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CWC 6: Gini Dietrich of Arment Dietrich (and Spin Sucks)

Chip and Gini explore everything from the business of PR to writing books, building an online community and more.

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Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a successful and growing PR agency based in Chicago. She has two books to her credit, and runs the very popular Spin Sucks blog, which also serves as the unofficial water cooler for the PR community. In this conversation, we explore everything from the business of PR to writing books, building an online community and more.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: I’m your host, Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Armand Dietrich, a successful and growing PR agency based in Chicago. She has two books to her credit and runs the very popular Spin Sucks blog, which also serves as the unofficial water cooler for the PR community. I’m very pleased to have Gini as my guest today. Welcome.

Gini Dietrich:Thank you, sir. How are you?

Chip Griffin: I’m doing very well. How are you today?

Gini Dietrich: I’m great. I’m excited to be hanging out with you.

Chip Griffin: Well, I’m very excited to have you because as you well know on the Roundtable podcast, it’s sort of become the Spin Sucks podcast since just about every week we have a topic from your blog.

Gini Dietrich: I don’t mind that one bit.

Chip Griffin: I’m sure you don’t. I’m sure you don’t. And it’s great. It’s great to have a good source of content. And so maybe that’s a good place to start this conversation. I mean, you know, what caused you to start the Spin Sucks blog? Why did you say I should do this?

Gini Dietrich: Ha. You know, it’s funny.

We. We tend to test new theories, on ourselves first, and it was eight years ago, it was eight years in September that we started this blog, and really we did it because we were hearing about this blogging thing, you know, people like John Bell were talking about, I mean, hardly anybody was doing it, especially in our industry, but John Bell did, I think there were a couple others, Mitch Joel probably did, back then, so we wanted to just see what it was, and, If there were, it was any value for our clients.

And so we just launched this blog without really, well. Without knowing what we were doing at all.

Chip Griffin: But it’s sort of evolved over the years, right? I mean, you know, today it seems that you’ve got, you know, a real editorial calendar and a direction and, you know, a lot of things that people in the early days of blogging, and frankly even today, aren’t thinking about all that much.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I mean, we didn’t get, I will admit that we didn’t have an editorial calendar or monthly themes until this year. It was probably 2010 before it started to build any traction. I mean, we had no idea what we were doing. And back then, nobody really talked about, you know, search engine optimization for blogging, or categories, or tags, or any of that.

You know, you just sort of had to figure it out. so, yes, we did. We spent three years trying to figure it out. To this day, I don’t know why I continued to put resources against it, because it was such a big failure, but I’m glad I did.

Chip Griffin: Well, in a previous conversation, not recorded, which is probably good for some of our conversations, And, and, and we’ll try to make sure that we don’t regret recording this one.

you, you talked about how, you know, it’s really been a good driver for your new business activity.

Gini Dietrich: It’s interesting because we have a very engaged community. but I would say that the people that, are in the community, we don’t do business with. They refer business to us a lot, but the people who, you know, use the Google and they look for PR firm or digital communications or whatever, and we pop up, then they read the blog and they say, Oh, I like the way these people think, and then they call.

So it’s a driver from that perspective. It also has become a really good referral piece because the people who participate in our community. Send us business or send us the beats.

Chip Griffin: And what do you think is the reason why people are so active? I take a look today and so many sites are talking about eliminating comments or they launch entirely without comments or comments that do exist are just so vile and disgusting that you just don’t even want to bother with them, but you have really built a community that has active and engaged and And comments that really add to the overall discussion.

Gini Dietrich: You know, I think it’s a couple of things.

My husband makes fun of me because on my birthday I always respond to every single person who wishes me happy birthday on my Facebook page And he’s like, you don’t have to do that, but that’s my natural inclination is to respond to people. And because that’s my natural inclination, when people started commenting on the blog, I responded back.

It didn’t even occur to me that maybe you shouldn’t do that or, you know, it just, that’s just my natural inclination. And I think people were kind of impressed that they were like, Oh, if I leave a comment here. And We can actually have a conversation. And usually the comments that I would leave back were asked, would ask questions or do ask questions and sort of delve deeper into what the person has said.

And that continues the conversation. So, I mean, you know, a good half of the comments on the blog, of course, are mine. So you see these huge numbers of comments and half of them are mine, but I think that helps with the conversation for sure.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, I would agree. I mean, I, you know, I think that, that, you know, anytime you make it a two way street, because it’s, there’s a natural, I mean, if you won’t look at just, you know, comments on a Facebook post, you know, if, if I respond to something, someone will typically respond back and it, it, it does.

And then it sort of builds momentum on its own. So I guess that explanation really helps. you know, makes quite a lot of sense. have you had negative experiences with the commenting? Is that, you know, obviously everybody from time to time has disagreements, but have you had issues over the years where you’ve regretted having the comments?

Gini Dietrich: You know, no, I haven’t. I can probably think of maybe five instances where somebody has left a comment where I’m like, dude, one last year where it was somebody that’s big in the industry and I called him and I said, This comment is really kind of out of character and I’m concerned, you know, that something happened and he goes, Oh my gosh, Gini, I’m so embarrassed.

I was drinking last night and I was fired up about something else and I just fired off the comment. Can I please delete it? And I was like, yes, you can. So, I mean, there really hasn’t, you know, however, everybody says don’t read the comments because people are so, to your point, vile. but, Spin Sucks, it hasn’t been, Like, not at all.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and actually that particular example goes to one of the lessons I always teach in my social media trainings that I give to folks, particularly younger folks, which is if you’re too drunk to drive, you’re too drunk to tweet. Thank you.

Gini Dietrich: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and off of Twitter and blog comments and

Chip Griffin: Well, yeah, in Vegas, you should just shut the phone off and, and pick it up at the airport on your return.

Gini Dietrich: You really should. I actually had to take the phone away from a girlfriend once. I was like, give me your phone. I put it in my purse.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Well, I remember, you know, even in the days before Twitter, you know, there were times where I would be with business colleagues and we’d be, we’d get wound up on something that, you know, perhaps a colleague had done and we’d, you know, Crank out an email sitting there at the bar at 1130 at night and the next morning you’re like, geez, you know Maybe that wasn’t the most diplomatic way to handle that That disagreement, but yeah Well, so, you know, obviously you’ve done a lot in the online sphere but You’ve also been, someone who has written books and, you know, that’s something I have yet to do and, and, you know, frankly, it’s, it’s on my bucket list of things that, that I want to do and, and know I should do from a professional standpoint.

I’m curious, you know, how you found the experience of writing it and how you found the results from it.

Gini Dietrich: Writing experience for me is phenomenal because I love to write and I love the discipline of putting thoughts to paper. The marketing piece of it sucks, which is weird because I’m a communicator, that’s what I do for a living, but it’s different, I think, marketing a product or a service for a client than to do it for yourself, and I’m just not good at that, so it, that part of it I don’t really enjoy, but I’ll tell you what, I mean, it helps with speaking fees, you know, it helped me increase my speaking fees almost quadruple, it gives huge credibility when you go into a new business meeting and you’re up against two or three other firms and you say, Send a book as a thank you note.

You almost always win because that’s huge credibility. So, I mean, from that perspective, it’s been very, very valuable.

Chip Griffin: And so, you know, what’s your, what’s your writing style? How did you do it? Did you sit down and just crank it out in a condensed period of time? Were you one of these folks who says, okay, I’ll do a thousand words a day?

Or, you know, how did you mechanically go about achieving your goal?

Gini Dietrich: I did an hour a day and I can write about between 750 and a thousand words in an hour. So yeah, it was an hour a day and I would set the timer in there. I would not have any other distraction. Like I closed all social media and everything and I focused for an entire hour on that.

Chip Griffin: and, are you a laptop person, desktop person when you write? you know, I’m, I’m, I’ve noticed so many different styles that people have for, for when they’re cranking out large numbers of words.

Gini Dietrich: You know, I use, I have Mac, Mac, MacBook Air, which I use because I can write anywhere. In fact, it flashed, when I was writing Spin Sucks, I wrote in Paris while I was there for my anniversary last year.

so you can write it anywhere, but I used, oh, what’s the software called? I can’t remember. Hang on, let me look. Scrivener.

Chip Griffin: Yes.

Gini Dietrich: Yep. Which allows you to move chapters around and things like that. It’s much better than a Word document.

Chip Griffin: And how would you say the experience was? Was it, was it, harder than you thought it would be?

Was it about what you were expecting or did you say, geez, you know, I should have done this five years ago?

Gini Dietrich: I would say probably that I would, should have done it earlier. that said. You know, Spin Sucks has always been the book I wanted to write, and I wrote marketing, or co authored Marketing in the Round first, which I think was really smart on my part, because it gave me the experience of both being disciplined about writing long form, but also marketing the thing, which I wouldn’t have done.

I wouldn’t have done as well with Spin Sucks if I had done that

Chip Griffin: first. Mm hmm. And did you, did you write with a contract in hand? Did you write and go get, it published after the fact? how did that work for you? Oh no,

Gini Dietrich: I wrote with contract in hand. Mm hmm. Yeah, you kind of, I think, well, for somebody like me who’s very deadline driven, you kind of need that.

Because if, for me, if I didn’t have that looming somebody holding me accountable, I’d be like, Ah, I’ll write that tomorrow, and then sort of you keep putting it off, right?

Chip Griffin: Right. Yeah, no, that’s, that’s certainly been my experience. I do a lot of, freelance writing, you know, just for, you know, frankly, because I enjoy it.

even though I’ve got, you know, a couple of other companies where I, you know, have a lot of work to do as well, but I just enjoy that. So I do it. But, but when I have the deadlines, it’s so easy for me to crank out the writing. But, you know, if I sit down and say, well, geez, I want to do this to help market myself.

I, I always put that low on the list and keep punting it.

Gini Dietrich: You know, I’ll hold you accountable to that if you want.

Chip Griffin: Well, that’s not a bad idea. I probably should, you know, just put something out there publicly unless all sorts of folks shame me on it to get it done. so the, you know, in addition to the blog and the book, you have an actual agency.

It turns out you’re not just a talking head. You actually, you know, and it’s interesting because in the space that we’re in, there are a lot of folks, I think, that probably spend as much time promoting themselves as they do you know, actually servicing clients, but you’ve got, you know, a real growing business that you have to deal with.

How do you balance the content creation with client service, business development, and all those things?

Gini Dietrich: it’s not easy. I actually write from 5 a. m. to 6. 30 every day. And so that’s when I spend the time on our stuff, and then during the work day it’s all agency client stuff. So I don’t spend any work hours on sort of that promotion marketing for the agency.

Chip Griffin: huh. And, I mean, what, what caused you to start an agency? I mean, what got into your head and said, this is a great idea, I’m going to start my own PR agency?

Gini Dietrich: You know, it’s funny, I, I didn’t start it right after this, but I remember, I was maybe 27 or 28, and I worked on the Ocean Spray account, and I loved working on that account.

Our client, our direct client contact was amazing. It was a fun account to do, to work on. They let us try all sorts of things. It was great. And I remember that we were launching their, 100 percent juices. And we had this great year, I mean we had the Today Show, Good Morning America, I mean from a PR perspective it was a home run.

And we were sitting in our conference room at the end of the year and we were going through our dog and pony show and talking about all the results that we’d gotten, media impressions and advertising equivalencies and all that BS. And the chief marketing officer said, This is fantastic, you guys, but we’re losing growers.

The co op is not doing well. The sales for the 100 percent juices isn’t where we thought it was going to be. And while you guys hit our home run from a PR perspective, it didn’t do anything for us. And it was at that point that I thought, okay, there has to be a better way. So I spent. The next five years really digging into the business side of things and trying to figure out if there was a way to connect what we do every day, events and reputation and media relations and all that stuff to actual sales.

And it really wasn’t until, you know, the web allowed us the analytics and the data that we need that I really found the right formula. So, you know, it’s been probably 15 years that I’ve been trying to figure this out, and probably the last three that I finally did.

Chip Griffin: And, you know, what would you say was the key to figuring it out?

Gini Dietrich: I would say really having access to the data and the analytics that the web has allowed. Because before that, you, I mean, it was all about, is brand awareness, has it increased, and you know, that’s, it’s so soft. But now you have access to all that data that show you, oh, somebody came to our site from.

CustomScoop and then they went all over the web and then they came back and they bought. You know, you know exactly where that lead came from even if they didn’t buy immediately the first time they came, right? So having access to all of that I think is very valuable.

Chip Griffin: And you know, obviously, you know, some of those things are things that straddle the domain between marketing and PR.

You know, how do you see that evolution going?

Gini Dietrich: I’m laughing because we’re having this big internal conversation right now. because it, it is, and I think that the industry as a whole is lagging. you know, I, a couple of years ago, got kicked out of a LinkedIn group because I talk about how PR can, you know, Sales and increase those kinds of things.

And the owner of the LinkedIn group was like, you’re a snake, snake, oil salesman. PR is only for brand awareness. So you kicked me out. so the industry overall I think is lagging, but in the next five years, if we don’t figure out how to tie us two together and bridge that gap, we may not exist.

Chip Griffin: That’s a dire prediction.

Gini Dietrich: I think it’s true, mostly because of the things that I’m hearing from prospects and from clients. You know, we’ll go in and pitch a piece of business, and we’re completely different. You know, our competitors go in and pitch media relations, and they’ll say, Oh, we’ll get you on the cover of AdAge, and we’ll get you on the cover of Ink, and we’ll do this, and we’ll do that, and we go in and we say, Yeah, we can do all that, but what we’re really going to focus on is if we get you on the cover of Ad Age, is it going to translate to X number of dollars for you in sales?

And because of that, prospects look at us like, What’s the catch? What are we missing? So, there’s a big divide, for sure.

Chip Griffin: Well, you know, you and I have been in the PR communications game for long enough that I think we’ve seen some substantial changes from Yes. Yes. When our careers started and obviously this is, this is one of them, but you know, one of the things that I’m, that I’ve sort of observed over the years is that with the proliferation of, outlets and the proliferation of digital tools where, you know, sort of everybody becomes an expert, just by saying so that it’s put a lot of downward pressure on pricing for agencies.

And I’m, I’m curious if you’ve seen that and if so, how you combat that.

Gini Dietrich: I haven’t seen it. I’ve heard about it, but we haven’t seen it at all. It might be, it might hit at the larger agencies, I would guess, but we haven’t seen that at all.

Chip Griffin: so, you know, from having an agency, you know, part of it is being a great communicator and coming up with strategies and bringing on clients, but part of it is the the business side.

As an entrepreneur, is that something you sort of knew that you wanted to do? Is it something you do by necessity because you like the other aspects of the job? How does that play out?

Gini Dietrich: About five years ago, I had an advisor say to me, Gini, you have to make a decision right now. You can either continue to be a kick ass communicator or you can change the way you think and become a kick ass company grower.

And I went, Oh, my job has changed. So I decided to be the company grower. and that’s what I focused on. So yeah, I mean, communications is what I do. It’s what I know. And that’s what the company does. But really my job. It doesn’t entail that anymore.

Chip Griffin: And how did you increase your comfort level with that?

You know, I talked to a lot of, you know, agency owners, you know, who said, geez, you know, that I’ve never really been able to get myself fully comfortable with P& Ls and balance sheets and cash flow. And, you know, those, it’s sort of, you know, I just, I do the bare minimum to get by, but I don’t really fully understand what I’m doing.

Do you feel like you fully understand what you’re doing or do you, you know, is this something that you had to, to train yourself on?

Gini Dietrich: Oh, I definitely had to train myself and it was a very expensive lesson. I have a great, great CFO who’s so good. I mean, he, he teaches me stuff all the time. About three years ago, I said to him, Mike, explain this whole balance sheet thing to me, I don’t get it.

And, and what we did, because he knows how goal oriented I am. He put some goals in for, for us to. Help for lack of a better term, the, the balance sheet. And he said, okay, go do this. And so I spent a couple of years really focused on that one goal. And now my balance sheet looks fantastic, which I had no idea about five years ago, you know, so you, it’s sort of trial and error and.

Figuring things out, and it is very expensive. Sometimes very painful.

Chip Griffin: Well, but you learn from mistakes, and you know, that’s one of the things I always preach is, you know, I talk to a lot of entrepreneurial groups and startup entrepreneurs, and you know, you learn much more from failure than you do from success.

It can be painful, but that’s, you know, when you’re successful, so many things could cause it to be an accidental success. Whereas from failure, you usually can trace it back to, you know, one, two, or three different things that you could have done differently.

Gini Dietrich: Well, and I think success, too, allows you to get comfortable, and when you’re comfortable, you don’t take any risk, and you don’t try new things, so sometimes you’re forced to try new things.

Mm hmm.

Chip Griffin: So, You know, as you have built your company, you’ve done it in sort of the more modern way, shall we say, and that is, you know, you don’t have a big building that says Armand Dietrich in neon sign, right? I mean, you, you have a team that’s geographically spread out. was that a conscious decision and, how does it work?

Gini Dietrich: Well, in November of 2011, we decided to go virtual for one year. And the reason we did it is because I was paying a landlord 12 grand a month and I wasn’t paying myself. And I thought, well, this is dumb. And we’re, you know, and I, I remember walking into the office one day and everybody was out. My assistant was the only one sitting in the office.

I was paying 12 grand a month for it. She was the only one who’d been there for three days. And I’m like, this is ridiculous. So my CFO helped me get out of the lease, which if you know anything about Chicago and. You know, the reputation that the Mafia has here. That’s sort of the experience that I had was, it was not fun trying to, to, negotiate out of that, but we finally negotiated out of it, and the goal was only for a year, just to save some money and allow me to take a paycheck, and in September of 2012, I said to my team, okay, I’m thinking about looking for new space.

What do you guys think? And there was dead silence, and I said, Okay. Should we not get space? And everyone was like, no, we love working from home. So, I made the conscious decision then to grow a virtual agency and have started hiring people that are, who are best for the job. Not necessarily because they live in Chicago.

Chip Griffin: And how do you, how do you make that work? you know, I, I do a lot of virtual work myself and with, with my teams. And I know that there are challenges, right? You know, there is, there’s that benefit to that in person serendipitous conversation you may have or observation you may make. So it seems to me you have to sort of go out of your way to facilitate those additional conversations.

I’m curious how you do that and how, you know, what challenges you’ve run into.

Gini Dietrich: Well, text messaging, Imessaging, which we all have on our computers works extremely well. So those serendipitous conversations almost happened there. Google Hangouts and Skype video, we do a ton of, you know, and I’ve. In the beginning, I, I allowed text messaging and email to sort of control it all and now I’ll say, Hey, I need you on Skype for five minutes because it’s such an easier conversation and it feels like they’re sitting across the desk from you.

It’s not like, it doesn’t feel like they’re 500 miles away, you know? So it works really well for us. The only time I miss it is when I just need brains to brainstorm for an hour. That’s hard to replicate.

Chip Griffin: Mhm. And do you bring your team together periodically in person, or do you really do it almost entirely virtually?

Gini Dietrich: Once a year, I make them all come to Chicago in January.

Chip Griffin: Wow!

Gini Dietrich: Isn’t that nice of me? I figure if you’re gonna work here, I gotta see if you can actually make it through Chicago winter.

Chip Griffin: Well, I, I suppose it also helps you keep costs down. I imagine that must be the least expensive month to, to get a hotel room in Chicago.

Nobody wants to come here. Yeah. . Wow. so, you know, where, where do you see all of this headed? You know, you’ve got, you’ve got the, the Empire of Content and Agency, and do you have other arms that you see in the future? You just gonna keep growing? The ones that you’ve got, you know, what’s the path ahead?

Gini Dietrich: Well, I believe in seven different revenue sources and we only have four right now. So we’re probably going to be building a content marketing suite that will work with agencies on, you know, there’s, there’s other stuff sort of in the pipeline that we haven’t really brainstorm thoroughly around yet. but yeah, I think there’s going to be three at least three additional revenue sources for us.

Chip Griffin: And is that, just to, to get diversity? Is that because, you know, one of the reasons why, for example, I added a product company was so that I could, as I say, make money while I slept, because, you know, billing hours is a challenging way to continue to grow. So it’s yes on both of those.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. passive income I think is really important and, you know, I mean, a client can leave any time with 30 days notice, right?

So. It’s really hard to scale a business and keep cashflow and employees paid and all that when Tomorrow I could get a phone call from my largest client and have him say You know, we’ve decided that we want to put this on hold or whatever And i’m giving you 30 days. So I mean it’s really hard to scale a business that way

Chip Griffin: Yeah, I think that’s, you know, particularly, you know, until you get to become a really large agency, I think that’s always one of the biggest challenges because as much as you try to diversify your client base, you know, at the end of the day, you know, until you’ve got, you know, 50 60 people you’re not talking about enough diversity that you can avoid those big cash crunches if one of the clients leaves And they’re so closely tied to people too, right?

I mean, you’re You know, I mean even if even if you’ve only got a client that’s you know, maybe five or ten a month You know, that’s probably paying for you know Parts of at least a couple of employees. Yeah. It’s hard as an agency to have them then go idle while you go try to find their replacement.


Gini Dietrich: Well, that’s why consulting businesses, you know, have the people on the bench that they don’t pay while they figure out where to bring the next client in.

Chip Griffin: Right. So if you had to do it all over again, What would you do differently?

Gini Dietrich: Not build a service business.

Chip Griffin: You understand that’s your primary business, right?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I’m fully aware. I would say, yeah, I would try, probably try to figure out much sooner how to productize some of what we do. And I certainly would not name the business Armin Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: Well, have you thought about changing the name?

Gini Dietrich: yes, we have. And of course we have such a huge brand with Spin Sucks that we’re we have a DBA for that, so we’ve, we’ve toyed with it a little bit.

and maybe that’s down the line, but nothing, nothing in the near

Chip Griffin: future. No announcements to make here on this show? No. Sorry. That’s okay, you know, I mean, I

Gini Dietrich: I’ll be the first to know if I make that decision, how’s that?

Chip Griffin: I, I, I doubt I’ll be the first, but I would love to be one of the first.

Gini Dietrich: You’d be the first

Chip Griffin: external, how’s that?

Okay, alright. Well, unfortunately, that, you know, brings an end to the time that we have available to do this today. I’m sure we could go on for probably another, three or four hours and, you know, maybe sometime we will,

Gini Dietrich: but we, you, you and I would be interested, but everybody else would be like, okay.

Enough with the agency business.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, I was gonna say, if, if we continued this conversation, probably we wouldn’t record it and then we, you know, we’d, you know, go off on some really weird tangents, but Right. anyway. Exactly Well, I appreciate you joining me Gini and I wish all the best to Armand Dietrich And I look forward to continuing to borrowing from your Spin Sucks content to fuel my own content production

Thanks for listening to Chats with Chip for more information about this podcast Please visit the CustomScoop blog at mediabullseye.com.

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