Grech Uses Journalistic Experience to Help Publishers Market Better

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Like many publishing entrepreneurs, Dan Grech—founder and lead instructor of BizHack Academy for digital marketing training which he started in 2017—spent his early career as a journalist. As an intern at The Miami Herald, he was part of Pulitzer Prize-winning team coverage of the Elián González INS raid. "I call that my award for being in the right place at the right time," he said humbly. 

At the upcoming Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS), Nov. 12-14 in Fort Lauderdale, Grech will be leading a session titled Optimizing Your Customer's Journey for Greater ROI.

Grech moved to Argentina in 2003 as a Herald correspondent—his father is from Spain—before the public radio show Marketplace came calling. After five years as a correspondent covering Latin American business and the Hispanic economy in the U.S., Grech was invited by his alma mater Princeton University to teach their first radio journalism course. That was followed by one year as a special correspondent for PBS's Nightly Business Report and four years as news director for the NPR station in Miami.

 Then he lost his job. "At the pinnacle of my career, I found myself cast adrift," Grech said. "I had job offers in other markets, but my life was in Miami. After a year searching, I couldn't find a journalism job in town that was a fit. It was either move out or move on. I decided to move on."

Grech's expertise was nonfiction storytelling—he had two Masters degrees in the field. The need for reinvention forced a period of introspection. "I asked myself, 'What do I love?' 'What am I good at?' 'And how does that translate to the 21st century?'"

He found the answer from when he was news chief of the Miami NPR station. "I was sitting at a circular conference table with the general manager, the chair of the board and a broadcast consultant," Grech recalled. "The fifth chair was empty. We were discussing how to build up the station's digital presence. Our website traffic was stagnant, and none of us knew how to improve that. It was a frustrating conversation. At one point, I said, 'We need another person sitting at this table, someone expert in growing audiences online.' I drove home unsettled, because I knew that I wanted to be the digital expert in that empty chair."

With BizHack now on his mind, Grech got a job heading public relations for a big energy company—and volunteered to take over its fledgling digital marketing efforts. A year later, he joined a software startup, leading the company's PR and digital marketing efforts. Those jobs led him to be asked by Miami Dade College to launch a training program in digital marketing for business owners.

Here's a Q&A from our recent conversation: 

SIPA: As a former journalist, what does digital marketing mean to you?
Dan Grech: Digital marketing is two things in one. It's digital storytelling, and it's digital distribution. Most journalists are really good at the first and struggle mightily with the second. 

Do business owners value the power of storytelling?
Not nearly enough. When we survey business owners about what skills would most help them grow their business, storytelling finishes dead last. Yet my seminars on business storytelling, where I ask business owners to articulate why they started their business, consistently rank the highest of everything I teach. 

What are some examples of effective business storytelling?
We've worked closely with more than 300 business owners to identify their deeper mission and higher purpose, the 'something bigger' that they're striving to achieve. We call this their Brand Promise, and that promise needs to be present in every communication with a client, prospect or staffer. One of the business owners we work with custom-prints paper cups, and his Brand Promise is to create unforgettable social gatherings.

Why was this the right time to launch a training academy for business owners?
The model for learning in the 20th century was you go to school for two or three decades and then you work the rest of your life. The model for learning in the 21st century is this constant cycle of learning new skills and applying them immediately in the workplace. The learning never stops because the technology constantly changes.  

How do you use gamification and improvisation in your classes?
We hold contests and give away prizes to motivate people to learn and to make lessons stick. As for the influence of improv, which I've done the last 10 years, the best teaching happens when you listen and react to what the students are saying to personalize the learning experience. And it also helps to be funny.

How are you applying what you learned at NPR to BizHack Academy?
Broadcast journalism is about taking complex topics and breaking them down into bite-sized chunks of information that can be digested easily. I try to do that with my teaching now. 

You have a strong background with the Hispanic community. What tips do you have for publishers trying to reach that market?
How do you speak to Hispanic consumers? They are extremely family-oriented. It's deep seated in the culture. When you market to or communicate with a Latino audience, you should always remember that. You'll find many homes that are multi-generational. Of course, it's not exclusive to that community. Whatever the audience, you need to get to know them, learn what their needs are in ways that are meaningful. 

What's your biggest surprise so far as a business owner?
How it has brought together so many strands of my previous life: storytelling, broadcast, gamification, coaching, even improv. I find that really appealing. But what's been most satisfying is learning the amazing stories of resilience and determination embodied by the business people who go through our courses. The kind of person that's willing to sacrifice one night a week to learn hard-but-important skills is my kind of person. Helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams is the honor of a lifetime. 

Sounds like this has always been in your blood?
Actually, I do come from a long line of educators. My father's father, Satur Grech, was a famous soccer coach in La Liga in Spain. Coaching and teaching is my family business. Starting BizHack was kind of a homecoming.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…