Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Capital Impact Partners, Jason W. Anderson discusses how he got into a communications career, the power of good storytelling in connecting with stakeholders on a deep level, and why emotional stories hook donors.
“Have an authentic story to tell; don’t be afraid to yell it from the rooftops.”
Jason’s must-have tools
- Trello for project management
- An editorial calendar
How to contact Jason
Capital Impact main number: (703) 647-2300
Media, blog, and marketing inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jobs at Capital Impact: capitalimpact.org/careers
Values and passion for mission-driven organizations have defined Jason’s career. This has led to many diverse opportunities for him to make a difference using a unique set of marketing, communications, branding, and corporate social responsibility skills.
He has helped launch a business unit and rolled out new brands, debuted a roller coaster with Disney, worked with Harrison Ford to change international environmental policy, escorted a TV crew through Ecuador on mules (in the rain and dark!), written copy for Starbucks’ coffee cups and McDonald’s Happy Meals, and been honored with a West African tribal name.
About Capital Impact Partners
Capital Impact believes that every community should be built on a foundation of equity, inclusiveness and cooperation. This requires them to break down the barriers to success by addressing key social and economic justice issues. That is why they are dedicated to delivering both the capital and commitment that help people build strong, vibrant communities of opportunities; places where all people have access to high quality services that foster good health, economic growth, and interconnectedness.
Podcast Transcript: Why emotional stories hook customers
Welcome to episode 13 of Better PR Now. In today’s episode I have a conversation with Jason Anderson, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Capital Impact Partners in Washington, DC.
Before we jump into the conversation, I’d like to invite you to visit my friends at TranscribeMe.com. They’re the official transcription partner of the podcast and they have a special offer for you. You can get up to 25% off of transcription services. Just go to transcribeme.com/betterprnow. Now, let’s jump into the conversation.
This is the first podcast ever recorded, I believe, in a Whole Foods Market, and I know it’s the first podcast recorded in the Whole Foods Market in Pentagon City, Virginia. The reason we’re here today is there’s a tap takeover by breweries from Richmond, Virginia, and I’m joined by Jason Anderson, somebody I’ve known for a long time who is a really fantastic communicator. Jason, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Mark.
So, your current position?
I am the Senior Director of Communications and Marketing at Capital Impact Partners.
Fantastic. Now you’ve had a really fascinating career. We’ll talk about your education, and then you worked for CNN. So tell me about how you got into communications and what drove you towards a communications career to begin with?
Yeah. So I grew up in Southern California, and went to Claremont McKenna College where I actually majored in Government and Literature. I actually had an opportunity to attend USC for a broadcasting degree but decided that I wanted to really get the fundamentals of a hardcore political background. Because really my goal at that time was to get into political journalism. And that ultimately fulfilled itself by joining CNN for about 10 years where I literally started as what they called a video journalist, a VJ, at that time. Making roughly $15,000 a year.
Killing it. And there we did everything from running the camera to running the teleprompter with paper scripts. Which is something in this day of digital age if you think about it. And even robotic cameras, which we didn’t have back then. But there I saw a number of fascinating things, really cut my teeth on what journalism was. Learned how to edit videotape, learned how to produce a segment and did a whole number of things with them, but ultimately decided after a number of events, ultimately concluding with the Monica Lewinsky episode in Washington DC, that I decided it was time for me to move on and pursue some of my more personal goals along with journalism. Which was at that point thinking about the environment.
That’s wonderful. And so after a decade or so at CNN where you focused on political and other reporting, you moved over to the non-profit world. Tell me about that transition.
Yeah. So I saw an opportunity at an organization called Conservation International, which does international, non-profit environmental work in communities all across the world, and the opportunity was to take my journalism skills and apply them to public relations. How do we take the things that we do as an environmental non-profit and translate them into actually what news is, and serious news not just marketing, and talk to reporters about covering that news? So I did that actually for a division of Conservation International which was called the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, and it was really thinking about, how do we work with corporations to reduce their environmental footprint, to contribute to the things that we were doing at Conservation International and translate that all into good. You know ultimately, the public relations part in a sense was marketing, in a sense was how do we drive fundraising, how do we drive other corporations to do good things? How do we put pressure on the organizations that we’re working with to do more good things? But, ultimately, it was a really fascinating experience.
And then after Conservation International, you stayed in the non-profit world?
I did. At that point after 10 years of working at the global sphere and working with Fortune 500 companies like McDonald’s, like Starbucks, like Walmart to change their footprint and actually do some interesting marketing things with them. I really wanted to focus more in on local communities. And I found a small organization doing really fascinating things called Rare. And they would actually run marketing campaigns in local communities and these are hyper-local communities. Places you’ve never heard about or can’t even find on the map in Indonesia, in Africa, throughout Asia. And what they would do is, they had the ability to take over the radio, take over the newspaper, create mascots around essential message because you have that hyper-local opportunity to not talk about a product, but to talk about environmental conservation. And perhaps it’s water, perhaps it’s a species, perhaps it’s pollution. And you get folks really thinking about ways they can change their practices locally and using mass media to do that. It was fascinating to watch how that would happen. Now again my job wasn’t to do that work. We had specialists with a whole theory of change and the use of psychology, but my job was to get people interested in what we were doing. So, again …
Were they trying to change behavior?
Behavior change, exactly. That was at the core of it, which you can do in a place like that. Much harder where we are in Pentagon City to get people to recycle the cups that they were drinking from these fine, Virginia breweries (i.e., Hardywood Brewery, Ardent Craft Ales, and Kindred Spirit Brewing). But you can do it in these awful places and getting donors interested in thinking about that was part of my job.
So give me an example of one of the projects that you worked on.
Sure, so we worked in a village in the Philippines, where they essentially had no fish, which is a problem when fish is what you rely on to eat. So we had to really go in …
Was this because of over-fishing?
It’s over-fishing. So …
So you really needed to change that behavior or you’ll never fix the problem.
We needed to change the behavior of over-fishing. So we created a mascot called Meloy (From The Meloy Fund’s website: The campaign is named after Meloy, a Panther Grouper who was the mascot in one of Rare’s Pride campaigns in Inabanga, Philippines. The campaign, which started in 2011, is focused on community ownership and participation in protecting Inabanga’s marine resources.). And Meloy was central to this media campaign. He appeared in billboards. He appeared in local restaurants. He appeared in the newspaper. He appeared in local parades that you might see down our main streets. And eventually people got the message. I need to think about the fact that I can’t go out every day, 24-hour days, and fish. I need to think about okay, how do I fish responsibly with everyone else who needs to feed their families and also maybe some of the companies who are coming in and using us to buy fish to sell to distributors? And eventually, the metrics showed an uptick in that particular region in terms of number of fish available, but of course fish take a couple of years to spawn and reproduce and create a viable colony.
Then you move [inaudible] to Capital Impact Partners. Different mission, but also in the nonprofit world. Tell me about their mission.
Capital Impact was sort of my way to come back home. This is after the great depression, after the big financial crises that we all faced. And I thought to my self, certainly, there’s a great [inaudible] outside of our boundaries, but then, in the United States, we have a lot of communities that are suffering, and how can we help them recoup from what has happened to them. And so I joined Capital Impact Partners, it’s what’s called the community development financial institution, which is a long-winded way of saying, “Where are the good guy bankers?” We are a bank with the mission behind us. So we make loans to other nonprofits essentially, hospitals, healthy hood ventures, education, or people and organizations that are really trying to change the paradigm in their communities. But because they’re operating in low-income areas, big banks won’t finance them. So you can’t build that house center, you can’t build that grocery store that’ll sell healthy food, you can’t build the apartment that’ll have affordable housing. Big just won’t support it. We will, that’s our mission. That’s the risk we take, and in fact, we don’t measure our end of the year success by our profit, we measure it by how many desks are being built for students, how many more affordable housing units have been built.
That’s really tangible good in the community.
Yeah. What drew me to it is, they were interested as more than just a lender because they saw that just bringing money into a community wasn’t going to do it. So we had to bring research, we had to bring a team that would develop programs that addressed this systemic issues being faced and think about how to do it differently, how can we do it this way and instead of the old way. A classic example that we use is around the nursing homes system. You put people into institutional nursing homes, nothing changes, people grow old, they get sick, they eventually pass away. What we’ve decided was, there’s got to be a better way. So how do you go in, and develop a different type of nursing home that’s as a community where you’ll have your own room, where you go to a kitchen that feels like your home, where you communicate with the outside world? It’s called the greenhouse model. We were able to deploy it in multiple states across the country, and it’s become a real success. But it really shows that money is one thing, creating systemic change is a whole different paradigm, and that’s what really drove me to the organization.
So how do you tell that story in a way that’s going to [inaudible] and engaging to people who either might be in a position to support it or might be a potential customer or beneficiary?
Right. No. It’s something I struggle with each and every day because we don’t just working agent, we work across seven sectors. And how do I tell that one story to people in seven sectors, whether they want to borrow money from us, or change a program, and then how do I elevate that story to …
Is it possible to tell a story that reaches different audiences and is equally compelling across different sectors, and people who have maybe different motivations, and [inaudible] paying attention, or do you have to tailor the story based on your audience?
So I approach it from literally story telling. What is good storytelling? And that begins with someone who really has to overcome a barrier and how do they overcome that barrier, which is, if you think about any Hollywood movie, and I just took my kids last week to see Black Panther.
Yeah, me too.
Good movie [laughter].
How do they overcome that barrier of the mineral that they are trying to mine and save the world? Are we saving the world? Maybe. So one of the things I did was when I came into the organization about three years ago was to create a story section to the website. It doesn’t market our learning activities, it doesn’t market any of the other kind of programmatic activities we do, what it does do is tell the stories of the people it was serving. So in the greenhouse model, we literally sending a photographer, journalist. He spent a couple of weeks with these residences, and he told their stories to a series of photo captions. And it’s sort of that heart versus brain effects. How do I pull on your heartstrings to really get you understand this is what you’re doing at this kind of visceral level.
And we know. I mean, we know from theory that we also know from the experience that you can make a really, really good logical argument that makes perfect sense to the brain, but if doesn’t have that emotional impact, it doesn’t matter, people might not even pay attention to it. So if you don’t make that emotional connection, you need to be able to follow it up with a logic. But sales are made through emotions. Donations are made through emotions. People care about emotions. They want to follow it up with logic to prove to themselves there’s nothing else that their emotions were sound if that makes sense.
So [inaudible] make an example of that. We could talk about the greenhouse model as here are 10, 12 group homes with individual rooms, it serves maybe 30 to 50 percent of the residents around Medicare. That’s great. I mean, honestly, that’s a fact that’s excellent. Again, there was a guy named Irvin who we talked to. His wife, basically, she didn’t have the capabilities of living in the same room, because she could become violent. So what he would do is he would go, while she was sleeping, and literally cuddle up with her at night, and sleep with her, and then wake up in the morning, get up, and go back to his own bed. And she wouldn’t know, but now we have this opportunity to show this individual who is still able to be with his wife in their old age at a time when they went to the traditional nursing home. She actually might have been institutionalized, but this was not the case.
We might be able to empower them to keep their relationship alive for months or years longer than they normally would have.
And I was so proud, as a person in marketing, to tell a story that values that relationship.
Which I don’t often get to do.
Okay. So, all right, you just got my heart strains, right?
All right. So now I’m ready to make a donation which is sort of [inaudible], right? I mean, you want to make that emotional connection, and want to get somebody walk into your want to understand it and feel it, maybe feel it first. Then understand it, then get involved, and support it. So, thinking about when you were going to school, when you were starting your career, what do you know now that you wish you had known then?
I think it is the personal aspects of what I do. Drilling down into emotion and storytelling. I went to a school that valued– I went to Claremont McKenna College, which was mostly an economics school. I was sort of an outlier as someone who wanted to do nonprofit work. And so there it was research, it was analytics, it was data. Which was great, because it got me thinking about those things, because I never really thought about those things. But somewhere I knew deep inside me that there was still emotion and story that drives us. Maybe that was I was drawn to USC, because of their film elements and all of their production elements. Toss up whether I should’ve gone there or not, but ultimately I think that now is what makes me a successful marketer, is driving story versus data. Because I could easily talk about, we’re a lending institution at our heart. Before I came, we talked about, oh we financed this building. Oh, it’s 26,000 square feet. It’s in this area that has a 200% under the certain net worth for individuals. Government data, and I can’t remember. I can’t think of it, because it doesn’t drive me.
And that’s your proof right there.
Right. Who goes to school there? Who now has a home there? Who’s getting health care in that building? That’s what I care about.
And one person’s personal story can negate reams and reams and reams of paper of statistics and facts.
Absolutely, yeah. And I do think that you need to back it up, with the ultimate, we have the great story of Irvin, but I could tell you any number of stories. There’s a woman who was once homeless. She went to a health care center that we helped finance in San Francisco. [inaudible] San Fransisco, does that mean health care? Well, there are huge amounts of homeless people in San Francisco who have no access to equitable health care. Now it’s part of the mission of this– now she got off drugs, she got off alcohol, and she has now literally a board member of this hospital because they want a certain amount of their patients to be on the board. That’s not data, that’s a story, that’s a person’s life who has changed. But the data, ultimately, we still need to talk about. This hospital went from an alleyway to a building that serves 20,000 patients, who are uninsured possibly, and so they now have healthcare. That saves X amount of health care dollars. Yeah, so you need that data to back up the story.
So for somebody who’s an aspiring storyteller, regardless of the medium that they’re interested in, what are the things that they need to know, what are the skills that they need to develop?
You need to be emotionally involved in your projects. One, the word I always give to people when they think about communications and all of the things and the tactics and all of that is what is your authenticity? You can have your strategy, you can have your tactics down, you can have everything to a T, but if you’re not authentic, it’s not going to resonate with people. And ultimately, that’s going to you may get a– the phrase is, “Fool me once it’s on you. Fool me twice it’s on me.” Authenticity is the same way. You may fool a donor or funder or an investor a couple of times, but ultimately they’re going to get it. So make sure you have an authentic story to tell. And then don’t be afraid to tell it from the rooftops. Just yell it, scream it, promote it, put it on video, put it on social media. Don’t be afraid to be hyperbolic. If it’s authentic, it’s real.
Right. I think that’s really wise council. What tools do you use that you absolutely can’t do without?
Well, I’m old school, so I use a lot of pen and paper. We’ve been experimenting with a tool called Trello which is a kind of electronic tool for project management. I think you do need an editorial calendar of sorts because it allows you to be proactive versus reactive, especially for someone like me where I have multiple sectors to promote. And all those sectors need to ramp up into corporate objectives around social and racial justice. I need to think ahead about, “All right. We’ve got this day coming up. We’ve got this conference coming up. We’ve got this project coming up.” How does that react with everything else that we’re doing? So that the messaging can be funneled up to, kind of ultimately, what we’re trying to talk about.
What advice would you give for somebody, who is either starting school or starting their careers right now, who’s interested in following a path similar to yours?
So, this may be antithetical to most people. I did not get a background in marketing. I did not get a background in communications or any of this stuff. I’m not saying that’s not valuable. I got an education in what I loved and what I believed in. At that point it was government and literature. Now if you think about it, I know work in finance so– and with a stop over, a 15-year stop over, in the environment. So I was just say be passionate. Explore. Which also comes with a lot of self-learning and reading everybody else’s e-newsletters, websites, and understanding what they do. And there was some self-learning about what the consumer journey looks like. What does the donor persona look like? All of those things, so that I could apply what I had hints of in my brain and make them very tactical.
That’s wonderful, so these last two questions are sort of fun ones. What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen somebody do in communications and marketing?
All right. Off the top of my head I can’t think of the dumbest thing I’ve seen. But I will say that it’s funny watching an organization I left, and I will not name them, reuse a tactic that we used. And used to sort of minimal effect. It felt like an organization that was out of ideas and was just trying to think about, “All right, we’ll just reuse that in a different way,” Without really understanding what can we actually achieve with this. It was a social media campaign about investing in a certain project and who knows in terms of the actual tangible value of it? And I’ll pick another, which is another organization that I worked with, do a multi-million dollar campaign. Hollywood superstars, literally Hollywood superstars using cutting edge multimedia techniques, putting this out on every communication channel possible, but ultimately almost no impact. I’ve heard a superstar say this and I’m interested, because I’ve heard it in three or four different ways. Now what do I do? Well, what I do was give 10 bucks.
I take your point that you need to craft your strategy and your tactics based on the existing situation, which means whoever is working in communications and marketing needs to be acutely attuned to strategy and organization. They need to understand the situation, and they need to bring something fresh and creative. It’s not sufficient to continue to rehash what might have been a great idea before, but that is already played out.
Yeah. And I’ll also add to that. The idea that you’re going to run into a CEO who thinks that they can create a movement– and God bless you, if you can create a movement, do it. And don’t not try. Definitely try it. But go in with the market research of what the public says. And I’ll take the environment for example. So, I did that for 15 years. And creating a movement for the environment was always top of mind of the executive for marketing. You can affect any environmental space, 5% of the population, with what we call the dark greens. And they will give a ton of money. You cannot affect the 95% of the population to give their $10, which will equate to billions if they did it. And if you said, “Oh, hogwash,” think about yourself. I’m an environmentalist, and I do all the right things. I compost, I recycle, I drive a Prius …
Yeah, me too. We might actually be parked next to each other [laughter].
But are all of these people going to give their 10 bucks? It’s been proven time and time again that that’s not going to happen. And that’s for children’s charities, it’s for multiple charities. I would say the one example would be the Ice Bucket Challenge. Okay. Let’s talk about that for a minute. I know we’re doing my last questions, but let’s talk about that for a minute. I heard the woman who was on– I can’t remember the organization, which there in itself, right, should tell you something– talk about the Ice Bucket Challenge, made millions for that in a short amount of time. We don’t talk about them anymore. It was actually not self-constructed. It was an anomaly of a guy– I think it was multiple sclerosis?
Yeah. I think so. Or ALS, maybe.
ALS did it. No affiliation to the organization. He sent that video to three or four people, and it literally went viral. The organization literally had no idea how to harness that or what to do with it. They just rode the wave. And year one, they made X number of dollars. Year two, they tried to recreate it, were unable.
Of course, because the underlying dynamic was not theirs, and it’s since morphed into the cinnamon challenge and the dadbod challenge and something else that somebody’s going to come up with.
But there was an authenticity in the original Ice Bucket Challenge that people loved.
Which made it powerful.
Which made it powerful. And you can’t create that. Sometimes you just have to ride it.
“If you’re lucky enough to do something that goes viral, awesome. But don’t count on it. That should not be your main strategy”
Well, right. And you can’t program or predict virality. If you’re lucky enough to do something that goes viral, awesome. But don’t count on it. That should not be your main strategy, because it’s so unpredictable and so unlikely. Try. Try. But try with caveats to your CEO or your chief marketing officer or whomever that you’re not getting a ding for that if it doesn’t happen.
Okay. The last question I asked you was about the dumbest move you’ve ever seen in communications. What’s something that’s remarkable, that’s memorable, that you think is particularly powerful and well-done in the way of marketing, communications, or public relations?
I had a boss who stressed, ad nauseum, about the power of visuals. And to me back then, I was like, why are we agonizing over one photo over another? And I think the best example to give of that is if you watch the movie about Steve Jobs, where he talks about the 57 charts that he used in his Powerpoint. Now I mean that’s sort of an example, but what it shows is – and it goes back to storytelling – people are very visual. Iconography goes way back to when we lived in caves. That tells you something. So something about visuals and thinking about your Powerpoint presentation with 100 lines of text per slide. No. Stop it. Steve Jobs did presentations and they might not have any text.
Changed my life.
Read that. Yeah. Read it. Yeah. A piece of advice that I give to people who work for me is, you’re going to get a lot of information about a particular project. And they’re going to want data, they’re going to want analysis, and they’re going to want all this stuff in their communications. But what do we all do? I call it the finger-up analogy. You flip your Facebook, and you just finger up through your phone.
You’re swiping up, or you’re scrolling up and down, or you’re swiping left and right.
Maybe you’re swiping right, if that’s what your thing is.
But you’re swiping.
You’re swiping. And you’re reading quick and fast. What catches your eye?
If you’re reading at all. Oftern, you’re just looking.
Right. You’re looking at visuals, and you’re getting maybe 50 characters of text. You’ve got to boil down your message to that to really communicate well.
Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right. So, Jason, thank you so much for being on this episode of Better PR Now.
Yeah. Thank you so much.
And that wraps up another episode of Better PR Now.
I really want to hear from you. Let me know what you think about the podcast overall or about this particular conversation. Like to know what you think about recording on location. I know there was a lot of noise. But let me know. Was it too distracting? Was it okay? I want to hear from you. And also if you have any questions about public relations, marketing, or corporate communications, let me know, and I’d love to address those in a future episode.
Also, I want to remind you about a special offer that we have from the official transcription partner from the podcast, TranscribeMe. You can get up to 25% off their transcription services. Just go to https://TranscribeMe.com/BetterPRNow.
That’s it for this episode. I look forward to visiting with you again on the next episode of Better PR Now!