Journalist and PR Director, Alistair Clay is co-founder of Class:PR – the #1 source of PR wisdom for startups and entrepreneurs – and inventors of the FAMOUS Formula.
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Zencastr – Alistair’s small business resource
Seeing the Blossom – Alistair’s Top Business Book
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3 Value Bombs
1) Your business’ story is unique and is a great one to tell.
2) Having children is not a disadvantage for an entrepreneur.
3) Find your niche.
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[01:33] – Alistair’s areas of expertise are: PR, journalism and storytelling
[03:06] – Share something we don’t know about your area of expertise that as Entrepreneurs, we probably should: Entrepreneurs think of PR as a fluffy marketing add-on but really, PR helps them look at their business from their audience’s point of view
[05:26] – “Every single business has something unique”
[06:31] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: A year ago, Alistair was filming for their online course, Famous. He’d invested countless hours and dollars into getting everything set-up—hotel rooms, camera equipment, studio space, etc. The day before they were about to start shooting Alistair’s child comes down with the chicken pox
[09:31] – Don’t look at children as disadvantages because they’ll be the reason why you will push forward
[10:19] – Be resilient and don’t forget to have a sense of humor
[12:18] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Alistair’s biggest ah-ha moment was when he realized he could model the PR process, enabling people to do PR on their own by following a simple formula.
[14:25] – If you’re an expert in your industry, be that switch that people can use
[15:55] – It’s your job to find your own niche
[17:06] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “I think it’s working with an awesome film partner called Screenology… next week we’re teaming up with them to shoot a mini online training course called Story Finder”
[18:02]– The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “I think that it was waiting for the right idea and the right time”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Ask the other person what they want first”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “That has to be meditation”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Zencastr
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Seeing the Blossom – “it’s all about the beauty of small details”
[21:42] – Believe that you have a great story to tell
Alistair Clay: I am ready to burn.
John Lee Dumas: Journalist and PR director, Alistair is cofounder of Class:PR, the No. 1 source of PR wisdom for startups and entrepreneurs, and inventors of the FAMOUS Formula.
Alistair, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us just a little glimpse of your personal life.
Alistair Clay: So, I live over in England, in the southwest of England. Right now, I’m father to a very small, loud baby and a toddler as well. We run Class:PR. My wife and I run it together, and yeah, things are pretty full-on at the moment and fun. I’m learning how to build a business whilst on about three hours’ sleep a night, so it’s all good.
John Lee Dumas: Well, you’ll get there, brother, and I will say you have to be pretty good and an expert at something to be able to still get things done on three hours of sleep, so kind of break that down for us. What would you say, today, you’re an expert in? What’s that area of expertise?
Alistair Clay: So, it’s really PR. It’s public relations and journalism, but I guess what links all that together is story-telling. So, what I’m an expert at is storytelling and helping businesses really connect with their audiences on an emotional level by telling stories at every level of their business.
And I think sometimes businesses think they need some massive, elaborate PR campaign or something, when actually there’s so much interesting detail in their businesses, but they don’t know how to tell those stories, stories that are, yes, gonna get them great media coverage or featured on podcasts like yours, but also the content they need for great social media campaigns and Facebook advertising. It’s all about stories that connect and compel and engage with their audience, and that’s my expertise, and that’s what I learned back in the trenches 20 years ago as a journalist just as the Internet was starting out.
But what was so valuable about those skills was the ability to distill complex information down into [00:01:59] and to really grab people’s attention, and I think that’s more important now than it ever is because online is a crowded space. There’s a lot of noise, and it’s not enough just to release information. You have to be able to captivate people’s imaginations, and that means the ability to tell a story.
John Lee Dumas: Now, AC, you don’t really strike me as a fluff kind of guy, so let’s remove the fluff. Break it down for us. What is the one thing that we, as entrepreneurs, really should know about PR that, frankly, you look around the landscape and you’re just like, “They don’t know this. Why don’t they know this?”
Alistair Clay: I think, from my experience of working with lots of startups and entrepreneurs, is that they think PR is a fluffy marketing add-on at the end of the process of building a business or building a product or a service, where in fact, you should be thinking about it right from the beginning. And it drills down to thinking about who your audiences are, how you’re gonna connect with them, what are the channels you’re gonna use, and crucially the thing that entrepreneurs and startups fail, even when they’re massively smart, is to think from their audience’s point of view.
Always step outside of yourself. You can be hugely passionate about your business. We all are. Of course, we are. But that sometimes brings a kind of myopia to it, a kind of a blindfold-ness which stops you thinking, “Hang on a minute. If I step out of my skin and look back at my business from my customers’ point of view, will I trust it? Will I know about it? What will I really think about it?” People think of PR as just about how to be well-known, but really, it’s about how to build trust. That’s what it’s all about, and if you’ve got trust, you can do anything.
John Lee Dumas: What’s one action step? What’s one thing that you think our listeners, Fire Nation, can do to maybe take that first step towards going towards PR awesomeness?
Alistair Clay: We have a really cool online course called FAMOUS, and the first step in that is called StoryFinder, and it’s kind of basically – so, a lot of your listeners will know about the Business Model Canvas. It’s kind of inspired by that. And so, on one sheet of paper, we have a very simple five-step process, and anybody can do this. You can do this today as a startup and entrepreneur. Think of the different elements of your business, from your business model to team members to the founder to your value proposition to your customers.
And when you dissect your business like that, then look at all the things in those sections that are perhaps a bit unusual, or new, or a first, or in some way you’re disrupting, or in some way that it’s counterintuitive. There will be things going on at all those different levels of your business, which essentially are the fuel for your stories, the stories that you’re gonna help to get you into the media, onto podcasts and blogs, but also the stories that you’re gonna use through your social media channels day in, day out.
So, think about those things which make you unique, and frankly, if you don’t – people say to me, “Oh, there’s nothing unique about us,” or say, “Well, there’s nothing different about what we’re doing.” That’s rubbish. Every single business has something unique or, in some way, they’re disrupting in some way because if they’re not, then they don’t have a viable business, frankly. So, look at those different elements of your business, from your business model right through to the impact you’re having on your customers, and think about, “In what way are we unusual, are we doing something that’s a first or disruptive?” because that is the fuel for your PR campaign.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, what’s unique? What’s different about you, about your business? Find it. If you don’t find it in the first pass, guess what? It’s still there. That’s rubbish, says AC. Find that unique disruptor that you are, and explode it. Pour the amplifier fluid on it because it is there, Fire Nation. It is there.
And, AC, you’ve had quite the journey, my friend. You’ve had the ups. You’ve had the downs. You’ve been in the trenches for quite some time now, so you’ve seen it all, and what I want to know is your worst entrepreneurial moment during the journey that you’ve had so far. So, brother, don’t pull any punches. Take us to that day, to that moment in time, and tell us that story.
Alistair Clay: So, this is the meeting point of being an entrepreneur and also being a dad, so that might sound weird. So, we go back a year, and we’re filming what’s gone on to become our online course, FAMOUS, and we wanted to do it differently. We didn’t just want to have an online course that was a PowerPoint or something like this. We wanted to shoot a real live class.
So, we ran this big national competition, which hundreds of businesses applied to. We picked the ten best startup businesses. We put them up in a hotel for a week. We hired a studio. We hired a [00:06:29] lights, everything, and we basically planned out this week, where we would take people through like a PR boot camp for the FAMOUS course. And a huge amount of work and preparation and cost went into this because we put all these guys up in hotels. They’re down in the studio Monday morning. We’re ready to kick off. We’re ready to start teaching. I go into my toddler’s bedroom at 7:00 in the morning – covered head to foot in chicken pox.
And the thing is, my wife and I, we’re an awesome team. We’re real yin and yang. We have very different skills. And so, we scripted this whole course together. We’re both teaching it. We’ve both gotta be there. There’s loads of exercises that we’re taking everybody through over the week, so it is us. We are up on stage teaching this thing for the whole week, and we didn’t have in our contingency plans what happens if your toddler gets chicken pox.
So, it’s literally like half 7 in the morning, and I’m like, “What the hell do we do? I can’t take over your parts. You can’t take over mine.” We’re ringing round friends. We’re speaking to anybody we know. Our parents are hours and hours away. Finally, we get one of our team members. She comes in. We bring our daughter in. She sat backstage. We’re teaching a bit. Then, we’re running off to look after her. Then, we’re coming back on, all the time not telling the people in the room what is going on, this insane juggling act.
And I thought it was really interesting because that is the reality of being a startup or an entrepreneur. Your life is going on as well. Things don’t happen in silos. They don’t happen in nice individual boxes.
And we kind of got through the first two days, and she started to get better and everything, but I just thought, “Of all the days, of all the weeks, of all the years…” We’d been prepping for this thing for a year, building this formula, building this training course, running competitions to get people in the room, working with TV crews, and I was like, “Oh, my god, man, what are we gonna do?”
John Lee Dumas: We call that Murphy’s Law, AC, over here in the States, like what can go wrong will go wrong. And, Fire Nation, as entrepreneurs, just get used to it. It’s gonna become your life. It almost, in a small, creepy way, becomes comical because you’re just like, “Okay, I know something is going to go unbelievably wrong out of left field. What’s it gonna be this time?” It becomes a game, like, “What’s it gonna possibly be this time?” and you just learn to expect it, Fire Nation.
And I will say, AC, something that I’ve mentioned in the past is the baby effect. Don’t look at this as like, “Oh, man, we shouldn’t have kids because this might happen, chicken pox might happen.” The exact opposite, in fact, because when you have that baby, and now you have this person, this human that you are responsible for, there is nothing that’s gonna get in your way or stop you from success because that baby effect is there.
So, that outbound phone call that you were afraid of, that presentation from stage that might have been really freaking out AC before, now he’s like, “Well, yeah, it’s kinda still scary, but you know what’s more scary is not feeding my baby and not taking care of my family.” So, remember, everything in your life, Fire Nation, can and should be turned to a positive, no matter what that is.
So, that’s my big takeaway, AC, from your worst moment. What do you want to make sure our listeners get, in just one sentence, from your worst moment?
Alistair Clay: I guess it’s that resilience, and it’s also, what got us through, is having a bit of a sense of humor as well. I think the key to having success is being well-prepared. Put all the stress in beforehand, be really well-prepared, but then when the event comes, when the day comes, let go and just enjoy. That allowed us to get through what could have been a really stressful time, but because we knew our stuff as well, I knew we were going to be giving great value to the people in the room. If they had to tolerate me dashing off backstage to look after my toddler, then that’s fine because I know they’re gonna get great value.
John Lee Dumas: That’s a great point. And actually looking at what I think I would have done now, in hindsight, like knowing what I know now of my audience – and, again, this might not have worked for your audience, AC, or maybe not for your audience, Fire Nation, if you’re listening to this – but I think that if that would have happened to me, Day 1, Morning 1, I would have brought out my baby with the chicken pox, and I would have used makeup to put chicken pox all over me and Kate’s face, and been like, “Um, so, we all have chicken pox right now, and we’re going to be struggling over the next couple days, but we’re gonna get through this together.”
And then, of course, I would have taken out a rag and wiped it off, like, “Just kidding. I don’t have chicken pox, but listen, my baby does, so bear with us. We’re gonna crush it for you, but of course, we have this added variable,” and you’re just gonna get the sympathy and the love and the support right at the beginning from your audience, and they’re gonna understand that you’re there, delivering to them above and beyond.
For instance, I went to Thrive – this is this conference – just last week in Las Vegas, and people there were so thankful that I was there because Hurricane Maria just destroyed my island and my town and my home in Puerto Rico, and they were just like, “I can’t believe you’re still here for this.” So, when you just keep people in the loop and you let them know what’s going on, that sympathy is huge, Fire Nation. People understand that this stuff goes on.
So, AC, great story, great lesson, and I wanna keep it going with another one, this one being one of your greatest ideas to date. You’ve had a lot, brother. You’re a PR dude, let’s be honest, but take us to one of those great ideas. Tell us that story.
Alistair Clay: The best idea I’ve had so far was when we realized that we could model the process of doing PR. So, what’s really held people back – startups and entrepreneurs – is PR, public relations, is often seen as this slightly dark art. You ask ten people what they think it is, and you’ll get ten different answers. And the idea that we had was that, actually, people can do this for themselves, especially at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey.
And what we can do is actually reverse engineer all the hundreds of businesses we work with, the thousands of stories I’ve told over the last couple of decades, and reverse, and look at all of those, all the most successful PR campaigns and what did they all have in common, reverse engineer from the result of those campaigns and look at the individual steps that went into that campaign becoming a success. And then, you can build this method, this algorithm, if you like, which anybody can plug themselves into at the beginning, follow the steps.
You got to work at it. I won’t lie. The victory in PR is in consistency and keeping going, but you can follow this method, this formula, this FAMOUS Formula that we’ve come up with, and you can get results at the end of it, real results for your business – getting awesome media coverage, featured on the best blogs and podcasts. And the real light-bulb moment was, “Oh, but when you consult with somebody, every situation is slightly different.” It’s like, “Actually, no.” There are some very, very firm rules which you need to apply when you PR any business, whether it’s a tech startup, a cheese manufacturer, a fashion business, or the next Uber.
And what we did was to model that process and to put those steps in place to create that recipe that then anybody can follow. And that was a real light-bulb moment for us, that something that some people see as more of an art form actually is a science, and if it’s a science, then it can have very clearly defined steps.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, this is genius. Why is everybody always trying to recreate the wheel? Why are you trying to recreate the wheel? Every time you do something, it’s like we’re trying to create electricity all over again. It doesn’t have to happen. Listen, just flip the light switch. And guess what? If you’re an expert in your industry, like AC is here, you be that light switch so that people can just flip it.
I’ve created an amazing system for podcasting. It’s called Podcasters’ Paradise. It’s made me a multimillionaire. Now, people flip the switch, and they are creating, growing, and monetizing their podcasts. AC’s done the same thing with his FAMOUS Formula. What are you gonna do, Fire Nation, with something that you’re great at?
Or, by the way, if you’re like, “Well, I’m not really great at something yet,” take 15 hours this weekend, go to Lynda.com, and become great at something that you’re excited about, and you’ll be an expert in that thing. You can become better than 99 percent of the world at any subject over a 15-hour weekend. I did it with Adobe Audition. Literally, I could teach 99 percent of people how to use Adobe Audition. Yeah, there’s people that know more than me, but they’re the 1 percent. I’m gonna teach the 99 percent if I wanted to become this “Adobe Audition expert.” That’s the thing, one long weekend, become an expert, and then create that system.
For AC, he’s been in charge of this forever, so he has years of experience. I now have five years and 1,800-plus episodes of experience. So, what is it that you can bring to the field right now, and if it’s nothing, well, that’s on you. Now, go learn something and make it yours, and then make that light switch.
So, again, AC, that’s my one quick takeaway. You, one sentence, what do you wanna make sure we get?
Alistair Clay: That it’s really the case that you’ve just got to. Nobody can do this for you. You’ve gotta find your niche, be really dedicated, and just go for it, and connect with your audience, and be really authentic. People respond so well to authenticity, and I think that’s the thing that really separates the people online who are training or coaching from those who aren’t successful is that the ones that are successful just have that incredible authenticity, and people can smell that. They can smell authenticity, and they can smell experience.
And if you’re always ahead of your audience as well, if you’re always renewing your experience and your information, because, yes, I’ve been in journalism PR for a couple of decades almost, but I’m always refreshing what’s new, what I need to know because digital comms is changing every year as well. As long as you’re always ahead of your audience, you’ll always have value to give to them. If you’re coming to them genuinely, and I mean this genuinely, wanting to help them – of course, I want to grow a successful business at the same time, but I want to see other people succeed. That’s a huge thrill for me. So, be authentic and share your experience.
John Lee Dumas: And, Fire Nation, on the flipside, people can smell desperation, so recognize that, and don’t bring that to the table.
So, AC, 30 seconds, what are you most fired up about in the business world right now?
Alistair Clay: We work with an awesome film partner over here in the UK called Screenology. It’s a film course, so it’s undergraduates going through this film course, but they have also set up a commercial production company as well, so the students are getting commercial hands-on experience straightaway. They’re our filming partner for all our courses, and next week, we’re teaming up with them to shoot a new mini online training course called StoryFinder.
And they’re just so inspiring to work with because you’ve got these kids in their late teens, early 20s who are just really hungry, and they’re just great fun to work with. So, yeah, we’re looking forward to filming our next course, meeting up with them next week, and I’m really buzzed about that.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, what are you fired up about? Think about it. And we are about to enter the Lightning Round, but we’re gonna take a quick minute first to thank our sponsors.
AC, are you ready to rock the Lightning Round?
Alistair Clay: Rock and roll.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Alistair Clay: I think that was the right idea and the right time. I’m a big believer, and I’m not saying that enough time has to pass, but things have to kind of come together. The planets have to align. And I think, for me, it was having this idea that you could model the process of PR. And frankly, I was setting up another PR agency as well, a couple years ago, and it was the ability to find that right moment. And the technology came along as well, so I could sell knowledge instead of time.
John Lee Dumas: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Alistair Clay: I think this comes from an investor friend of mine who always said, “Ask the other person what they want first.” So, in any kind of negotiation or when you’re – it applies in a lot of life, always to think from your audience’s perspective. Always ask them what they want first, and then see how you can serve that need.
John Lee Dumas: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Alistair Clay: That’s easy. That has to be meditation. And I know everybody says that these days, but I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years, and I found it in my early 20s, and the ability to rest my mind makes me more likely to make good decisions. And if you can make good decisions, you’re so much more likely to have success as an entrepreneur. And yeah, so that’s critical to me.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, your mind is like a gas tank. You gotta fill it up. Fill it up! Meditation helps you get there.
Recommend one Internet resource.
Alistair Clay: Okay, this is probably a bit meta for the king of podcasters you are, but I run a little podcast called The Famous Business, and I use Zencastr, this podcasting platform that allows me to record interviews, and I just love it. It makes everything really easy for me. And everything gets thrown up into Dropbox and mixed, and it’s just made things really simple. And I actually had the founder of Zencastr on one of our shows, and he was really fun to speak to. So, Zencastr.
John Lee Dumas: Zencastr’s great. I love the founder. He’s a great dude doing some really cool things for the podcasting world.
Recommend one book, AC, and then share why.
Alistair Clay: Okay, slight curveball. You probably haven’t had this one before. So, there’s an English playwright called Dennis Potter, and he’s got a book called Seeing the Blossom. He’s passed away a long time ago, but I saw this guy being interviewed, Dennis Potter, on TV when I was about 16 years old [00:19:29] just days away from passing away, and his interview was so inspiring because he spoke about the path [00:19:36] spoke right at the end of his life about how useful the blossom, how he realized the beauty in life was in the tiniest details. And that, for me, applies to everything I’ve done in terms of stories. It’s all about the beauty of small details.
So, that book, Seeing the Blossom by Dennis Potter, is incredibly inspiring. I actually had a passage read from it at our wedding, and I just love it. And whenever I’m feeling like I need a kick up the creative butt, I go to Seeing the Blossom by Dennis Potter.
John Lee Dumas: I always smile when my guests start by saying, “You probably haven’t had this one on the show before,” and I’m like, “You’re Episode 1,886, so the likelihood is small,” but, AC, we have never had that recommendation before.
Alistair Clay: Boom!
John Lee Dumas: And let’s end today on fire with a parting piece of guidance from you, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say bye-bye.
Alistair Clay: So, you can connect with me on Twitter @AlistairClay – so, Alistair, the strange Scottish name, A-L-I-S-T-A-I-R-C-L-A-Y – or at Class:PR as well, and that’s @classprHQ.
And I guess a parting piece of advice is really for all startups and entrepreneurs to have that confidence that they have a great story to tell and will continue to have great stories to tell. Don’t be intimidated when you see your competitors or big companies in TechCrunch, or on the biggest podcasts, or in The New York Times. You can be there, too. You have a great story to tell. Think from your audience’s point of view, and yeah, just go for it and don’t give up if the first time it doesn’t work.
And the reason a lot of people give up is because they don’t have a system to follow, so that’s why with the FAMOUS Formula, that’s what we’ve got. The system exists. Follow it, do it, and become unstoppable.
John Lee Dumas: Systems, baby, systems, Fire Nation. And, AC, what if we wanted to learn more about FAMOUS, that great course you have?
Alistair Clay: So, we’ve got an offer, an awesome offer, for Fire Nation today. Just go to Class-PR.com/Fire, and we’re gonna have an offer there for the FAMOUS Formula course. You can get 60 percent off, Fire Nation. So, that’s just unbeatable.
John Lee Dumas: Unbeatable, I love it. And, Fire Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You’ve been hanging out with AC and JLD today. So, keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. If you just type “Alistair” – that’s A-L-I-S-T-A-I-R – into the search bar – actually, you can also just type “Clay.” That’s probably easier, C-L-A-Y. His Show Notes page will pop right up, so you can check out all the links, everything that we’ve been talking about here today. Of course, if you go directly over to, and correct me if I’m wrong, AC, Class-PR.com/Fire for that incredible 60 percent offer of the course, FAMOUS. Was that right, AC?
Alistair Clay: That is correct, JLD.
John Lee Dumas: Yes! And thank you, brother, for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Alistair Clay: Cheers, JLD. See you soon.
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