Austin Rotter is a New York-based expert in all things media relations, branding, and strategy. He talks to The Industry Leaders about how his work is all about storytelling, and why getting published in trade media is where founders on a budget should be focusing.
For those who don't know about your work, can you tell us a little about who you are and how you got where you are today?
I’m a strategic digital marketing and media relations strategist with over a decade of experience working with a number of clients, ranging from Fortune 100 brands to hyper-growth companies.
I love helping innovators, disruptors and radicals that are challenging the status quo to increase their media profile and brand awareness through creative, strategic, and results-driven campaigns.
A lot of what you do revolves around helping businesses grow through media relations and strategy. Can you explain what that looks like for a typical client?
Every client, program and campaign is so drastically different. I think that’s what I love the most about what we do. No two clients or businesses are the same. That’s the beauty of being in the media relations and strategy business; you get to flex a very creative part of your brain and challenge yourself in a very fun and unique way.
There is some overlap though. At the end of the day, especially around media relations, it’s all about storytelling. The story or narrative between clients is always different based on their goals and the strategy we put in place.
But to help a business grow, the story aspect is mission-critical:
Is the story about growth?
About best practices in a given industry?
There are countless ways to break it down, but either way, it’s storytelling that is driving everything.
Having worked with Fortune 1000 brands, would you say there's a common theme, mindset, or culture amongst those businesses that early-stage founders and executives can take into their own businesses?
The biggest takeaway is being laser-focused on your mission. In some of the best brands I have worked with, being laser-focused and turning off other distractions becomes their secret power and strength for success.
In some of the best brands I have worked with, being laser-focused and turning off other distractions becomes their secret power and strength for success.
It’s so easy wanting to chase everything or go after the new, sexy, shiny object (look at the metaverse or Web3 for example), but that’s all you’ll be doing: chasing. Obviously, I’m not saying you can’t pivot strategy or direction and if something isn’t working, then fix that ASAP.
But the north star and true company mission shouldn’t change and that should be the driving force behind everything you do.
Focusing on solopreneurs and startup founders for a moment: how much should they be concentrating on growing their personal brand as well as building their companies?
This will always be a tricky balancing act. Growing your business should always be the most important priority. That is what keeps the lights on, and bills being paid. You can’t ignore that or substitute it for anything.
Depending on what industry you’re in, growing your personal brand will be a close second. If you’re in the service business and what you’re selling is yourself, as well as your time, then your personal brand is actually your business – the two go hand-in-hand.
If you’re more product-focused and that’s what you’re selling, then it should be the company first and foremost.
What are your favourite hacks and tools for accelerating the brand-building process?
In one word: Instagram.
From a marketing perspective and brand building, Instagram is the king right now. With over 200 million business profiles, it’s no surprise that brands are investing heavily in this platform.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a B2B brand or a DTC player; Instagram, from a business perspective, has options for every company that needs a social layer to connect with customers. You shouldn’t be asking if you should use Instagram, but ask, “how should I be using it?” It is mission-critical on the social side to grow your business and overall brand.
What tips do you have for founders that are just starting out and perhaps don't have a huge ad budget or a ton of time - how can they grow their brands effectively?
I’ll look at this just from a media relations point of view. There are so many ways to tackle growing a brand, especially without a huge budget or resources.
On the media relations side, first, list out your core target audience. Who is the most important audience you need to be talking to right away? Every business will have a different answer. You’re not going to be able to hit several groups at once, so who is mission-critical for your business? Once you have that figured out, that’s where you’re going to put all your time and energy.
Next, focus on the media publications that actually matter for that audience. Trade media is gold here. So many people think the bigger the outlet, the better. That’s not always the case. Sure, being in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal never hurt, but is being published there actually helping your main objective? The answer is likely no.
Say you’re an ad agency and you’re really having a hard time with recruiting creatives. In this example, your most important audience is potential new hires. In that universe, there’s a handful of publications, maybe 10 at most that matter specifically to that certain audience (Fast Company, Ad Age, Adweek, Campaign, MediaPost, The Drum, etc.).
Sure, being in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal never hurt, but is being published there actually helping your main objective? The answer is likely no.
Study those outlets as much as you can. In the above example, find out who is covering and writing about creatives or agencies. You can do this for every outlet in the world and see who the main person is covering your industry or focus. Once you have that person figured out, read some of their articles for about two to three weeks. This will give you a great overview of what they like to cover and how they usually do it.
After you have done all of that, make a mini media list of each target outlet and the best reporter for your given area. Drop that reporter a quick note about your business and why it’s different, how you are doing things unlike anyone else, and what makes you special.
A story might not happen right away. It’s all about getting on their radar and building a relationship moving forward. It’s a long-term play vs. a quick overnight win.
For you personally Austin, what’s the most challenging situation you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are today?
It’s almost impossible to focus on one specific situation. Like everyone else, I’m human and it’s a running list of challenging situations you face all the time. What I think is more important is what you learn from those situations and build from them moving forward.
You need to bounce back and keep going. Not giving up is half the battle.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
That it’s okay to fail. Failure is scary – no two ways around it. No one wants to fail.
It’s important to embrace failure though and see it as a learning opportunity. It might be hard in that moment when it stings, but that’s where growth and development come into play which is so vital throughout your career.
You have to look at every failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. There’s beauty in failing.
Is there a book or podcast that you’d recommend to other business leaders?
Hands down, that would be Ride of a Lifetime from Bob Iger, former CEO of Disney. In my opinion, he’s one of the best and most visionary CEOs and entrepreneurs.
Besides being an interesting look into one of the most innovative companies out there, he shares a lot of fantastic leadership lessons and growth strategies that are extremely inspiring.
How can people follow your work?
Feel free to visit my site and drop me a line!
Operating in New York, Austin Rotter is a media relations, branding, and media strategy professional who has spent his career building skills, knowledge, and experience within the arena of public relations and online branding.
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