Lonny Kocina is a visionary who is passionate about marketing. He also knows a little bit about bringing an idea to life.
In 1987, Lonny founded Media Relations Agency, which has served several hundred clients. Media Relations Agency’s nationally trademarked Pay Per Interview Publicity® business model, which enables clients to purchase publicity by the story, is well known throughout the industry.
“It’s a familiar concept. If you pay for a pizza, you get a pizza; if you pay for a car, you get a car; and with us, if you pay for media coverage, you get media coverage,” he explains. “Clients come to us because they are tired of paying hourly retainers and getting little tangible return.”
Lonny’s advice to entrepreneurs is that it isn’t enough anymore to build a brand. “The word brand has become so watered down by people using it as a synonym for product that it’s almost meaningless. If your product is unknown, you can get away with calling it your brand. But it would be foolish to call an unknown product famous. That’s our goal: to make our clients’ products famous,” explains Lonny.
Although Lonny is used to giving this advice to his clients, he also knows it has real value for marketers, entrepreneurs and CEOs. It’s why he wrote “The CEO’s Guide to Marketing” and developed an accredited online course around his Strategically Aimed Marketing (SAM6®) process.
“I’m tipping my hand and giving away secrets I’d rather keep. But I’m older now and I’m doing this to spare people some of the frustration I’ve had during my career.”
Where did the idea for Media Relations Agency come from?
When looking for a business idea, I kept a journal of things that frustrated me. As a marketing manager, I was frustrated that PR firms charged by the hour with no guarantee of coverage. I thought that if I sold media coverage and charged per story we arranged, companies would buy it because they would be assured of getting media coverage for their money. Businesses loved the concept. Thirty years later, we have arranged tens of thousands of news stories about our clients products, all based on a simple pricing twist. PR firms who were used to getting paid by the hour whether they produced any results or not hated us.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually start work about 7 or 7:30. My thinking is the clearest in the morning. Being 65, I don’t work as many hours as I did in my 50s. I have great managers who keep our agency running day to day. The older you get, the smarter you will become. I’ve found out I can produce the same results with less effort.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas start in your mind where no one knows about them but you. You have to pull them into the physical world or they are nothing more than a daydream. You give them birth by speaking of them or writing about them to other people. Then, like an adolescent, you need to nourish them for a long time. In the beginning, ideas are fragile little things. But when ideas grow up they become strong and can live on their own without you.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I don’t get excited by trends and I think many are headed in the wrong direction. I don’t like the trend of working from home. I don’t like the trend toward socialism. I don’t like the trend toward inflation. I don’t like the trend toward big government. I don’t like the trend toward less personal communication. But opportunities abound for people who buck trends. It can be profitable to go right when the herd goes left.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a habit of walking the first thing in the morning and thinking about how our agency can stay relevant. I can easily spend an hour or two just walking and thinking. It’s like doing my homework and then going to class prepared.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Get in a good bible study group sooner. There is something going on that’s much bigger than business and it’s good to consider how your business fits in.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I consider listening to music a waste of time. Your brain cannot shut itself off. It has to think when you are awake. Be careful about hooking it up to anything that essentially parks it in neutral.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
We take our own medicine, which is to make products famous by getting media attention. I’ll do any media interview no matter how small the audience. I used the late Minnesota Governor Wendal Anderson as a consultant. He told me that when he rode in small town parades he would try to be near the front so he could finish first. That gave him time to hitch another ride on someone else’s float. He said people laughed and clapped as they saw him a second time. Product success is about fame. Anything you can do to get your product in the limelight is good.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We get our money up front, before we provide our services. That means we have no collection issues and no bad debt. That also means that the cost of bad debt is not passed on to our clients. As you can imagine, prospects who have problems paying their bills go to other agencies. Easy credit and writing off bad debt can work if you have the stomach for it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
This question is like asking a professional baseball player to talk about one time they swung at the ball and missed, then asking how they overcame it. If you are an entrepreneur worth your salt, you will have lots of failures. You overcome them by saying “so what” and then moving on.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think a specialty shop called Pan of Bars would be a good idea. You know – like lemon bars, rice crispy bars, brownies, etc. Just focus on being the best at making pans of bars. Maybe this exists already but I’ve never seen it. And if I did, you can bet I’d be a regular customer.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Taking my grandkids to the county fair. Low cost/high return.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’m 65 so I’m out of the loop on this question. I did however reserve website names like publicity.com back when any name you wanted was available. I advised our clients to do the same, which many did. That train left the station a long time ago.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Mine, of course. “The CEO’s Guide to Marketing” is an award-winning, Amazon best seller. I believe it is the most practical marketing book ever written. If you are looking for a 1001 ideas book, this isn’t it. My book is a process book. Sometimes our agency is handling over 100 campaigns simultaneously. My book shows you our process for keeping marketing on track.
What is your favorite quote?
In business you are either growing or dying.
- Ideas need to be nourished in order to grow into strong ideas. Think about them, speak about them with other people and write them down.
- Product success is about fame. Anything you can do to get your product in the limelight is good.
- As an entrepreneur, you’ll have too many failures to count. It gets easier after you accept this. You can overcome failure by saying “so what” and then moving on.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.