Karla Jo Helms: CEO, JoTo PR

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Karla Jo Helms is the CEO and visionary behind JoTo PR. She cut her teeth in PR via crisis management, working with litigation attorneys, private investigators and the media to help restore companies of goodwill back into the good graces of public opinion. Karla Jo learned firsthand how brutal business could be when there were millions of dollars to be had—and how to navigate those treacherous waters via control of public opinion. Since then, Karla Jo has patterned her agency on a combination of her hard-won public relations experience, uncompromising high standards and exacting nationwide market research across multiple industries. She’s a hands-on executive who hand-picks the PR professionals who work on her team, to ensure that client results always meet client expectations. Helms speaks globally on public relations and how corporations can harness it to drive markets.

How did you get into the industry?

I entered PR via the Crisis Management side of the industry – this is the aspect of PR that handles reputational crises during litigation, slander or libel suits, criminal or civil suits, trademark or copyright attacks or even cyber breach. I was offered the chance at an early age to work with some of the best litigation attorneys, private investigators and PRs in the Crisis Management sector of the industry. This granted me the fortune of seeing PR from a totally different viewpoint and practice – and taught me how to directly correlate what we were doing in PR to companies’ top-line revenues.  When I entered into the Proactive PR part of the industry, I was able to use crisis management principles and techniques to put virtually unknown companies on the map – AND relate the exposure in targeted publicity to gross income. This has also been the bane of my industry – how to track ROI of PR exposure.

Any emerging industry trends?

Explosion of media growth coupled with consumer-driven markets.

The first source of this calamity is today’s insatiable demand for news and information, which has led to a consumer-driven economy—where consumers are more informed (albeit often incorrectly) and are running the show. Even The New York Times is trying to figure out how to handle this insane demand for information by putting out 230 articles a day. Every day. 365 days a year.(1)


•    Fifty-seven percent % of the business-to-business “buying process” begins ONLINE, before anyone contacts a company. Key decision-makers are spending upwards of five hours a day online looking for news and business solutions that will help them.(2)

•    They search up to twelve sources before coming to that “57%th” decision.(3) You know as much as the next guy that no one just buys something online without first consulting a few different sites or sources before making up their mind.

•    This is a consumer who’s smart, knows his or her way around a search engine and/or consults another key opinion leader—and looks right past the “marketing speak” to get to the truth behind an issue, service or product.

•    Sixty-eight percent of consumers trust the opinions of others online(4)—meaning third-party credibility is paramount.

The old joke, “I read it on the Internet, so it must be true,” starts to look like the case more and more every day.

But that’s where this “insatiable” consumer harms businesses—and where businesses are NOT in control. It’s what’s making the marketing process so complex.

This is what is driving markets.

The ability of the consumer to self-publish might be biggest financial threat facing American businesses since the onslaught of social media in 2008.

Let me explain.

Putting all of the benefits of social media aside, let’s take the scenario where one person’s post on Facebook gets picked up by a major influencer online or news outlet and goes viral.

This leads to companies going on the defensive and being reactive to what’s happening, and more often than not, leads to an improper handling of the situation or NO proactive communication whatsoever, Plus they have an insufficient estimation of the actual effort which will be required to really fill the void with the correct data.

This leads to the trifecta (consumers, competitors and the news) filling the void of communication that people are demanding.

Because the story probably wasn’t told accurately or with full data – and the company never really filled the void to the level of insatiable demand, things go awry, very, very awry. Out. Of. Control.

The average American spends 725 minutes a day with media. Now, more than ever, that story is in jeopardy with 81% of the American population being on social media.(5)

Case in point: Our media database has grown to 1.6 million media contacts and 300,000 digital influencers—all in real-time—with 20,000 updates per day to ensure the most current and complete information. On average, we see about two to three media categories being added per week, which is an exponential increase over just last year.

National examples: Different forms of news have started to gain traction, with a 15% increase in podcast listening since 2008; online radio listenership has doubled since 2007;(6) digital advertising spending is taking up more than half of budgets;(7) the number of YouTube Channels making six figures is up 50% over last year; and there are 15,000 verified Twitter accounts of journalists, making them the highest-grossing authenticated profession, ahead of professional athletes and actors.(8)

Even with newspaper, cable and network news becoming stagnant with a quarter of Americans “cutting the cord” just last year,93) there are now more ways than ever to get a message across. These are the vehicles through which you can send your message to targeted publics. A story is not just submitted to a local news website anymore; many similar stories are being sent to as many multiple targeted outlets as there are readers.

Furthermore, 89% of B2B business decision-makers are searching online by using smaller, targeted, integrated aggregates to get the whole story.(10)

The days of there being “one clear leader” are no more.

These readers might get the headline on one of the “big boys” out there, but they then go to other media sites which they may consider to be more trustworthy, independent sources—those that “always shoots straight.” And they do it up to twelve times to get what they consider to be a proper view.(11) You probably do so, yourself.

That’s twelve times more opportunity for you to be in front of your prospective clientele in those news sources.

And if YOU are not filling the void of information about you, “they” will.

Who are “they?” Your competitors; the news and consumers, themselves.

If a company is not controlling those messages proactively —they are not in control. And as a result, many businesses are settling for lost revenue by exerting no control over this communication cycle.

(1)    Mullin, Benjamin. “How The New York Times Decides Which Stories to Link to (and Which Ones to Match).” Poynter. Poynter, 17 Apr. 2017. Web. 11 June 2017.

(2)    Book, Joel. “Video Series: “Email: The Workhorse of 1-to-1 Marketing”.” Salesforce.com. Salesforce, n.d. Web. 11 June 2017.

(3)    Schmidt, Karl, and Patrick Spenner. “CEB Blogs.” CEB Blogs B2B Sales and Marketing Two Numbers You Should Care About Comments. CEB, Gartner, 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 June 2017.

(4)    Travis.balinas. “5 Ways Online Reviews Are Affecting Your Business [Stats].”OutboundEngine. OutboundEngine, 26 July 2016. Web. 11 June 2017.

(5)     “U.S. Population Social Media Penetration 2017 | Statistic.” Statista. Statista, 2017. Web. 11 June 2017.

(6)    Mitchell, Amy, and Jesse Holcomb. “Table of Contents.” Ornithological Monographs 76.1 (2013): n. pag. Assets PewResearchCenter. PewResearchCenter, 16 June 2016. Web. 11 June 2017.

(7)    Mitchell, Amy, and Jesse Holcomb. “Table of Contents.” Ornithological Monographs 76.1 (2013): n. pag. Assets PewResearchCenter. PewResearchCenter, 16 June 2016. Web. 11 June 2017.

(8)    Mullin, Benjamin. “Report: Journalists Are Largest, Most Active Verified Group on Twitter. “Poynter. Poynter, 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 June 2017.

(9)    Schwindt, Oriana. “Cord Cutting Accelerates: Study Finds 25% of U.S. Homes Don’t Have Pay TV Service.” Variety. Variety, 15 July 2016. Web. 11 June 2017.

(10)    Snyder, Kelsey, and Pashmeena Hilal. “The Changing Face of B2B Marketing.” Think with Google. Think with Google, Mar. 2015. Web. 11 June 2017.

(11)    Fox, Gemini. “10+ Independent Online News Sources and Why America Needs More of Them.” Soapboxie. Soapboxie, 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 11 June 2017.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

See #7

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

After doing Crisis Management for so long, I was asked by a prospective client what was the common denominator of all the clients I had executed Crisis Management campaigns for. I did an investigation, based on comparing logical and illogical data points – which is also, by the way you investigate in Crisis Management cases… what I found was shocking – 100% of the companies involved in litigation and reputational restoration never had a foundation of goodwill PR & Publicity protecting their brand and reputation. They were easy to attack by competitors who unscrupulously would embroil these companies in litigation while they scooped up market share. This gave me the impetus to go out on my own and develop the processes for doing this for companies who weren’t in trouble  – no matter the industry. The results were consistent – not only could I directly relate PR to the gross revenues – but companies’ risk potential also decreased to the degree they had a solid, goodwill reputation. Consequently, the vision for my business became – and is – to make a significant impact on the economy and the news by helping businesses get their message in the media in volume about solutions, services and products that will help people and companies grow, expand and thrive.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

As we have acquired clients from across the Globe – we are expanding sales offices into strategic markets, while the Creative Teams will be headquartered in Tampa Bay.  Acquisitions are also in the business plan to offer more services that compliment PR and ensure more companies gain the ability to conquer the new PR-Marketing-Sales paradigm.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

The major success of my business has been defining and proving the ROI on Public Relations.  PR is directly correlated to Gross Income (GI) or top-line revenues. We have been able to prove this with our clients consistently – evidence by objective statistics. That has been the biggest breakthrough and development in our business, as our industry has had difficulty doing and proving this since its inception. But the caveat is that PR has to be done right – and that has been the breakthrough we have trademarked. Coupled with just concentrating on the organizational basics ourselves, meaning following the order of PR, then Marketing, then Sales and Delivery – and repeating that over and over – has been our best stable process for success. Those are the initiatives we consistently work on improving.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

The most difficult, honestly and unfortunately, has been overcoming the negative perception problem of my own industry. The PR industry has for a long time now been perceived as shysters – and that is still the case. Some big players in the industry from long-ago have relied on businesses not really understanding PR, nor the media, and have unscrupulously sold yet not delivered results.

TechCrunch, in fact, exposed the underbelly of my industry last year in an exposé article – I had been hearing this for years from my clients and prospects, but since I had only been in the Crisis Management side of PR where everything you do is connected to the top and bottom line, I had never seen the true reality of what my clients had experienced.  It was an eye-opener and finally all the pieces came together. Too often in the PR world, 6 months go by with one or two stories and PR firms respond with “we need more information” or “we’re working on it.” Old pompous attitudes like “we have the relationships” and “you need us” coupled with not producing consistent results that then get explained away have nearly ruined the reputation of hard-working PR professionals – and there are many out there.

“I hate PR” is the general consensus among fast-moving companies, industry leaders, innovative startups and disruptive CEOs. It’s also the exact words you’ll hear from me. The PR industry has lost touch with reality resting on past accomplishments and failing to deliver the results today’s companies need. It’s simple: there’s way too much ‘smoke and mirrors’ in the PR world and not enough delivery of results.

We exist to change that standard and revolutionize how PR is not only perceived, but in terms of measurable ROI. As a business owner, I know every dollar must work hard for my company so I share that sentiment with our clients. Coming from the Crisis Management side of the world, where time is not a luxury, we apply all that we learned in Crisis Management to give every client the  kind of results  and  exposure  they  were  seeking  in  the  first  place. Unlike TV dramas, we don't wait for some scandal to pull out all the stops to get you the press and continual coverage you need. (Actually we consider it a scandal if you don't get press and respond accordingly.) No excuses. No smoke and mirrors.

We convert PR from a “necessary evil” to “an integral part of a company’s growth strategy” clients and CEOs rely upon and gladly report to their stakeholders.

What I learned – which is our motto is: “PR isn’t the answer. Results are.”

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Our clients come to us because they need and want to be recognized as thought leaders in their industry and to their clients and prospective clientele.  They want to increase their marketing and sales ROI.  While we work to get them into the media consistently and become that voice of reason in their industry, on the cutting edge of breaking news and a solution-oriented company for businesses and consumers who have problems that they fix, we also educate them on the entire PR-Marketing-Sales process as it is today. It’s definitely changed. Too many companies collapse those three areas and struggle as a result – even stage-two multi-million dollar companies. And with all the disruption happening in the markets and across many industries, if these companies do not figure out this new PR-Marketing-Sales paradigm, they won’t make it. Those companies that do exactly what we say have increased their expansion by 5X, 14X – or even 103% or 679% 3-year growth, for example. One for one, those clients that follow our process see those types of results.  And their experience is positive – they can finally reach their goals, they become well-rounded and happy executives and people – and the best by-product that I have seen is that they can now focus on initiatives that improve the greater good of the world, in other words they turn around to help others in a big way. It’s very rewarding to see.

How do you motivate others?

I am always working to become better at this. Right now I motivate others based on pushing the vision and purpose – and coupling that with getting results. This is with employees and clients.  The disruptive markets we work with have an effect on us and our clients – it’s tough, it’s challenging, things are always changing, lots of moving parts – motivating is a process of getting people’s minds out of the day to day to be reminded of the vision, how far they have come, where they are going, and recognizing they are achieving the milestones on the way. That is what I do – I just wish I had more time now to do that and only that. It is the biggest ROI that I see as an executive and PR pro.  And I am working toward being able to delegate my hats so I can do this, as this is where I see the biggest return for others – which always has the best effect on me.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Work for PR firms that get results. Question their sales process, their production process, ensure they will contribute to your goals and happiness. PRs are some of the hardest-working people that I know.  I don’t just say this because I am a PR – it is empirical observation. They ability to get things done are what true PR professionals thrive at – they understand how to facilitate human emotion and reaction to make something happen. But PR has changed – and old traditional stodgy ways of doing PR has gone by the wayside. Our industry association, the PRSA, is a membership of the brightest and most well-intentioned in the industry. I have no doubt my colleagues will make PR great again. We are moving into an era where PR is becoming paramount – as trust is becoming more and more a needed and wanted commodity for businesses. PR is the only methodology that creates brand trust, so marketing and sales can actually work.