client or working with another vendor that they have.

We help create the storyline for the PR side, and where a lot of companies fail is that they’re not weaving these things together. When that message is weaved together, whether that’s through their email blasts or their social media platforms, it all works together. They may see something on social, then they see something in an email, then they see something in print or on TV, and you get that bigger picture storytelling.

So, we do a lot of education with clients on how to figure out their cadence of messaging, but then also, how does that all work together? Are you telling the same story on every platform on the same day? No, let’s not do that. Let’s build it out. Let’s weave in PR. Let’s weave in quotes. Let’s weave in whatever the reaction is from the general public, or high points.

There’s a lot of strategic work that we do now, which for me personally is my favorite thing. Starting an agency 25 years ago, I didn’t know a lot when I started. You don’t know what you don’t know. As it’s grown and PR has changed and morphed over the years, strategy has always stood out to me as the key need. Understanding a client’s goals and what they need to get out of it and then mapping out a strategy – that’s where we’ve had, knock on wood, our most successful campaigns and client work.

I remember years ago, prior to starting 360, I worked at an independent record label, and we used to have to monitor how many calls we made, and we had to send out so much product. It was like you send out hundreds and hundreds of pieces of music and you just see what sticks. You can’t possibly call thousands of journalists.

I learned during that time that it worked for a short period of time, but then what really changed was, let’s target. Maybe we send all this stuff out and whatever sticks, sticks, but let’s target 10-15 outlets that we really want to tell the story to, and let’s figure out that story for each outlet depending on what they cover.

As we started to do that, we had big, successful pieces, and they were larger features. That was the turning point for me, going and working with a lot of clients and figuring out, “What’s our strategy and how do we make more impact?” They always say less is more, and that definitely resonates a lot these days with PR.

So, every day is different, but those are the base things that we work on. Some days there are some new things brought to the table, especially during a pandemic. [laughs] We’ve done a lot of new stuff that I was like, “Huh, never thought we’d work on that or do this kind of thing.” But for the most part, the overarching PR is a lot of writing, pitching, press releases, and storytelling.

ROB: You can definitely see where that 360 degrees comes in for 360 Media. I think PR is often misunderstood to be shouting really loud, and you’re talking about it so much more like a surround sound, where you get those different touchpoints that really reinforce the story and create that picture in your mind.

You mentioned press releases, and I think press releases are perhaps one of the most misunderstood, maligned, and also misused tools that are out there. How do you think about and redeem the press release and help it to be the noble thing that it is, and also maybe how people may misuse them?

TARA: That has become a very hot topic in our office. You go from one extreme to the other, where, as you said, people get confused by it. Not everything is worthy of a press release, but then again, there are plenty of times that a press release done well can cut through the clutter and gets picked up exactly how it’s written, and that is a win for a client, and obviously a win for us.

In this day and age, there’s an amazing 24-hour news cycle and there’s a lot of opportunity to get coverage, but there’s also fewer journalists and people working at publications, so you’ve got to find that middle ground that you’re not inundating them with useless information, but you’re also providing enough that if they are short-staffed or they are one person covering five or six feeds, you have enough information there that they can pull content, don’t necessarily have to deal with you or do an interview, and get a story up.

Part of what we do is not only look at things and say, “Yes, that’s worthy of a press release,” but we also look at what information we have. Do we have video? Do we have photography? Do we have quotes? Is there another way that this may be delivered to a journalist that would resonate more than just a press release?

We really are now weighing out how that information goes out on our email list. Some days it is just a traditional press release, and other days it’s a video that then links to a blog post that has more information, or it’s an e-blast that is an invite to experience something online, especially now, since everybody’s working remotely. There’s a lot of different ways that we’re doing it, and we continue to change it up and think, “How is this going to land and what’s going to interest someone?”

That’s been really good. We get a lot of feedback from journalists who are like, “We’re not getting the same old, same old from you, and that’s really what stands out to us,” which I love.

On the press release side, though, I will say if you write a great press release – and sometimes I get dinged from people and they’re like “it’s not AP style” and all of those things that are traditional. It’s like, no, this stands out a little bit differently because we write in a little bit more of an editorial fashion. Some of our clients can be dinged as a little fluffy, so people are like, “This isn’t really newsworthy. It’s a little too fluff.”

But we try to find that middle ground where it’s like, here’s an editorial piece for you that not only covers what’s newsworthy on this end, but it can be cut and pasted and either put on a blog, or if an influencer is putting something up on their Instagram, they’ve got quotes they can use from the client, or a link to a Dropbox that’s got photography or graphic assets that are done for Instagram, Facebook. We really try to make it very easy because everybody is so crazy busy, and that also stands out.

Press releases are interesting. We just had a conversation this past week about a client. They wanted something in a press release, and I was like, “No, it’s not going to land right. Let’s do XYZ.” It stood out and it was different. There’s a lot of stuff going on, obviously, with the pandemic and restaurants reopening. Because restaurants are reopening, everyone thinks, “My dining room is open. This is newsworthy.” Well, we’re in a huge influx of dining rooms reopening, so what are you doing that’s different compared to everybody else and you’re not just opening? So we had to dig a little deeper, and we created the story, which then was like, “Okay, this is press release worthy because they’re doing some stuff differently.”

ROB: This is where maybe someone will say they’re doing this different menu, they’re doing this different format of service, they’re doing this very unique thing in terms of how they’re protecting people, or even some restaurants have been able to get the story out about how they are doing a mini-grocery. Is that the story?

TARA: Yes.

ROB: Instead of saying, “Hey, we’re still open and doing takeout.” It’s like, yes, so is everyone else who wants to save their restaurant. What are you doing that’s different from just “yes, you can place an order on Uber Eats”?

TARA: Yep. It’s interesting because at the time when everybody was pivoting, that was newsworthy because some of these places weren’t on Uber Eats or Grubhub or any of those services. But then it was like, okay, that’s newsworthy for all of 5 minutes, but what are you doing differently for your team or onsite or the meals you’re delivering?

A prime example, Mission + Market in Buckhead is one of our clients, and for the first couple of weeks as they were pivoting, they were doing themed nights where it was like family meal and just different things. That was working very well for them, but what they ended up doing also was realizing that so many restaurants were closing at the time, they stepped up and on Thursdays were doing meals for people that had lost their jobs because of COVID.

So, they not only covered the hospitality industry, but they were like, “Anyone that’s lost their job, if you can show that you’re no longer employed, you can order a meal through us.” They did it I want to say for 2 months and served over 1,500 people every Thursday. It was really incredible, and they got a lot of attention. Now, they didn’t do this to get attention, but we had to put it out to say this is what they’re doing so that people knew, and it ended up getting a lot of positive attention and other companies that wanted to support and give sponsorship to help cover the meals they were covering themselves. It turned into a much bigger thing. We got a lot of press out of it, even though that wasn’t the game plan for it. It really made them stand out.

ROB: For sure. There are a few folks I know in the service industry who just seem to have a natural knack for storytelling and baiting the hook and getting the right stories out there and getting coverage. How much of this thinking and getting these stories to land right is instinct, and how much of that do you think can be developed? And if it can be developed, how do you think about developing that proper mindset?

TARA: I think some of it is instinct. I think also some of it is development. I think you’re on the money there, because a lot of people – any client; it’s not just in the hospitality industry – they’re in there day to day, and they can’t really see everything that is exciting or interesting, or maybe they’re not up on the day to day of what’s newsworthy or what might be resonating in pop culture. Meanwhile, they’re doing something and it’s like, oh my gosh, here’s a local story that resonates with a national story or something that’s trending nationally.

When you start working with a client and start putting those ideas out there or talking to them or digging in a little deeper, all of a sudden you see their eyes light up and it’s like a light bulb moment. They’re like, “Wait a second, we’re also doing XYZ.” It’s like, “Yes, that is interesting and that’s newsworthy.” That’s been a really cool thing to watch as we continue to work with clients. Over time, you get in that groove, and they start seeing what you’re seeing.

They also start understanding how media works. Sometimes we’ll have clients call and say, “I read this piece. We are doing this. Can you reach out to this writer and perhaps they would do something on us?” That’s always cool, when we see clients grow into understanding what editorial options they have. Or “Hey, we’re looking to do something for our anniversary. We don’t want to do it exactly like everyone else. Here are the ideas we’ve come up with.” We come in and fine-tune that stuff.

We also sometimes – I think this is one of the things that we’re really known for amongst the clients we work with – just coming in and seeing things differently, and giving them a picture. They may come to the table and say, “Here’s what we have. This is what we’d like to do,” and then we say, “Okay, this is great. Let’s take this up a notch. How about this?” That’s been really cool, to have clients that are open to collaboration and getting it to a place where it’s like, “This will get you small press, but this will get you big press.” They’re like, “Oh, okay!”

That part is a lot of fun, especially when you tell them something is going to happen and then it does. [laughs] Which you can’t guarantee, but when you’re like, “This is big,” and then we take it out and either pitch it to someone exclusively or put it out en masse and they see the response they get, it’s like, “Oh, okay, you guys were right.” That’s a lot of fun.

It’s interesting, too – I had a new business pitch last week over Zoom, which obviously is new. A lot of calls and a lot of Zoom pitches. But in the midst of the pitch with this potential client, they were talking about some of the things they were doing, and immediately I was like, “Why don’t you take this and you could do this and this and this?” The look on all of their faces – we were on Zoom and I love seeing it – they were like, “Oh my God, that was right in front of us.” I was like, “Yes, but you’re in it. You can’t see it.” That part was great.

We had a follow-up call yesterday and they were like, “We took what you said. How about this, this, and this?” And we’re not even on board yet. We’re just now going through the proposal. It was funny. I was like, “Yes, that could all work.” That’s an interesting – either you have to feed people or they get into it and get excited.

ROB: And maybe the people I think have good instincts just have really good help, so who knows?

TARA: [laughs] Both.

ROB: [laughs] Tara, almost 25 years ago, when you started up 360, did you have any inkling that you were in it for the long haul? What was the formative driving force there?

TARA: No, I really didn’t. It’s funny; a lot of times people ask, “Did you have a business plan? Did you map things out?” For the longest time, I was a little embarrassed. I was like, maybe I did something wrong? I didn’t have a business plan, and I never mapped out, “Here’s my 3- or 5-year, 10-year goal.”

When I started 360, I had just left a record label, and the owners were married and they got a divorce. It was like you had to take sides, and the label crumbled. I jumped ship with the female side of the business because she was my day-to-day, and she started another company and I worked there for a little bit. In the midst of that, she ended up taking another job. There were four of us that had gone with her. I started to reach out and do résumés and call people and all these things, and it just never went anywhere.

I had interned with a company called Concert Southern that is now the Live Nation Atlanta office back in the day, and I was there when they started Music Midtown. I was an intern on Music Midtown the first year, and then they called and were like, “Why don’t you put in a proposal? We need a PR person, and you know this event.” I was like, “What?” [laughs] I put like a 27-page proposal together. I’d never done one before. I put it in. This was Year 3 of the festival. I’d been an intern on the first one, volunteered on the second one on the PR communications side, and then put in a proposal for Year 3.

It ended up becoming my first client, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was more, “Sure, I’ll do this. This is a 6-month gig. This will pay me some money.” I had to move back in with my parents right after college for a little while during this time because I didn’t have a job. It was kind of like, “Okay, let’s do this.” Then I started to get other business. Then it was time for Music Midtown again.

So, 3 years into it, I was like, maybe I really need to get a business license and do some things rather than this freelance stuff. I ended up getting my first employee and built it from there.

Sitting here now and thinking about it being 25 years later, there’s so many things that happened over time – the recession and things that we got hit with – and to still be here is mind-blowing to me on a lot of levels. I didn’t have a business degree, and I got a ‘D’ in PR in college. It was not what I wanted to do. [laughs] It’s like, you put your mind to something and you can do anything.

Sometimes when people ask me about a business plan, I say, had I done that, I probably would have failed because I would have been one of those that had to stick to the business plan. Over the 25 years, we’ve morphed and we’ve opened the door to other types of clients. Like I mentioned earlier with commercial real estate, I would have never, ever opened the door to that. But it rolled in in a very interesting way, and it was like, “Okay, let’s go down this road.” That’s I think kept us going.

Honestly, even in this pandemic, probably 80% of our clients have put us on hold because a lot were restaurants and entertainment and events. Our hotel, real estate, design clients are all still booming, so that’s been interesting. Had we not had that, we would probably be in a little bit of a different spot right now. But our restaurants are coming back and things are changing.

I’ve learned a lot over the last 25 years. But no, I would’ve never guessed that we’d be here. Ever.

ROB: You mentioned learning some things over the course of the business. What are some things you’ve learned along the way that you might do differently if you were starting anew?

TARA: It’s interesting. I was asked that question one other time, a couple years ago, and I had a very different answer. I think for me, there’s not a lot that I would do differently. I probably would learn to go with my gut, my intuition. I wish I had learned to do that sooner. I’ve always had a strong gut reaction and intuition, but sometimes it’s like, “That doesn’t make sense right now. Why are you thinking that?” I didn’t fully always embrace it. So I would probably do that sooner.

I also would not let people – you bend for clients that might be struggling or things that are happening, and I have bent probably one too many times for people who owed me money. I let it get a little too far down the road, and then it becomes harder to collect. I’ve learned that a lot more in the last 4 years of business. You get to a place where you’re doing well, and it’s like, “Oh, we can let someone slide for a little bit while they’re struggling,” and then it just ends up catching up. We got dinged a little too much the last couple of years. So, I probably wouldn’t let the debt get too big. I’ve learned a lesson there.

I also probably – there were two times in my entire career that I took clients for money, because it was big, but my gut said “these aren’t right for you or the firm.” Again, just listening to my gut. I would do that much sooner.

But I think also, in what would you not do/what would you do, as entrepreneurs, when you have no fear in the beginning because you don’t know what you don’t know and then you go through an experience and you’re like, “Ugh, been there, done that. I’m not doing that again” – I think it’s important as an entrepreneur to really be open and let things flow in and assess them, and not be closed off to things.

It really, truly is how I’ve grown 360. Putting out there, “Hey, I’m interested in more events or festivals” or whatever it is, always, doors open. Being afraid is fine, but you can take a pivot, you can take a next step, and it does work out. I think you just have to control your fear and be excited about it. I think that’s important.

ROB: That’s all very practical, and I appreciate that. I also had some wounds on the not collecting money quick enough train. It’s never, ever fun, because you realize quickly that when someone is going out of business, there’s just really not going to be money for you, for the most part.

TARA: [laughs] That is a lesson to learn.

ROB: You think about “Oh, bankruptcy, you split it up” – no, no. There’s just no money. Good luck. [laughs]

TARA: Yeah. Also, being diligent. I will say this: I have a former client that has owed me money since 2017, and I got a check last week. In a pandemic, I’m getting paid. I’m like, okay, this is the universe looking out for me. But it was being diligent and not just letting it go. I wouldn’t have done that before. I just would’ve been like, “It’s just a write-off. Let’s move on.” But sometimes good things happen.

ROB: Yeah, don’t write it off until you’ve asked a few times, at least, right?

TARA: Right. [laughs] Totally.

ROB: Excellent. Tara, when people want to find you and find 360, where should they look for you?

TARA: We have a website, 360media.net. We are also on Instagram under the same thing, 360 Media, Inc (@360mediainc).

We also are the publishers – I didn’t even mention this – of the Atlanta 100. The Atlanta 100 is a weekly newsletter that we do, and there’s a website, theatlanta100.com. It’s a weekly newsletter that goes out every Thursday or Friday with 12 stories about Atlanta in 100 words. We’ve been the publishers of that for the last 2 years. There’s a lot of not only stuff about Atlanta, but also our clients as well.

ROB: Excellent. Sounds solidly played. We’ll get all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on, Tara. It’s been a pleasure. Again, maybe someday we can do an event in person.

TARA: I know, I would love that. It was good to hear that you’re here. Thank you so much for having me. This has been a lot of fun.

ROB: Thank you. Bye bye.

TARA: Bye.

ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email info@convergehq.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.