Kristi Piehl founded Media Minefield, a Minneapolis-based Public Relations firm with clients ranging from startups to billion-dollar brands, 10 years ago. When she was unexpectedly laid off during the housing crisis in 2008 and 2009, she decided to open her own business and revolutionize the world of PR.
She also believes the success of Media Minefield is due to the company’s commitment to continuously evolve. When the company started, it solely focused on earned media. Now, Media Minefield has several service lines from earned media to Positive Online Presence℠ and crisis communication.
Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start Media Minefield?
Media Minefield is the product of a lightbulb moment that happened in the basement of my church. I was taking a class as part of an 18-month quest to find my calling and reinvent my career after losing my job as a TV news reporter. During my journey from being laid off to starting the company, I spent time soul searching and thinking about how I could use my experience and knowledge of the news industry to help people through earned media. This process allowed me to be open to any crazy idea - including starting my own business!
I invested less than $200 to launch Media Minefield. I applied for a license to do business and purchased business cards and a URL. A friend who is a graphic designer offered to design my logo - the friend is now the company's Brand & Creative Director! The business was self-funded until we made a significant expansion, remodeled our office and received a bank loan.
How did you get your first three customers?
The key to landing my first three paying customers was having a strong network of support and being brave enough to speak my dream out loud. Once I explained what my concept was, customers were willing to support me. My first three clients included a media training engagement, coaching someone for a news interview and handling a campaign for a non-profit organization. However, I significantly reduced rates so I could validate the idea and build a scalable process. During my first year in business, I did a lot of pro bono work. It wasn’t until two years later when I secured a national contract, that things really took off. Fast forward 10 years, and we now have clients all over the country in a multitude of industries from manufacturing to healthcare to customer services.
How did you validate the idea? Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
As a news reporter, I worked with a number of public relations agencies that just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the deadlines I was working under or what I needed in order to tell a compelling story. I saw a disconnect between the PR industry and news outlets and was determined to bridge the gap. At Media Minefield, we do things differently.
Each coach on our team has newsroom experience and knows what media outlets are looking for. Our Newsability® process has a 100% success rate, meaning every client gets press. But getting to this point didn’t happen overnight.
Who is your target demographic?
At Media Minefield, we work with everyone from startups to billion-dollar brands. Messaging is important no matter who you are, what you do or how big your company is. We look to work with industry experts or anyone who has a unique story that deserves to be told via earned, owned and paid media. The company started with a focus on securing earned media, and we've evolved to include crisis media and media training in our services. The most recent addition to our services is a trademarked process to handle social media messaging for executives. Positive Online Presence℠ or POP® can have a huge impact on an organization. It’s critical for communicating company messages, attracting employees and engaging audiences. Research shows consumers are making decisions based on online presence, yet the majority of executives don't have the time or expertise in social media to leverage its power in a positive and strategic way.
Being diverse in both our clients and our services has helped us survive and adapt during uncertain times. One of our core values is to be Innovative Creators who fearlessly evolve. Media Minefield will continue to innovate and meet the demands of our clients. It’s the only way a brand can succeed in this fast-paced, ever-changing industry.
Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?
My first employee actually approached me. A woman who just moved to Minneapolis heard me speak and asked to get together for coffee. She had a news background, so we had a lot in common. On the way to meet her, I picked up another client, and I was getting busier than I could handle. However, the idea of hiring someone hadn't occurred to me. During our coffee meeting, I talked about the company and its mission. That evening, the woman emailed me that she wanted to work at the company! We had similar passions, backgrounds and beliefs, so our values aligned. To this day, she remains a valuable member of the team.
What motivated you to start your own business?
Starting your own business is never easy. It takes an entrepreneurial spirit -- someone who is a go-getter and not afraid to fail. It requires passion because if you don’t love what you do, you’re never going to make it. Media Minefield was built from my passion for news and storytelling combined with a need to re-invent the public relations industry. The push I needed to fulfill this dream came in the form of a layoff, but everyone's “aha moment” is different.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
After the lightning bolt moment in the church basement, I called my husband. I said, "I'm going to start a business." He said, "Great." I don't know if Media Minefield would be real if he hadn't supported the idea. My friends and family encouraged me to think bigger and push myself.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
I share the same advice with every new entrepreneur - know your “why.” Your “why” is the foundation of your business. It’s what motivates you, guides you and inspires you. My “why” has always been to help good people tell amazing stories through the power of news. When confronted with a difficult decision, knowing your “why” will help you take the correct course.
What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?
Growth is one of the most challenging things for small businesses to master. At Media Minefield, we are rooted in innovation and excellence. Being a trained journalist is an asset as an entrepreneur. Since I don't have an MBA or even a business degree, I've never expected to have all the answers or to know the next right move. I've had to rely on experts for help. Before I could hire coaches or had money to join entrepreneur groups, I read books and listened to podcasts so I could learn from successful entrepreneurs. Our best leads come from referrals. However, we are in the business of "owning our message," so it's critical our social media messaging is on point. I highly recommend new entrepreneurs spend a lot of time on their online presence. Google yourself. Google your business. Put in the time to keep your message updated. If I join groups or accept speaking engagements expecting to get a new client, it doesn't work because my motivation is wrong. However, when I intentionally spend time helping an entrepreneur or speaking to an audience for the purpose of helping them, good things come back to the business.
I recently launched a podcast, Flip Your Script, to give people with powerful stories a platform to share lessons learned to inspire and motivate others. My "why" extends beyond a ROI. Helping others with their message isn't just the foundation of my business, it's a lifestyle that extends beyond 9-5. When I figured that out, my business growth followed. We have a growth strategy and plan. We are dedicated to sustained intentional growth that doesn't compromise our Core Values or culture.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
Our goal is to continuously evolve to meet the needs of our clients and the industry. We’re not afraid to try and try again. It’s one of the ways we set ourselves apart from the competition. We’ve also legally protected two of our unique services. Newsability® and POP® are both registered trademarks, and we have Positive Online Presence℠ service marked. We have a 100% placement rate, meaning every client we've ever worked with has received press coverage.
We measure results, not activity, and we promise our clients expectations delivered. Unlike many competitors, all of our agreements include clear deliverables. As part of our core values, we meet or exceed those expectations. We’re breaking the mold in the PR world by being results-driven. We provide clients with the ROI of their press appearances. Getting press for the sake of press is not enough. We want to know how a news story impacts the client’s bottom line. This unique approach works. Some of our clients have left large agencies to come to Media Minefield.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without? Why are they essential?
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are imperative to our success and the success of our clients’ businesses for multiple reasons. When we, or a client of ours, does an earned media interview, there is a limited audience who sees it live. However, when those stories are shared on social media, they’re able to spread quickly across the world to a vast array of people. Those social media apps allow us to give our clients’ earned media interviews an extended life. Also, owning your brand online is imperative to a business's success. A CEO’s reputation is responsible for an estimated 44% of a company’s market value. Another app we rely on is Slack, the business communication platform. Communication is key to a successful company, especially when you work in teams like Media Minefield does. Slack gives us the ability to communicate with each other in real-time, even when we’re apart. Zoom is another app that is critical as we are able to work remotely if necessary.
What are your favourite podcasts?
I recently launched my own podcast called Flip Your Script. Each episode features a guest who, at one point in their lives, was confronted with a critical turning point. Everyone has a “flip your script” moment, whether it’s big or small. I'm an English major and avid reader (my goal is 50 books each year). I read everything from classic literature to contemporary historical fiction to personal development books. My growth as a leader requires time spent learning from others and staying on top of business trends.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
The company is rooted in a belief that there is a more effective way to deliver public relations. After ten years, we serve 100+ clients, but we are still relatively unknown. In five years, I want to change how businesses think about public relations and messaging. I also believe there is a more effective way to think about agency culture. We allow babies in the office to help parents transition back to work, offer unlimited vacation and paid time off for birthdays and pet appointments. We invest in development and reward employees for exhibiting our Core Values, including awarding someone with an all-inclusive trip for two to a 5-star destination. I want every employee to be a better person on their last day with the company than their first. Over the years, we've continued to add initiatives to help our teams achieve work-life satisfaction. We continue to improve, and I can't wait to see what our teams will be accomplishing in five years.