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IAM2089 – CEO and Founder Discusses the Evolution of Public Relations and the Importance of Storytelling in Business

Podcast Interview with Nathan Miller

In this episode, we have Nathan Miller, CEO and founder of Miller Inc., a full-service, award-winning strategic and crisis communication firm.

Nathan shares his journey from working in public policy and speechwriting, including a significant role at Israel's permanent mission to the United Nations, to founding his own firm in Los Angeles.

He discusses the evolution of public relations, the importance of storytelling in business, and the challenges of navigating crises in the digital age.

Nathan's insights include the impact of social media on filtering information, developing messages that resonate, and the vital role of genuine relationships in business success.

Additionally, Nathan emphasizes the significance of personal health and well-being in enhancing professional performance and offers advice on building a positive, lasting reputation in the business world.

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Transcription:

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Nathan Miller Teaser 00:00

How do we sort through what's real and fake on social media? How do we give in a sea of information? How do we help our clients focus on the things that really matter? How do we develop a message that's going to resonate? How do we make it breakthrough in this sea of content and information? How do we understand the right way to interact with traditional media at a moment when many are struggling, when many are declining.

Intro 00:25

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I AM CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:50

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO Podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Nathan Miller. Nathan, excited to have you on the show.

Nathan Miller 01:01

It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Gresham Harkless 01:03

Absolutely. And before, of course, we jump into everything and talking to hearing a lot more about all the awesome things Nathan is doing, I want to read a little bit more about Nathan so you can hear about some of those awesome things. And Nathan is the CEO and founder of Miller Ink, a full-service, award-winning, strategic, and crisis communication firm headquartered in Los Angeles. He has helped hundreds of organizations tell their stories and navigate complex issues and crises around the globe. Before founding Miller Ink. in 2013, Nathan served in a number of roles at the intersection of communications and public policy, including as the director of speech writing for Israel's permanent mission to the United Nations.

And one of the awesome things that I was doing before preparing for this is listen to a lot of what Nathan was talking about and related to PR and how it's evolving and changing. And one of the things that really stuck with me is he had this quote about storytelling. He said, whether we're painting on cave walls or posting on social channels telling stories has always been a fundamental human need. So excited to dive a little bit deeper into that and all of what he thinks of why #PR might be dead, at least in the way that we thought about it before. But Nathan, are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

Nathan Miller 02:12

Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I'm so excited. And I love that. That's one of my quotes. I love that. Every group I speak to, I start with that big picture of cavemen painting on a cave wall because you think about that. These people didn't have enough to eat. They're scrounging around for food. They don't know where their next meal is coming from. Life is nasty short, and they still take time to paint on the cable. That's how much we need stories in our life.

Gresham Harkless 02:37

Yeah, and it's so fascinating. You consider, like, all the evolution as far as technology and all these things that we never could have dreamt that we were able to do and we're able to do now, but storytelling is one of those, like, really big aspects all throughout history and all throughout our lives. So I love that you've been able to notice that obviously and be able to empower people and how powerful that is.

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Nathan Miller 02:57

They say that when you look at, you read a lot of the anthropological research, one of the reasons that human beings evolved to the top of the pyramid on earth, it's because we have this ability to tell stories and to share information with each other and to take all the complexities of the world around us, distill it down into something that, that we can share with others and then that can get transmitted. And the way that that knowledge has been, has gone viral throughout human history. And obviously with the pace of change and technology and everything else that it, that speeds up and speeds up. But yeah, that's, that's our, that's, that's our superpower as a species that you could even say is storytelling.

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Gresham Harkless 03:38

Yeah, absolutely. I guess it was only right for us to kick things off by rewinding our clock a little bit, hear a little bit more about your story. We'll let you get started with all the awesome work you're doing.

Nathan Miller 03:46

Absolutely. So I spent the last almost 20 years working in strategic communications. I began my career shortly after 9/11 working in the intersection of comms and national security, foreign policy. I worked in Brussels at a think tank working with the EU institutions. I worked in Washington, DC at a group working at how the business community could think more about national security in the US. And then I worked at a PR agency here in LA working on local public affairs, mostly in national issues. In 2010, I got an opportunity to be, become the Chief Speechwriter at Israel's mission to the United Nations for, which was a really fascinating and important job for me for my career. And then I saw in 2013, I was finishing that and wanted to move back to Los Angeles and started looking around at different job opportunities here. And nothing really stood out.

There wasn't a job that I was particularly excited about in LA. And I decided, you know what, I'm going to create the job I want. And at the time, I was young and stupid and didn't understand all that came with that. But it was a great, it was a huge challenge and a great challenge. I think it made me, it gave me a lot of grit. I went from writing the speeches that Israel delivered in the UN security council to working for a high school fashion show, which was my first client. And that was humbling and learn in a client service business, how to treat every client like the most important client in the world, how to give it your all to leave everything on the field every day. And I've grown the agency over the last 11 years, quite a bit. We have about 20 employees, 50 to 60, 70 clients at any given time. We have team here in LA also in New York and San Francisco. We're one of the leading crisis communication shops in LA and the West Coast really.

And I do a lot of national, big national work and to work with global clients. And we work across technology, real estate, public affairs, some non-profit. We have a sister agency that does social impact consulting. We do a lot of work around people's giving story and CSR. And I love it. And every day it's different. And there's a lot to talk about in terms of getting from where I started to where we are, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. And there's nothing more gratifying than building something yourself. And having a vision for something when nothing existed and giving your all every day to make it happen. It comes with huge risks, a lot of brain damage, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Gresham Harkless 06:31

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And I love that you use that word grit and how powerful that is. So I wanted to drill down a little bit more here, a little bit more about what Crisis Comms is, like how you are working with and impact your clients and what that process looks like.

Nathan Miller 06:46

Sure. So Crisis Communications is any situation. Generally the elements of a Crisis Communications challenge are, there's an issue that has the potential to affect significantly the reputation of an individual or an organization. Usually, there's some time-bound element, meaning something has to happen within some fixed period of time. You can do crisis communications. You can do crisis planning, which is different than crisis confer, planning an event, which we can talk about. But when you're in an active crisis communication situation, it means there's some time bound element. So you have to act quickly and it's a rapidly changing field. The way that people consume information, communicate with each other, the media environment, all of those things have changed dramatically since I started doing this work.

The problem with crisis comms that I see often is it's a lot of legacy firms doing legacy things that don't matter anymore. They ran a great, their strategy would have been great in 1996, but it doesn't work today. And so what we have to do is be looking at the environment around us and understand the changes month by month, year by year, and then think creatively, how do we sort through what's real and fake on social media? How do we give, in a sea of information? How do we help our clients focus on the things that really matter? How do we develop a message that's going to resonate? How do we make it break through in this sea of content and information? How do we understand the right way to interact with media, with traditional media in a moment when many are struggling, when many are declining, when there's less reporters, issues like SEO or online reputation management, or how do you bring investigative resources to bear to get the best information for your client in a moment.

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How do you deal with litigation, have those skills to deal with an active litigation with all these other changes in the communications environment overlaid. So those are the things we think about. We have a great network of relationships with different firms that do a bunch of different things to help navigate in this moment. So I think that's one of our superpowers. But the thing that is most important that clients come to again and again is they want someone who's calm under the pressure, who can give them really clear advice, sound judgment that they trust. And that's something that's hard to teach. You have to hire for that. And there's not really a great substitute for a lot of experience in doing it. And I've been doing it for almost 20 years now and you just get better and better and better. And that's the truth.

Gresham Harkless 09:18

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And so I know you mentioned crisis planning, obviously the crisis communications. Are there any other ways that you all try to help to support your clients you wanted to mention. And also, I think you mentioned this too, as part of what is your secret sauce, your superpower, what helps you stand apart and be unique?

Nathan Miller 09:34

Yeah, I think it's just, it's we have those fundamental communication skills, going back to the caveman to reference earlier, we only hire people who are great writers, who have deep listening skills, the ability to have really high EQ, understand how something's going to play in the bedside manner with the client, to understand how to speak to them in a challenging moment often when it comes to crisis, or even just in general when you're dealing with just normal traditional PR or strategic comms. But we pair that with an understanding of where the environment is today. I like having a laboratory here.

We'll have a problem that'll come up on a case. And I'll be like, I want to figure out how we do that better the next time. And so I'll assign someone on our team to, we noticed that we needed to have a lot better relationship, not just with journalists, but with a lot of the freelancers, because that created a whole other avenue for us to get into papers, because there's just less staff at the papers now. There's less regular reporters. And these freelancers are scattered all over the place and it's hard to find them. It's not a great media database.

So I made it someone's full-time job for a year to build our relationship with freelancers. We have an incredible relationship now with thousands of freelancers across all the different areas we need to work. And it's just, our capability as a firm, I think is stronger in that area than anybody else. Even the really huge multibillion dollar PR agencies, because we saw a specific acute need and I invested in resources to do it. And then we do a deeper dive into where the market is and how we can do better. And then every week we have at least an hour of training where we do a lunch and learn. I'll bring in a journalist or someone or another practitioner, or we'll do someone internally will present.

And through that training process, we're always making people better. And I think people, the lesson I've learned over the years is that A players want to be with other A players and A players want to have the opportunity to thrive and grow. And if you're not feeding that need, people are going to leave and they're not going to be happy and they're going to be less effective as team members. The reason I get new clients is we do a great job with our existing clients and they refer us to other folks and you can call anybody we've worked with and they'll say they did a great job and that's more important than anything else that I can do to grow this business.

Gresham Harkless 11:50

Yeah, that makes so much sense. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like a half a book or even a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Nathan Miller 12:00

I changed up my lifestyle a little bit in the last year and a half, two years, which has been great for me. I was in, and this is even with, I have three little kids. So around the time of my second son, my son's now five, when he was born, I gained a little bit of weight, but it wasn't even that. It was more just, I felt like my lifestyle was, because I do this crisis work on the phone all the time, get home, eat dinner, get back on my computer, work till 2am, not working out enough, waking up in the morning, getting a pastry and a coffee every day on my way to work.

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And I started to really take a lot more seriously my health around that time. And it's been a total game changer for me. I cut out carbs in the morning, and so I just do like yogurt or something with some protein. I tried to reduce my coffee intake to a cup in the morning and then a decaf in the afternoon. I've tried to get a lot more religious on my sleep. I try to get eight hours a night and that means if I have to shut it off and then making time in the morning to work out and just putting it on my calendar and giving myself permission to do that. It took me about eight years of running this company.

Up until that point, I said that there's no time I'm not going to be available because a client might need me. I'm always flexible and I'm always available. I kickbox twice a week and in two years, I've been doing it for two and a half years, but in two years of doing it twice a week, I've had to cancel once or twice because for business reasons, otherwise I make it and I work around it. And if you block that time out, then you can take your health seriously. I think it pays dividends. I think I'm a better boss. I'm a better practitioner of this field and it just keeps me balanced. I think it's super important.

Gresham Harkless 13:44

Yeah, I appreciate you so much in sharing that. What would you consider to be a little bit more of what I call a CEO nugget? A little bit more word of wisdom or piece of advice that might be something you would tell your favorite client or if you were to hop into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Nathan Miller 13:56

Something I tell people a lot, business is a repeating game. It's not a zero sum game. So it's always better to have the other guy feel like he got the better end of the deal because good relationships compound. They lead to more good relationships and more good things and bad relationships and bad feelings similarly compound. There's nothing you can do to cover up a bad reputation. And it's not just about the reputation that you have in the media. That obviously is matters. But I work with a lot of people in crisis and sometimes the people who have the best reputation in the media have the worst reputation interpersonally and vice versa. People have the worst reputation.

So how you treat people and how you make people feel really matters. And you got to take that really seriously. It's like a sacred thing. So I always think about every interaction as an opportunity to build that positive compounding, whatever you want to call it, energy relationship, sort of like social capital, however you would, how you describe it. And I think that the business folks that I most respect, And I think that the business folks that I most respect, that I love to work with have that mentality. It's not everybody. There's some people who have a zero sum mentality do great. And who can build great companies. But for me as a CEO and, my success has always come from treating people right in one context and then having them understand that and remember that in a different one.

Gresham Harkless 15:19

Yeah. What would you consider to be your answer to my absolute favorite question, the definition of what it means to be a CEO? Our goals have different quote unquote CEOs on the show. So Nathan, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Nathan Miller 15:28
Having the wisdom, vision, and audacity to lead a good CEO is, and putting others before yourself.

Gresham Harkless 15:36

I love that. Nathan, truly appreciate that definition. Of course, I appreciate your time even more. So what I want to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know. And of course, how best people can get a hold of you, about all the awesome things you're working on.

Nathan Miller 15:52

Our website is Miller Ink with a K. millerink.com. You can check out, we have a bunch of content and resources and also you can contact me there. We're also on LinkedIn, Insta, Facebook, all the social, so you can. Check out, what our team is putting on there. And yeah, it's really great to, to be on the show and thank you so much.

Gresham Harkless 16:14

Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you. And of course, to make it even easier, we'll have the links and information in the show notes as well, too. But truly appreciate you taking some time out and I hope you have a phenomenal day.

Nathan Miller 16:24

Thanks so much.

Outro 16:25

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO Podcast powered by CBNation and Blue16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. I AM CEO is not just a phrase. It's a community.

Want to level up your business even more? Read blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch videos at cbnation.co. Also, check out our I AM CEO Facebook group. This has been the I AM CEO Podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.

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Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(CEOBlogNation.com), podcasts, (CEOPodcasts.com) and videos (CBNation.tv). CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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