October 10, 2014 | Kayla Hollatz


Paul Maccabee

I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Maccabee, a dazzling magician (no, really) that knows how to work some PR magic. Maccabee founded Maccabee Group, a Minneapolis-based Public Relations and Online Marketing agency, in 1996 which has been selected twice as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Minnesota Business magazine. In this interview, Maccabee opens up about theatrical PR campaigns, content marketing, and the future of the industry.

 

Tell us more about your PR background, Paul.

My background in PR has been both typical and atypical. Like most PR professionals, I have a journalism background. I did one year of the graduate journalism program at the University of Minnesota but then got a journalism job as the Investigative and Muckraking Reporter and Music Editor at the Twin Cities Reader weekly newspaper, now known as the City Pages. I had the opportunity to interview musicians like Ted Nugent, Joan Jett, and The Temptations.

Rubberband Ball What was atypical was in my personal background. I was a professional magician, which explains why a lot of our agency’s early work was very theatrical. For example, we sent America’s number-one Groucho Marx impersonator on a media tour across the country to promote Malt-O-Meal cereal.

We also hired professional pet psychics to read the minds of cats and dogs for the rebranding of 32 Petco stores. We even carved Jesse Ventura’s face out of 5,000 lbs. of Kemps ice cream.

Our most well-known PR campaign was for Office Max when we broke the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Rubberband Ball which weighed two tons and included 150,000 rubberbands.

How has the PR industry changed in the last decade?

A lot of what we do now is content driven. PR used to be an industry where its professionals would appeal to the editors, producers, and reporters acting as the gatekeepers of media. While these traditional media sources are still important, 90% of our work is not appealing to those gatekeepers but rather encouraging our clients to become publishers and content developers themselves. Blogger relations and social media sharing is more powerful than ever.

Look at YouTube. It’s the second largest search engine in America after Google, but it puzzles most people. A dead YouTube channel is an incredible missed opportunity. The best metric to measure when implementing a YouTube channel is the amount of inbound traffic your website gets from this platform. SEO is also becoming more and more important because the written and visual content we create needs to be found.

What is your office culture like?

I’ve worked at the largest PR agency in Minnesota, Weber Shandwick, so I experienced a large agency culture. I also worked at a small firm and an ad agency in their PR department. You learn from your family of origin so someday when you start your own family, you remember what your parents did that was right and wrong and learn from it.

Our office culture is a very energetic, fast-moving, collaborative, and driven culture. We work with very high standards. It’s not unusual for a written piece of content to go through seven or eight drafts. At the same time, at 6 p.m., this office is empty. I want my staff to be energized, do incredible creative work, and then go home to live a life outside of the office.

We also work to create a culture that banishes fear. I’ve been at agencies where people were stone cold terrified of losing their jobs or clients yelling at them. Ever since we were founded 18 years ago, our office has been a no-fear zone. I always tell my staff to be afraid of mediocrity, but not to be afraid of making a mistake.

You do a great job with content marketing on your blog. What is your content marketing strategy?

The blog was chiefly started by our Social Media Director, Christina Milanowski, with the help of associate Leila Hirsch. The blog is the linchpin of our agency’s thought leadership. We tweet and use LinkedIn updates aggressively, which I find are very powerful and usually underutilized by most companies.

Maccabee PR BlogWhen we post on our blog, it’s only the beginning. My staff is incredibly good at offering our blog posts to all kinds of aggregators and communities. I also share almost every new blog post we do with business prospects.

We’ve had the blog running for about two years and post three times a month. Very few companies have a blogging budget, but it takes a significant time investment. Blogging once every week is optimal.

When blogging, companies must ask themselves:

  • Who owns the blog?
  • Who’s responsible for the blog?
  • Who will pay for the blog?

What are some key qualities a successful PR professional should have?

It used to be that writing skills were number one because we would do press releases, public service announcements, and speeches, which we still do, but now what we look more for is a very restless intelligence. We need people who will be fascinated and be able to grasp whatever industry our clients are in.

Knowing the utility of social media for marketing is also key. Everybody I’ve talked to has a Facebook account, but that doesn’t mean you have good instincts on what kind of marketing makes sense on the Facebook channel as opposed to other social media platforms. In the last two years, we’ve seen social media marketing become more a part of the PR curriculum which is great.

What advice do you have for recent PR graduates or professionals interested in breaking into the PR industry?

This sounds so obvious but it’s so rare, but decide early in your career that you will never lie, that you would rather quit your job than lie. You will not lie to your boss, co-workers, clients, the media, or bloggers. That is like the heavens opening up. This means you have to be willing to perhaps resign a client or leave a job that requires you not to uphold the standards of integrity that you set for yourself. The people who have a reputation of integrity in this town are the people I want to do business with, the people I want to hire.

Humility is important, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a healthy ego. Humility is more about knowing what you don’t know. It’s asking other people for advice. You can’t be a lifelong learner without realizing the vastness of the things you don’t know.

 

A big thank you to Paul Maccabee for taking the time to share his PR insight with us for our blog. To connect further with Paul, follow him on Twitter at @maccabeepr or visit his website at http://www.maccabee.com.


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