PR Expert Melanie Marten Speaks About a $2.3 Million ROI Publicity Stunt & More [S01E08]

Melanie Marten Speaks About Publicity to Syed Irfan Ajmal

After a few solo podcast episodes, we have recorded another interview finally.

400 media mentions & press clippings in 4 weeks, along with the artwork being bought for $2.3 million.

Not a bad result for a controversial publicity stunt (or should we call it an art project) right?

German Public Relations expert and entrepreneur Melanie Marten shares what Die Guillotine (The Guillotine in German) was, what was its main purpose, and how it was pulled off.

Melanie also shares her insights on public relations in general, how she got into PR, the right way to pitch to the media, how to build relations with editors & journalists, and how companies can leverage PR to be more known and build their brands.





  • Melanie’s unconventional path to PR
  • Melanie’s definition of what PR is and what it entails
  • How PR is different than paid advertising in becoming more known and building a great brand
  • How the fact that PR is ‘earned media’ impacts the kind of stories which journalists may pick up and how much it costs
  • Edward Bernays (the founder of modern PR) – How he helped Marlboro sell more cigarettes
  • Details on DIE GUILLOTINE – how it happened and how it led to 400 media mentions & press clippings, along with a $2.3 Million ROI
  • Why she founded The Coup in 2010?
  • The goal of PR on the Go, and how it helps creatives and solopreneurs to do their own PR
  • The degree program Melanie chose to study in order to be better at PR
  • The Generalist vs Specialist Debate: Should you (as a PR professional or a PR agency) focus on offering services to a specific niche/industry? Melanie shares her take on this.
  • How large cities like London, New York, and Berlin are made known as the hubs of arts and creativity which in turn leads to tourism, investment, and economic boom. According to Melanie, a lot of other cities underestimate “the economic importance of the arts.”- My favorite part of the interview!
  • The art of storytelling and how it helps in Public Relations
  • Why and how to use micro-trends while pitching a story to media outlets
  • The right channel (Email, Twitter, LinkedIn) for pitching to journalists & editors. Find out which one’s Melanie’s favorite and why.
  • How your pitching channel is different for print media as opposed to electronic media
  • Do’s & don’ts of relationship building with journalists and editors
  • Why it is wrong for startups to try to get featured in a typical startup magazine and what to do instead? PLUS, the rare time when a typical startup magazine may be the ideal publicity outlet for you.
  • Accessing the wealtheir audience. HINT: It involves airplanes and launches.


INTRO: (00:01) You’re the average of the 5 podcast shows you listen to the most. Learn to run your business well with the SIA Business Show. Where our host, Syed Irfan Ajmal, interviews entrepreneurs, marketers, and speakers of all colors and creeds, revealing their biggest secrets and lousiest mistakes.

Irfan: (00:24) Hi, this is Syed Irfan Ajmal with another episode of the SIA Business Podcast Show where I am going to interview a very interesting personality. Her name is Melanie Martin. She is an entrepreneur and a PR expert. Melanie is based in Berlin, Germany and she runs two different companies.

(00:46) At The Coup, Melanie has worked with both startups and international companies for a good few years, whereas at PR On The Go, she focuses on the creative industries. These include a lot of solopreneurs such as filmmakers, fashion designers, architects, artists, etc.​

(01:06) And I believe the goal at PR On The Go is to help these solopreneurs get better at doing their own PR. Melanie will also be talking about a successful campaign that earned hotlined hundreds of media mentions and press clippings apart from helping the campaign and with the very nice 2.3 million US dollars sale. So, let’s get started. Welcome, Melanie.

Melanie: (01:32) Hi, Irfan. Thanks for having me.

Irfan: (01:36) It’s great to have you on the show. I know you had some trouble with the internet and it’s great to have you on the show and good to know that you have been able to make it. I know it’s very early in Germany. Is it 8 o’clock there?

Melanie: (01:49) Right. That’s right.

Irfan: (01:50) Right. Well, I hope you have had a decent cup of coffee because we’ll be asking you some very interesting questions and we hope that we can learn a lot from your experience.

Melanie: (02:00) Great. Looking forward to it.

Irfan: (02:02) Perfect. So, Melanie tell me a bit about how you started with the entrepreneurship. What was it like when you were studying? Did you had that plan since back then or did something change when you had a few job stints, maybe? How was it for you?

Melanie: (02:17) Oh, that’s actually quite an interesting question when it comes to my story, my background story. So, I work in public relations and the way I got there was not a direct way. So, I just had the training on the job in a real estate office, then I went to London to improve my English and a lot of several internships after that, in the music industry.​

(02:46) And then started as a freelancer back in Berlin. I’m working with several artists, musicians, mostly in different fields for the promotion of their gigs, their albums, their releases, supporting photo shootings and working within the creative industries of Berlin with a lot of creative people.

(03:13) But I never found really a definition of what I did until a friend told me like, “What you do is really public relations.” And then, I started a website, rented an office. And then I studied journalism on the side to improve the basic knowledge behind the media. And yeah, since then, I’m just working in public relations.

Irfan: (03:45) Wonderful. That’s a very interesting story. I mean, you doing so much in so many different related areas like, your work with musicians and artists promoting their gigs and studying journalism, which I think, is very cool and an extremely smart decision on your part

(04:02) So, tell us a bit about the 2 ventures, like how long have you been doing them and what’s the reason for 2 different ventures and how tough is it? I know it’s a lot of questions so you can just answer the ones that you prefer and I can ask the others again, or something.

Melanie: (04:18) Great. So, it was in 2010 when I founded The Coup as a PR agency. And since I was very active in the creative industries before, I got clients very quickly and it grew into a small agency very quickly. We dealt with a nice team. Yeah, and lots of fun times, lots of different clients.

(04:44) And as we grew over the years, our clients actually became bigger. So, we couldn’t work for the creative people anymore, like musicians, and designers, and artists that we have so many in Berlin of, because they just couldn’t afford our fees that raised over the years and the costs that we had to cover.

(05:08) And we had more and more corporate clients, international ones, but actually they’re the part I enjoyed the most. I had to leave a bit, which was upsetting when I enjoy most working with creative young people. And we had a brainstorming, a big brainstorming one summer in 2015, and already started with the first brainstorming on what we can do to still work with the creative industries and new startups.

(05:40) And there, the idea was born for PR On The Go, which is a do-it-yourself PR platform. So, it’s still in its first steps, but the idea is to provide those creative founders with tools so they can implement PR and marketing themselves.

Irfan: (06:00)Got It. Well, that seems very interesting. And I’m sure that… I think that’s a very nice mix with The Coup, focusing on the bigger corporate clients and PR On The Go, focusing on enabling the creatives to do some of their own PR all by themselves. That’s interesting

(06:18) So, tell us a bit about PR if you can, because I think, there is a lot of misconceptions about it as well, in some circles, maybe. Is it just about publicity? Is it just about media relations or is it also about different types of audiences, like maybe relations with investors and everything? How do you see it?

Melanie: (06:40) So, that’s a great question because that’s one of my main focuses to actually also, like young entrepreneurs whenever works with PR before, that I actually know what is Public Relations, what includes it. Because as you said, there is so much misconceptions about it.

(06:59) So, Public Relations is the effort to make yourself more known and improve your image. And this is mainly done with press publications. So, in practice, it’s mainly to bring stories about your business or an introduction about founders into the press. So, you’re in magazines or even on TV or in radio stations and you get interviews. That’s the main part.

(07:35) But we take all different kinds of tools to help form a good image of your brand and get you a more wider known, such as social media marketing or online marketing tools. But it’s different from advertising. For example, the way you would come up with a creative campaign and print a lot of big posters and hang them in the city. That’s advertising.​

Irfan: (08:10) Yeah. These are some really good points. Firstly, I really like how you use the words, the key phrases “to be known” and “to improve the brand image,” should I say. And another thing that I really liked that you said is that it’s different than advertisement.

(08:30) Would you agree that advertisement is maybe more promotional and maybe more self-centered where you can be talking about a lot of the features of the product or the service or something. But I think, I guess my question is, PR is not like that because you still have to make sure that the story has something in it for the audience, some kind of informational angle rather than being full-on promotional. Does it make sense?

Melanie: (08:59) They’re very strategic and an example that I find very good to see the differences is, Edward Bernays was elected founding father of public relations as we still do it nowadays. So, he started using all the tools that we’re still using nowadays. Like, come up with competitions and do the strategy, having a very cycle and analytical aspect of how to approach the audience and done different things

.(09:29) I’ve done for example, with the advertisement department as well. And what he did back in early beginning of the 20th century, he aimed to make cigarettes popular. So at this time, there were only a few men smoking cigarettes and he worked with Marlboro. And um, he looked into it… how can we sell cigarettes? And he said, “Oh, let sell it for freedom.” It’s the feeling of freedom that they give you.​

(10:03) And then how that advertisement showed it to the people, they took a cowboy in the desert. That’s the look of the freedom. So, that is a very strategical approach.

Irfan: (10:18) Do you, at times, get in trouble with clients where they might assume that you and your PR agency can do this very salesy and promotional stuff when that’s actually advertisement. And that might not be something that you people do or it might be more costly because with the publications they might be charging a much higher fee for sponsored content.

Melanie: (10:45) Exactly. So, in the domain approaches to really get earned media. It’s called earned media. So, because we come up with a story behind your business so good that journalists are really interested in it and want to hear you talk about it and then you don’t have to pay for stories.

(11:08) But we do a lot of storytelling and content marketing behind it. That’s the big thing we do nowadays. But, I’m sorry, to get back to your question… so, can you help me out?

Irfan: (11:22) I think, you answered the question pretty well. I know what you mean. But let’s talk about storytelling a bit. What’s the process there in order to find the story behind the brand, a new startup app or a new product or service, what are the few steps that you and your agency take in order to come up with the interesting story?

Melanie: (11:44) Yeah. So let’s say, you developed a product that is like, it has hardware in it and software and a very smart product and you want to launch it. There is just, one, the introduction of the product with all its features, but it’s very neutral and that there’s the formation behind it. That PR aims to fill this with emotions, and the soul, the whole product itself​

(12:18) And also like, introduce the founder behind it, the developer or the business behind it, who developed it. Like, with an interesting story. We make it public, how was the process of getting there? Why was it I wasn’t invented? What problem solution is it solving and what does it make you feel when you have it? What does it improve in your life?

(12:47) This can be a very, very different angle. So, that maybe has a winner’s approach. Now, we’re taking a lot of… having a lot of research on what current keywords are, trends, and what trends are out there in general, especially, like in urban surroundings.

(13:14) And then, we use this to come up with a story. And also, like the keywords, we give, again, to the digital advertisement department. So, they do a Google advertisement, which supports the whole story.

Irfan: (13:32) Wonderful. So, I actually have two questions in this regard. This was a very interesting description. How does Google Adverts come into play? Are you saying that you develop a story and then you run that story in order to attract attention from, say, a media publication? Is that what you’re saying?​

Melanie: (13:51) You’re working on Google advertisement as well, right?

Irfan: (13:55) Not a lot, but I do understand the concept. Yeah.

Melanie: (13:58) Oh, okay. Right, yeah. So, my approach especially is to work very closely with digital advertising and with social media marketing and also the classic advertisement. So, when we come up with the story… the trending keywords behind it that we want to put to the product that we’re launching or to the venture, then those keywords also need to be supported within Google advertising and also within campaigning overall. So it’s all one campaign, very subtle. Those positive keywords will be known for this brand or venture.

Irfan: (14:49) Okay. I guess, what you’re saying is that the advertisement team and the PR team, they both work in sync in order to make sure that there is one cohesive universal message around the brand and the product. Is that what you’re saying?

Melanie: (15:04) That’s completely correct. Yeah. It’s very important. The different departments work together.

Irfan: (15:11) Right. Wonderful. So, I mean, you did mention that Google AdWords helps you find the keywords that maybe getting a lot of searches and then, you and your team can use those keywords to make sure that, if any target audience is searching for those keywords, they can end up on your story.

(15:29) You also talked about finding the current trends which can correlate with the story that you are working on. So, if you have any example of that, that will be good. And also, do you use any particular tool to find the most trending topics in this regard?

Melanie: (15:48)So, that’s even more important. We’re not really using the keyword planner for all storytelling, but we’re looking into studies and statistics and also we need to be well aware of what’s going on in our area. So, does this mainly in the urban areas, with a certain age of people. And then what are those people really… what are the trends​

(16:20) So, attending a lot of events, of course, reading a lot of magazines and looking into influencers. What are the trending topics and how is different target groups overall behaving and how are they feeling? For example, the current generation, they are facing a lot of trouble with stress and anxiety. So, that’s how wellness products, at the moment, and wellness concepts, are very, very much celebrated.

(17:00) And within those, there are a lot of smaller trends, but this is really everywhere. So, it’s important to be really all over the place and be interested in so many things, attend exhibitions, travel. Yeah

.Irfan: (17:19) Wonderful. And in terms of finding these trends, I do understand that there is a lot of reading involved and studying and networking and attending exhibitions and all that. But on the SEO side, if I can share something, maybe you are already using similar tools or maybe you’re using even better tools.

(17:39) So, I wonder if you’ve heard of BuzzSumo, with basically you can… for instance, if you look into… for instance, maybe if you use the keyword “startup” plus “anxiety,” right? So, you would see a lot of articles that are coming and then you can choose, like, most viral articles in the last three months, which deal with startups and anxiety. Have you used any of these tools?

Melanie: (18:04) Yeah, that is super interesting. Or it’s similar to Google Trends, where you can compare it. A little bit of a problem is that there is, or it’s not a problem, but I have a different approach. So, sometimes I do it like this with those tools. Mostly, we come up with the trends where we have the feeling of, “Okay, this is going to become a bigger trend.”

(18:31) So, it’s a starting point. There are a lot of influencers using specific keywords. Because when it’s already viral, then you cannot really adapt it for your venture. So, you really try to look a bit ahead and then you find a lot on the internet. You find statistics and studies and trends for everything so that that can undermine your approach. But I’m trying to be one step ahead most of the time.

Irfan: (19:04) Yeah. I understand what you’re saying because this reminds me of something I had read. There is a journalist, David Meerman Scott. Sorry, not a journalist, but a marketer and he’s very much of an expert when it comes to trending topics and basically newsjacking.

(19:21) I’m not sure if newsjacking… I’m sure newsjacking is something you know but it’s known by different names in Germany. Have you heard of newsjacking?​

Melanie: (19:29) Yeah. Heard of it, yeah

.Irfan: (19:31) Yeah, I’m sure you know about it, but I will explain a bit and then you will know what I mean. So, newsjacking is like, if I see that for instance, there is a lot of the publications writing about, for instance, a recent issue like, maybe airplane safety, right? Because there was a big accident or something. Then if I have a…​

Melanie: (19:51) [inaudible, 19:51]

(19:52) Yeah, exactly. So say, if I have a product or service related to safety, maybe I have something completely different, like maybe alarm system for the home, but I can come up with something interesting related to that. Or I’m sure this is not the best example, but the basic thing is like, Game Of Thrones. Have you seen Game Of Thrones?​

Melanie: (20:12) I have. [inaudible, 20:13].Irfan:

(20:15) So, it’s basically a TV show, right? So, what Hootsuite did… Hootsuite is a social media marketing tool, right? So, what Hootsuite did was that right around the time when a new season of the game of Thrones TV show was getting launched, what Hootsuite did was that they did a similar type of introductory video, which basically showed that just like in Game Of Thrones, there are like six or seven kingdoms, in the Hootsuite video, there are 6 or 7 social media kingdoms like, Twitter kingdom and Facebook kingdom, and it got like a lot of views.​

(20:46) Anyway, the point I was trying to explain is that David Meerman Scott, he said the very same thing that you mentioned as well, that when a story is already gone viral, then you have missed the moment. What you want to do is that you want to catch the stories that are not yet viral, but they are gaining a lot of interest. And that’s the point to try to leverage those stories

.Melanie: (21:09)Yeah. One through the Game Of Thrones, that sounds really amazing. There is a lot of great storytelling, promotional storytelling for the releases of movies. So, you can really do a lot of storytelling with interest and social media.

(21:28) We’re trying really to come up with small micro trends within specific target groups. So, we’re dividing a lot of the target groups into smaller target groups. So, we’re looking into micro trends and then what we can do, we can test a lot of those keywords where we think they might become bigger, those trends.

(21:54) And then, fill this within an article, talk to the journalists in this area, and introducing the product or the venture from this angle, within this micro trend. And then, see If it gets attention. Even if this doesn’t get attention cause no one can predict the future, I guess, you can test a lot of micro trends and see if they will support your venture and then what the audience in the end sees is like, okay, you came up within this trend that became big. Yeah.

Irfan: (22:32) Right. Absolutely. Very interesting. So, speaking of talking to journalists, what’s the right way to network with the journalists and what’s the right way to really build those relations where you can talk to them about potential trend or a micro trend?

Melanie: (22:48) First of all, you need to get an overview of the media landscape that you’re approaching. And this media landscape… mostly, startups want to launch internationally these days. But you need to start from where you are. So you really need to get an overview in the country you want to launch first

(23:14) And then, it’s important to know like, okay, with the micro tech trends, so it might be that you have product in the in the cannibis scene. Yeah? But cannibis magazines are not that important for you, but it’s the balance on medical industry, and the magazines that are important.

(23:40) So, there, you need to be clear about this and then really get the magazines, and read the articles online, from the editor. So, really know who you’re pitching to. And then, you can get in contact either via email or via LinkedIn, I really like, these days, to use it. But if you see the editor uses a lot of Twitter, exchange tweets.

(24:10) It always helps to get in company, get in contact first of course to refer to another article like, “Oh, I’ve seen you introduced this and that, that was so inspiring, this article. And I would like to… I’m working on a similar approach in the micro trend of this and that, and I would like to introduce my product to you.”

(24:33) And most of the times journalists are very interested. Of course, when we’re doing this every day, as a PR agency, and the journalist, especially in Germany, so where I’m doing international PR, but especially in Germany, a lot of journalists know us or they know that we can send them just the press release and they know we’re standing for different, for specific content and specific industries and we’re settled here that they can trust the source. Which is great.

(25:08) So, it’s because we’re delivering information to so many more journalists, it is very helpful. But in the end, it’s about the direct pitch, getting into making a good selection of journalists, checking out their interests. Journalists are brilliant within understanding a venture or an approach really, really fast and can let you know really fast if this is a topic for the magazine or newspaper or radio station they’re working for or not and just also helps you.

Irfan: (25:42) Wonderful. So, I mean, definitely for your agency, like you said, you have been in business since 2010 I believe and the German media industry specially know The Coup and trust them as a credible source. So, you have that freedom to send them a press release or send them a story right away.​

(26:04) But for someone who is just starting or who is exploring media opportunities in a new geographical location or a new industry, do you think that once they have done their research and really got to know the journalist and the publication, do you think it’s a good idea to use that first message, whether it’s via email or Twitter or LinkedIn to introduce a story?Melanie:

(26:30) Yes. Especially for founders who don’t have the big PR marketing budget. There is a huge opportunity in introducing themselves to the journalists. So, really make the effort and read magazines and online and get to know the editors and make the efforts to introduce yourself.

(26:53) So, journalists really liked to be in contact with the creative founder because it’s much more inspiring than when a PR person is in between. So, they do listen. But don’t send them a mass email. You really have to find the ways where they’re communicating the most, like in Twitter, LinkedIn or via email or try to get them on the phone, which will be even better. But there is a huge opportunity. So, one should not be afraid to approach journalists directly.

Irfan: (27:34) Right. So, two things that I concluded from this very interesting discussion regarding pitching is that, number 1, do your research, get to know the publication and the journalist that you’re writing for and the editor. Like, what are the main issues that they focus on within your industry, or something like that.​

(27:53) And number 2, never send a mass email, but instead make sure that you send a customized email to every single journalist. Is that a correct description?

Melanie: (28:03) Yes, totally.​

Irfan: (28:04) Okay. So, sometimes what happens is that for instance, for me, I’m not a journalist, but sometimes I think this goes on to show the importance of research which you talked about, that sometimes I would get emails or a LinkedIn messages just because they see that I write for a Forbes or Huffington post. So, I will get like an email and sometimes there is not even like, a “hello over there.”

(28:30) It’s just like a copy-paste press release or something like that. So I mean, do you think that for someone who doesn’t know about you, I mean, in my case obviously it doesn’t work because I’m not a journalist, but if they are sending that kind of stuff to a journalist that they don’t know my point, I guess my question is, should the very first call message, like someone you have not known before, is it okay that the very first message is about this product and the story behind it or should you maybe use the first couple of messages to ask something or to provide like a genuine compliment or something like that?​

Melanie: (29:09) Yes. So, we as a PR agency when we know like, within those German editorial departments, they’re well known. We can just send them the press release. That’s okay for them. They scan the content. But especially for someone, the founder who approaches PR more herself. And it’s important not to take all the context I can get and just send them one email with my story. This will get no attention.

(29:43) It’s just to really look into all of those and see which are the most important ones to me or which are the best fit to my venture. And then really only pick a few editors that put in their time, and this is going to be so much more successful.

Melanie: (30:57) Yeah, so there are few tools out there. We introduce a lot at, for the different creative industries. Like, you just mentioned, HARO is It’s one of the fantastic tools to start PR because there you can get a regular newsletter with journalists that are looking for specific stories, people who fit… people to interview for specific stories they’re working on.

(31:32) So, you get this delivered to your mailbox every day and can scan if there is a journalist looking out for a venture like yours. And then, you can get in contact. But we’re introducing a lot of those many tools or submission opportunities in order to get published or to reach more people at

Irfan: (32:02) Wonderful. Yeah, we’ll be making sure that we include links to The Coup and PR oO The Go in the show notes and on your episode’s webpage. So, what about the importance of being a generalist versus being a specialist? So, do you think that it’s better to be a generalist, generalist as in having a generic approach, rather than being a specialist when it comes to doing PR? Like, being a specialist, maybe focusing just on the wellness, just on the tech startups, which one do you prefer and why?

Melanie: (32:35) You mean the PR person if the PR person should be such?

(32:39) Yeah, exactly. I mean, do you think that the PR person should focus… is he or she better off focusing on maybe one industry or should he or she focus on, just anything that comes your way in terms of clients and all that.

Melanie: (32:55) Yeah. So, it’s always good to find a niche or not only your niche, but to find out over the years what you’re really good at. So, when it comes to me, I know I’m really good in promoting the arts and also with real estate. So, PR oriented, those are quite different topics.​

(33:18) But then, the approach for a PR person can be different. So, I personally believe for startups, especially in the technology scene data. We often want to be featured in the startup media outlets. But my approach is, why do you want to be seen within a startup magazine? So, other startups can see you? But you still don’t reach your target audience.

Irfan: (33:47) That’s a really good point.​

Melanie: (33:49) Yeah. So, I’m really trying to bring this into the [inaudible, 33:57] where the business really is. But also, I’m a huge fan of daily media. So, bringing something into the newspaper everyday. Newspaper being online or in print because there it becomes a very different relevancy to your topic. And it has…usually it reaches the most people or much more than a magazine. So, those are my targets.

(34:28) And then there are different PR people. So, in other PR people, for example, they support startups to be in all the startup magazines. Bu, yeah. I think, it’s very important when you’re working with a PR person, when you plan to work with a PR person, to find out about their approach, where do they see the importance, and do you agree with that? Do you think it’s a good fit for your venture?​

Irfan: (35:02) Wonderful. This reminds me of a similar experience I often have in Pakistan, where I’m based. So, basically what happens is that a lot of the new startups, they are very keen to attend events, which are focused just on startups and usually, if it’s a fitness app, they won’t think about attending maybe, like, a health event or maybe an event which is attended by a lot of doctors where they can maybe partner with them.

(35:33) But instead, they are very keen to join the startup events where most of other participants are startups like themselves. So, what you said does resonate with me, but do you think that when you talk about these startup magazines, do you think that sometimes these startup magazines are maybe read by some investors as well? And maybe that’s why some of these startups want to get featured there rather than a more specific magazine or website or something?​

Melanie: (36:03) So, it’s a lot about… I have to say it’s very often about the ego. So, I’m in my startup system, maybe my coworking space, I love the startup events. Either, I’m a bit lost in there, so I don’t really take the step to go outside into my industry where I’m providing my startup for, or it’s really the ego because I want to be the best one in the startup scene. So, you can see this very often in Berlin.

(36:35) And so, I want to be known amongst all the startups that I’m hanging out with. But most of the times that is not great. There is one particular time when it’s quite important to be featured in there is the time when you really have your first investments and looking for more investors. Because this one target group that looks into the startup magazines are investors as well.​

(37:06) And so, you can make yourself known within this target group. There, it makes sense. But again, I’m having the approach for being featured in the newspapers or in business magazines because they can reach much more investors with, and impress investors even more with.

(37:28) But I think, it’s always great to be featured in the beginning but my approach is not to spend too much time on an outlet that doesn’t fit your fold. But if you’re in pitching for investors, you might reach this target audience there.​

Irfan: (37:50) Right. Then again, it’s about trying to figure out, like for instance, in terms of events that maybe taking place in Pakistan on anywhere, I think, what startups can do is to check out the details of the previous editions. So for instance, I was speaking in Dubai in April of this year and the event that I was a panelists there, I looked it up and I saw that they were billions of dollars of deals that were closed in previous editions of that event. So, that’s why I was more keen to attend that event.

(38:21) So, I guess because there’s a lot of events where there might be a lot of startups, but if you studied their previous history, you will see that maybe no one raised any investment or there was not even a lot of investors in the previous events. Would you agree with that?​

Melanie: (38:38) Yes, totally. Um, it’s important when you really want to make a business out of it, it’s very important to make a proper research on what to spend your time on. If you’re really keen on attending, even if the event is not big or presenting there, then it’s fine.

(39:01) But when you have… like, when you set goals within your team that also involves the time schedule, it’s really important to have a look on [inaudible, 39:13 ] because doesn’t really support to reach your goal because they got time element as well.​

Irfan: (39:21Wonderful. With the growth of the digital media and a lot of people are consuming their news and their content online rather than maybe a print newspaper and all that. How do you see that and how do you think that impacts the way PR professionals or anyone who wants to get featured need to work on that?

Melanie: (39:44) That’s totally true that there is a lot of online consumption. And especially, I found out in China where also they only consume their news over WeChat. I’m not sure how it is in Pakistan, that it’s only online, is there still a print media print landscape?​

Irfan: (40:08) Yeah, definitely. We do have that. It’s rapidly decreasing, especially in the last, I would say, 15 to maybe 18 years, more like 15 or 13 years. Even the poorest people now do have a cell phone and mostly it’s a smartphone so they can consume content there.

(40:27) Sometimes, when I am in a cab or when I come across another type of blue worker, I would see that they are doing something on YouTube or Facebook. And sometimes when I ask them, some of them may have a relative like a brother or a cousin who is based in maybe Sweden or Germany and they say, this is an easy way for us to interact with them and to speak to them. Or sometimes they would be watching news even on YouTube.​

(40:51) But we still do have, I think, I suspect that we still have a very large print media because there are a lot of people who are still adopting to the online media. And then, obviously, there is the issue of, I guess, fake news as well. It’s prevalent everywhere, especially social media. It’s a very easy way for spreading rumors by maybe one type of group against another.

(41:17) And sometimes, it might not be intentional because sometimes I would get a forwarded news item and when I do research about it, it turns out to be untrue. So then, I have to tell my friend who sent it and I know that they didn’t do it intentionally, but the fact that they got it and they didn’t think that it might be fake.​

Melanie: (41:37) Yeah. Great to hear that, that there’s still print media out there because, like I said, in China, it seems to be not the case at all. What I experienced especially Germany and the UK, where I’m working very much, is that of course online is key class consumption, but there is definitely a tool that exists and printers having like a small revival.

(42:04) Because in terms of this fast paced living and people, there is this trend of going back first to slow living, doing meditation, breathing exercise to get out of the stress and anxiety so many people are facing. And print media is a treat, especially for your eyes, but it’s totally your point that there is about the research when you print it. So, there is not this fast consumption and also fake news. There’s a prevention in there, but it’s a totally treat to buy a southern magazine to read over the weekend and it’s so good for your eyes, I believe.​

(42:51) And also, when it comes to PR, let’s say you have a fancy product or venture that costs a lot of money, then there you find a lot of people, wealthy people reading magazines, those in-flight boarding magazines. They get a lot of magazines on their premium flights and lounges where all the places where you can find the wealthier audience.

(43:26) They do consume magazines and just needs to be considered as well. And when you approach… and there’s another, what I use, and there’s an article maybe in prints then later on it will be online as well or that’s the way they do it in Germany. But I’m sure it’s very often in both ways available. But print is so much… such a treat and I think, it definitely co-exists and I think, it will get a big revival here.​

Irfan: (43:58) Yeah, I think, this is quite true and I think, it’s everything that you said, it seems true for many places, not just Germany. For instance, I have been writing in various online publications since around 2013 but the first time I got published in a book, so one of my essays was published in a book, it was a very special feeling for me. Similarly when I got published in another couple of print magazines, I was very proud of that and it was a very different feeling.

(44:29) And speaking of the impact on eyes, definitely I have a lot of problem with my eyes for the last few years and I think, it has to do with the fact that I spent so much time on my mobile screen and my laptop screen. And what I have started to do now is that I avoid using my phone too much and I even print out some of the articles and some of the web based materials that I have to read.​

(44:55) So, I just print it and read it and I think, it still makes sense and the more well-researched content, quite often, it’s still available in print format. And definitely, I do agree that I have had the same experience that the printed content often is made available in the web format later on as well.

Melanie: (45:14) Yeah. And the value is a bit different when it’s in print only. Like you say, you get published there also like my clients, they want to be in print even when online maybe reaches more people faster. But the value of “printed” is a different one. So, as reference and people are totally [inaudible, 45:38] differently.​

Irfan: (45:40) Very nice. Do you think there is anything different in approaching print media outlet versus a digital media outlet? Like when you are pitching?

Melanie: (45:49) Actually yes. So there are classical print editors that only write for print and there we can come up with the story as it is, but whereas online we look a lot into the key words we want to enrich the story with. So, the online is much more likely to take those key words because we’re writing a lot of Googles. So, it’s good for Google which is actually a shame. So, I prefer also to pitch to print [inaudible 46:23], make the whole… it can be much freer in storytelling.​

Irfan: (46:32) Interesting. But in terms of how you approach them, do you think that, my gut feeling would be that, if I have to contact a print magazine I probably should call them rather than maybe sending them an email. Is that something that you would agree with?

Melanie: (46:49) Yeah, totally. So, print editors are usually available via phone much more. And they also call you back and they’re on the phone, they like to speak on the phone. Whereas online editors or especially bloggers, I have the feeling with bloggers that they are very often also a bit shy. So, they prefer to communicate via email a lot.​

Irfan: (47:17) Interesting. Very nice. And you spoke about Google, so how do you think SEO, Search Engine Optimization, how does that differ from PR or what are some of the differences and some of the similarities between SEO and PR?

Melanie: (47:35) So with PR, we are the ones that approaching the direct clicks. So, that’s the most valuable when it comes with Google. So, you got… with the publications, with great articles and all that’s very important for Google itself and what we are doing as supporting the digital marketing team, which is really using the key words that we both agreed on as team. And so trying to strengthen, being found on Google within those key words. So, we’re using the storytelling, where digital marketing is by the Google display ads and Google ads [inaudible 48:32].​

Irfan: (48:33) Right. So, when you say direct clicks. Do you mean like focusing on the reference traffic rather than the organic traffic? Is that what you mean?

Melanie: (48:42) Exactly. So, we’re the organic ones that we’re found when someone types in searches for some specific topic, researches it, and then we’re found and then we’re the organic click.​

Irfan: (48:58) Okay. Right. So, let’s talk about the successful story that you’ve have had. The amazing campaign that you and your team ran and which resulted in a $2.3 million of sale and around 400 press clippings worldwide. Would you like to tell us about it? Because I’m sure the audience is waiting for that.

Melanie: (49:21) That was a great project with two artists, Iman Rezai and Rouven Materne, and who were, at this time, students at Berlin University of Arts. And it was in 2012. It was still a time where I was super active in the creative industry and with a lot of creative people in Berlin and doing lots of projects just for fun really.​

(49:48) And the two artists together built a guillotine which [inaudible, 49:55] one artist’s background is building a lot of historical weapons as art objects and the other one…

Irfan: (50:04) Right. Just so the audience, can understand this better, this would be, you mean Die Guillotine, right?​

Melanie: (50:10) Yeah. Die Guillotine. That was the project. The the second artist is very… Iman Rezai, his origin is from Iran, is very much in into these colorful paintings. So, the two of them wanted to create an object together and they built a guillotine, which was like the original ones used especially in France in history.

(50:39) And this was like, a 40-kilo knife, the guillotine. And to introduce this art objects to the public, we said, “Okay, let’s do something very provocative.” And we said like, “How about we kill an animal with the guillotine. And we bought a sheep and said, “This sheep stands for humanity.” And then, we created a video where this 40-kilo knife comes down the guillotine and sheep, it gets scary behind it.​

(51:20) And then we asked the audience to vote whether we should kill this sheep with this guillotine or not. And the audience went crazy. So, we’re like, it was published on covers of newspapers and magazines in Germany, like “Crazy art students, that is no art.”

(51:44) And they were like, so angry that a sheep is about to get killed. Or we said like… we gave statements. I was like, we’re showing democracy, it’s a democratic vote whether the sheep, shall be killed or not. And then the whole thing went viral, which in the beginning, people were really angry with the artists.​

(52:08) And then the whole thing went over to the US and then from the US it went worldwide which was praised. So, when people from Japan were sending video replies to a video documentation that we had made about the project. And then PETA, the NGO for animals, they actually supported the whole internet discussion and the art project, they said like, “Look, so you don’t want this sheep to die so badly, but you’re eating meat every day, most of you. So, look into this and become vegan.”

(52:52) So then, they made us even more popular by showing the controversy in the people’s mind. And we got all the attention. And then we get a collector from, from the US coming in and offering a massive amount of money for the guillotine as an art object, which we really didn’t plan for in the beginning and then this hit the news as well.​

(53:27) And then the whole audience’s opinions also changed, which was quite interesting to see. Because then, they said like, “The voting time was over, the artists gave a press conference and saying that the sheep will not be killed and never was intended to be killed, but it was to mirror societies and societies’ opinion.

(53:57) And then the audience, people on social media, they send us emails and they’ve commented on the articles that were published about the press and suddenly they were seen as heroes, those artists, because we sold the guillotine for so much money.​

(54:18) And then I said, “Oh, they’re so smart.” Like, this was such a smart campaign and all, and such a smart project. But before, that this was the most interesting, I think, outcome from this project, that you can really switch the audience minds or opinions very quickly.

(54:45) But it’s a luck of to have the attention. We had international attention, “What statement would you give out next?” And it’s always possible to buy a lot with those opinions, with the attention.​

Irfan: (55:01) Absolutely. Very interesting. And I think, apart from the massive amount of which the artwork was sold and changing the opinion of the people, I think, it also brought probably awareness, correct me if I’m wrong, to animal cruelty, and the good side and maybe a bit of the bad side of democracy as well, right?

Melanie: (55:22) Yeah, exactly. It brought a lot of different… had a lot of different angles and from the PR point of view, I would definitely say, don’t be afraid to be provocative. Like, if you’ve got a venture and you believe your venture will be great for people to get to know, don’t be afraid to be provocative to get attention.​

(55:49) If it’s planned out very…. if it’s planned out well, this is the fact specifically true for the arts, I believe. That there shouldn’t be too much about harmony. It can be… it can get very provocative.

Irfan: (56:11) Controversial as well. So, something more controversial. Yeah?​

(56:13) Yes. Totally. Don’t be afraid to go big and crazy.

(56:21) Yeah. I think, it sort of reminds me of Seth Gordon, an American marketer, and he wrote about, I think, he wrote a book called The Purple Cow. So, I think, the, the message was that if all the cows look the same, no one looks at them.

(56:36) But if one of the cows is purple, so everyone is very focused on that. So, I guess, the message there was very similar to yours where, try to be different, try to tell a different story and use something out of ordinary, something extraordinary. Get the attention of your audience or to spread awareness about an issue that you care about, right?​

Melanie: (56:58) Yes, totally. Like, especially with the [inaudible, 57:02], I love this. It really has an approach for society to… and you have got something to say and you just want to make your voice, be heard… so that’s brilliant. I would love it if there are even more controversial opinions out there and people that make… especially the young people that make themselves heard more.

Irfan: (57:30) Absolutely. Speaking of creative industries and art projects, I know that you are very passionate about the economical importance of creative industries, is there anything you would like to say about that?

Melanie: (57:44) Yeah, totally. So, there are few cities in the world that are recognizing that the creative industry also is as a very important factor in their economic growth. But most of the cities I’ve visited in the world are not because they would say like, “Oh, most artists cannot even survive on their arts, and then they’re putting this down and the images is down.

(58:17) But it’s so important to come up with an environment where startups and creative such as musicians, filmmakers, designers, artists can flourish. So, with government funding, creative spaces and studios, that they get financially supported with, because those are the people who make the place cooler.​

(58:48) Like, culture and the arts really boost innovation and making the location much more exciting and interesting when there is lot of studios and creative spaces that you can visit in a city. It attracts more tourists eventually. There’s also a lot of the ones of inventors and designers to work with the bigger corporate because they find working by themselves in creative spaces. They get the space to come up with great solutions that corporate also need.

(59:35) So, it really drives the innovation side of things and they also attract a lot of investors in the end. And really important that the creative founders are not under estimated, even if they don’t make a big salary in the first years, they’re very important for every city.​

Irfan: (01:00:01) Absolutely. And I think that given that you are based in Berlin, which is pretty famous for giving birth to several artists and creative people and is known as a space which allows freedom to the artistic side of people, I think, all these insights from you matter a lot and it is also great that PR On The Go aims support and help and encourage these very same artistic people to do their own PR and to make sure that the work that they do is known.

(01:00:37) Would you like to suggest any books or podcasts or any of the resources that a PR expert or a creative entrepreneur can use to be better at doing PR and networking and pitching?​

Melanie: (01:00:51) Yeah, totally. So, a book that I recommend to any startup, any artist or anyone who’s interested in public relations, is the book, Propaganda by Edward Bernays, the founding father of public relations, that I mentioned earlier. And so, you can see, he writes about a lot of [inaudible, 1:01:18], a lot of campaigns that he did all over the world at his time.

(01:01:24) And this book just makes you understand the tools that PR uses and the ways to get there and really excites you about PR, I find. People who are not into PR before, like startups, that I recommended this book to and they were like really excited about PR.​

(01:01:47) And PR is fun, strategic way to make yourself heard, to get recognition, which is very important, especially for artists who don’t get recognition by the income in the first years usually. And that’s really a book I would love to recommend.

Irfan: (01:02:08) Perfect. Sounds great. I think, this is all I wanted to ask. It was really fun. Very interesting. And I learned so much. I’ll be definitely reading the Propaganda book as well. And before we leave, if you have any final thoughts or messages or anything like that, please do let us know.​

Melanie: (01:02:31) I don’t, at the moment actually, so… maybe I do. So I think, it’s important that, especially the younger generation, I feel like there are a lot of trends, that they’re self-occupied and much into harm their… or I wish that especially the younger people make themselves heard a lot more, to express their opinions and their beliefs, be it in ventures, the arts, that they come out and really make themselves heard a lot more.

Irfan: (01:03:08) Yup. I think that’s a message that I can definitely agree with. I’m very passionate about marketing and PR like yourself and I think, it’s not enough to be the expert, but to also be seen as the expert and recognized as the expert.​

(01:03:25) So, I’m sure that the listeners of this podcast will learn a lot on how to do that based on the excellent tips and advice that you have shared with us. We’ll make sure that we include your contact details in the show notes. Thank you so much for being with us, Melanie, and I wish you a productive day. Thank you so much.Melanie:

(01:03:45) Thank you so much for having me. It was great talking to you.

Irfan: (01:03:48) Take care of Melanie. Bye bye.

(01:03:49) Take care. Bye!​

OUTRO: (01:03:53) Thank you for listening. For show notes and other resources, please refer to the description of the show.


If you have any questions or if you would like me to interview any entrepreneurs or digital marketers, please contact me here


Syed Irfan Ajmal is an award-winning serial entrepreneur and a seasoned digital marketer. He is an international speaker, and speaks and conducts trainings at various organizations and events of Pakistan and UAE. Moreover, he also writes about entrepreneurship and digital marketing for various large publications of the USA, UK, Canada, and Pakistan including Forbes ME, the World Bank, Huff Post,, Virgin, and others.

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