Former radio host Kate Bradley Chernis is a content marketing tour de force. Her company ‘Lately,’ is an all-in-one Marketing Dashboard that pulls together content, project management, analytics and more in one place.
Kate initially created the idea for Lately out of spreadsheets for the Walmart project, which was a partnership between Walmart, United Way Worldwide, National Disability Institute, and tens of thousands of local, small business and nonprofit affiliates. With Kate’s spreadsheet system, all of them achieved a 130%, three year, year-over-year ROI.
Kate is the former owner of OUTLANDOS, a full-service branding & social media marketing agency that specializes in monetizing meaningful connection. She served 20 million listers as the Music Director and on-air host at Sirius XM and she has delivered keynotes at events including Our New World Conference: Empowering Women in Business.
Kate graduated from Skidmore college and is also an award-winning radio producer, engineer and voice talent with 25 years of national broadcast communications, brand-building, sales and marketing expertise.
We were lucky enough to chat with Kate about Lately, her marketing backstory, her thoughts on trends (and why we maybe shouldn’t be too quick to hop on them), and her current and upcoming projects. Share your thoughts in the comments and continue the conversation.
Kate Bradley Chernis talks #AI, authenticity, and why we shouldn't be too quick to hop on trends. Read on and get to know the founder of @trylately a little better. Click To Tweet
There’s a couple stories in there *laughs* but I’ll start with the backended one.
I used to have a career in radio. For a dozen years I worked as a rock and roll DJ up and down the eastern seaboard and my last gig was at XM Satellite radio.
I was pretty frustrated because, as you might imagine, it was a mega boy’s club. What really bothered me was that I was being treated differently. My ideas were constantly squashed, I was told I was being radical. It felt like I was banging my head against the wall. My body started screaming at me and I had a bunch of physical ailments all at once.
I eventually moved to a different kind of music career but I was still having the same problems and crying all the time. It was still so toxic. Eventually, my dad shook me by the shoulders lovingly and said, “Kate, you can’t work for other people. There’s no shame in that.”
For me, that was a huge ‘aha’ moment because I thought I was disappointing my bosses. It’s kinda screwed up but that’s why I thought I was getting treated differently as a woman.
It didn’t occur to me that I could work for myself which is kind of stupid because my dad had his own company and my mom had her own company.
Then three awesome things happened at once. One, my dad saying what he said to me. Two, I read ‘The Secret’ which is all crap expect for what happened at the end of the book. I realized that everything coming out of my mouth was so fully negative.
When I’m feeling good, when I hit a line drive when I’m playing softball, I’m not thinking “I suck” I’m thinking “I rule” so I definitely needed to think about that more.
At work, I basically stopped talking to my friends because all we did was complain about work and even my husband would complain about his job and we would just fuel off each other and complain. I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore.
Then my husband gave me Guy Kawasaki’s ‘The Art of the Start’ and I read it to page 6 or 9 where it says hey, don’t make a plan, just start your company.
Literally the next day I met up with two entrepreneurs who were delivering me a project at my job. We went out to lunch and started talking and they said, “hey we love you let’s start a company” and they gave me $50,000 to start my company. So we started this music widget, it was like a new song and an old song everyday and it was super fun and I was just marketing it.
I did well enough marketing the widget that someone else was like, “hey you’re really good at marketing, we’ll pay you a lot more to consult us in marketing and you don’t have to listen to music anymore” and I was like thank god *laughs*. My ears were tired, I was just done with the music industry. So they put me on the Walmart project.
I didn’t let go of the old business at the time but I needed money so this seemed like a good idea. The project was between Walmart, United Way Worldwide, and the National Disabilities Institute and then a tech company who had built software for these three partners to promote free tax prep for the poor.
It was those big three international organizations and about 20,000 of their local small business and nonprofit affiliates, so two radically different groups of marketers and I just made a spreadsheet because I’m organized and I like being organized.
All this stuff was coming across my desk and I could see that it was a mess and I could see that there were all these redundancies at the national and local levels. I decided to organize everything, from the team members in different locations to a list of all the milestones we had to hit to all of the key events that had to lead into getting to these places.
I organized all of the logos, graphics, press releases, blogs, radio scripts, social media text, everything was in my spreadsheet. I also tracked all the analytics across tens of thousands of channels because I wanted to know what was happening.
We got 130% ROI year over year in the three years I did this for them, for my spreadsheet. So then they rolled the template of my spreadsheet across to all of their campaign managers who still use it. Then we noticed that all of my clients all had the same problems and similar success using my spreadsheet.
I told my friend Steve, a serial entrepreneur and investor, about my spreadsheets. His whole world was software startup, a world I didn’t know at the time. He kept saying to me hey let’s get together and gather up $25,000 and build a bunch of spreadsheet templates and automate them.
At the time, I had no idea what any of those words meant. First of all I was like why would you automate my spreadsheets? They’re awesome, what’s wrong with you?
Also, $25,000? I had been busting my ass for four years. I just got this money and I just bought my first house *laughs*. Steve got his friend Jason, who’s now my chief project officer, to design the wireframe which is the skeleton for the website with his own $25,000 and they delivered them to me on a Sunday night right after Christmas Vacation.
He said that after they came and showed me the wireframe I was a lot nicer to them *laughs*. I think it was because I realized that they were going to take this process I’ve been doing manually for hours and hours and they were gonna make it happen instantaneously. So that’s how Lately came to be.
I am really tired of seeing ebooks and long long blogs. I just think that nobody really reads them. They skim them and they’re mostly all super valueless. For example, I’ll see something like “10 ways to write better content” but then they don’t talk about how to actually write better content.
Nobody talks about how to arrange a grammatical sentences and put an active verb first and not use passive stuff and actually how to write better content. It’s all total b*******. I hate that.
We all do it for SEO because that’s what people are searching for and we’re all looking for the clickbait numbers. But none of us are actually really helping people and I don’t think anybody is demanding that we help them, which is interesting to me.
When Twitter changed the rules [anti-spam policy] everybody was furious. People were like, what! I can’t just repeat and copy my content all over the place? I thought well…you shouldn’t be doing that anyway.
We all want automation because there’s good things about it but we also need to be human. We just want to be treated like real people and not like robots.We all want automation because there's good things about it but we also need to be human. We just want to be treated like real people and not like robots. - @Trylately CEO Kate Bradley Chernis. Click To Tweet
It’s tough because it’s a little bit time consuming but the answer is being authentic.
When I take the time to write my own copy you know it because you can tell it’s my voice. When I hire somebody else to do it it’s not me. The personality is different. That’s one of the things I carried over from radio. In radio, we weren’t on the air all the time so we would purposely put mistakes in or leave mistakes in so it sounded like we were live. It helped with that human element.
Also, my radio voice is a different voice. I’ve learned not to do my voice too sexy and to sometimes crack my voice when I’m talking so I sound more appealing to women.
Silence is also something that’s really important in radio. The greatest thing about silence is when everybody turns up the radio they think oh, something’s wrong. I’ve learned how to leave silence perfectly.
I think about those three things especially in writing and in marketing. I think about how I can leave space in my writing.
Is it physically leaving spaces between the writing? Sometimes it is. Is it adding an ellipsis or a dash? I try to write more like I talk.
Sometimes I’ll leave mistakes in in a way that’s human-looking. This can be not capitalizing everything in the title or capitalizing everything in the title or really anything that makes your content sound more human and not something that reads like a pre-written email.
I was a fiction writing major and I’m a big fan of rewriting the rules. Of course, basic grammar is important but sometimes I start sentences with ‘and’ because that’s how I talk.
I own the rules. You can do anything you want as long as you’re commanding the page. When I’m being authentic and when I’m commanding the page you’re going to trust me a lot more and I’ll be able to sell you more stuff.
I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of video because I’m a fan of radio *laughs*.
I think that video is going to burn itself out because everyone is doing video. Obviously it’s compelling to see people. It’s interesting because you don’t hear the audio a lot, you just scroll by your screen. I certainly watch videos but if everybody’s doing it then it’s going to burn out.
I love theatre of the mind, only audio and reading does that. That’s just so powerful to me. I had to start doing video for my job (which I know is contradictory) but, and I know this sounds terrible, I think it’s the easy way out.
So my CMO is constantly telling me to do a video every day. I have a little phone thing that I can set up and I know how to do it but I haven’t done it yet because I’m thinking about how to do it differently. I’m not sure yet but I’m thinking about it. I’ll let you know *laughs*.
So yes, we use AI inside the product. One thing I’ve noticed is that marketers will spend 4 or 5 hours writing a blog or press release or newsletter or something like that and then they’ll write two social posts about. It ends up being a huge waste of time, like you just spent all that time writing the blog and you’re gonna spend more time on social text.
So with Lately you can just copy and paste any post into our automatic social generator and click a button and we do some IBM Watson magical keyword reading and natural language processing. We instantly quote your blog dozens of times for you into social post size and then they can be pre short linked and pre-hashtagged as well.
Then, you can automatically schedule them out into the ether months over time. We essentially help you do 5 hours of work in 5 minutes and then you can get a couple months of marketing out of it.
Regarding your question about AI, I think the ‘human factor’ is where we all need to remember to be. Robots are great and they can do lots of things but everybody wants to feel special and important so the challenge here is to mix it up.
There has to be a happy medium between the two things. We automatically create social posts for you but I don’t write anything for you, it’s based on what you already wrote. I’m trusting that you as a human did a good job because what’s compelling is good writing.
The most obvious and basic one is to google your competitors. Look at what other people are doing who are doing it really well and steal some of their ideas *laughs*. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just age old marketing and it’s pretty easy to do.
I think a lot of people really miss obvious key words as well. A lot of the time the standout thing of the business is the entrepreneur themselves so Kate Bradley Chernis is a keyword for us [Lately] because I get searched.
Again this is super 101 stuff but I think a lot of people miss out on the really obvious tips.
Marketing hasn’t changed at all. It’s the same deal and it’s all emotion-based. We just have fancier tools. But if we forget that it’s emotion based, we’re not going to be doing anyone any favors.If we forget that marketing is emotion based, we're not going to be doing anyone any favors - @trylately CEO Kate Bradley Chernis. Click To Tweet
In the fundraising context specifically being authentic is key and that means being authentic in every way.
I don’t have a suit. I wear jeans and my cowboy boots and t-shirts and wear the same outfit everyday because frankly, I can’t be bothered to think about it. I wash my hair like every 5 days. I mean that’s my jam.
I swear like a sailor and I’m pretty embarrassing. I’m also a pain in the ass. This is just how I am *laughs*.
When I stopped trying to pretend that I was not those things, I was able to raise money a lot better and connect with people a lot better because my imperfectness puts people at ease. It gives them permission to be themselves and we have a better conversation.
Then the other thing is having a strong sense of confidence. There is nothing more important than owning the room. It can be by being friendly or it can be me giving you a reason to trust me and more or less lead a conversation.
It’s the same thing on the radio, my confidence leads the journey. If it’s an investor meeting, you assume the attitude of “I don’t think, I know.” It’s pretty basic; authenticity and confidence.
Three things: being a good writer, being organized, and having chutzpah.
Now having chutzpah is something you’re born with but you can learn how to be a good writer and you can learn how to be organized. Honestly, I don’t think you can be a successful marketer unless you can write.
Trylately.com is us. You can find me on Twitter at the same handle @trylately and at @outlandosmedia. You will be seeing me doing those videos that we talked about earlier so that’s exciting. My company just got into the SAP.iO Foundry accelerator which is also so exciting. I’m in New York for the summer doing that.