013 – Jason Anderson explains why emotional stories hook donors

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.

emotional stories hook customers

“Have an authentic story to tell; don’t be afraid to yell it from the rooftops.”

emotional stories hook customers
Mark and Jason enjoying craft brews at the tap takeover at Pentagon City’s Whole Foods Market.

Jason’s must-have tools

  • Trello for project management
  • An editorial calendar

 


How to contact Jason

Instagram:  @jjtrinva

Twitter:  @jasonandersondc or @capitalimpact

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonwandersondc/

Website:  https://www.capitalimpact.org/

Capital Impact main number:  (703) 647-2300

Media, blog, and marketing inquiries:  janderson@capitalimpact.org

Jobs at Capital Impact:  capitalimpact.org/careers


About Jason

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

Through capital and commitment Capital Impact helps people build communities of opportunity that break barriers to success. A nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Capital Impact has a 30-year history of delivering strategic financing, social innovation programs, and capacity building that creates social change and delivers financial impact nationwide.

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.

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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.

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.

Meloy - https://www.meloyfund.com/
Meloy, the Panther Grouper mascot (photo by Rare.org)

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.

Yay.

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.

That’s wonderful.

Which I don’t often get to do.

Okay. So, all right, you just got my heart strains, right?

Yeah [laughter].

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.

Yeah. Absolutely.

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.

Yeah. In fact, have you ever read Presentation Zen that Garr Reynolds does? Phenomenal book. [Garr also has a great website! – Mark]

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.

Appreciate it.

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.

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That’s it for this episode. I look forward to visiting with you again on the next episode of Better PR Now!

011 – Why PR and Marketing might become synonymous – Doreen Clark of SmartBug Media

Episode 011 - Doreen Clark

Doreen Clark, Director of Public Relations at SmartBug Media, shares some of her secrets to generating great press coverage, coaching executives to communicate more effectively, and the intertwining of PR and Marketing.

Media relations:

According to Doreen, public relations is a powerful tool and that we should, “Communicate in a way that is not just beneficial for us, but also for the people we’re reaching out to.” This forms a trifecta of solid media relations that comes together when we understand and communicate:

  • What our audience needs to learn,
  • The information reporters need to know to cover the story, and
  • What we want to deliver for our company or client.

She notes that, for media relations professionals, it’s easy to deliver the facts that journalists need. But journalists also need us to offer an opinion, because that helps them craft stories with perspective and emotion.

Media training:

Doreen has trained a lot of senior executives to be better spokespeople for their organizations. When she provides media training for senior executives, some of the key lessons include:

Coaching leaders on speaking to the common person, by using language they can understand. Executives are used to speaking with other experts in their industry; they frequently use jargon and technical language that the man on the street might not understand. Shifting their focus to be able to communicate with those who are not experts in their industry takes work, but helps them be much better communicators.

Helping executives learn to speak in soundbites during interviews. Long-winded, detailed explanations allow the speaker to be precise, but they run the risk of losing control of the messages that will come through in the final news report. Making the information digestible by giving clear, but concise quotes, helps ensure their most important messages are included in the story.

Everyone is a spokesperson:

In an age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, everyone connected to an organization essentially is a spokesperson. Having a strategic plan, in which everybody knows their role and what they are expected to do, is key to success in public relations. Doreen also recommends that we identify the subject matter experts in our organization, train them to be effective spokespeople, and that will lead to more opportunities to engage the media. It’s important for communication in an organization to be “by all, for all” and not just downward from managers.

Working with freelance writers:

When asked what she is most excited about, Doreen said that working with freelance writers has become a secret weapon. Her force-multiplier tip is to build relationships with freelance writers. It’s common for them to write for many different media outlets, both online and off. These relationships can help us get more coverage, if they are willing to share the work they do for us with their contacts in these outlets.

Merging PR and marketing:

Looking into the future, Doreen expects that “Public relations and marketing will become even more intertwined and might become synonymous.” She sees a blurring of the lines already, with paid advertising taking the form of earned editorial coverage. She sees a future in which PR will have more pay-to-play coverage, as advertising does now. While such changes could present signification challenges for those currently working in both PR and marketing, it could have certain beneficial effects, as it will drive improvements on both sides. For example, she notes that, “PR measurement tools are getting better and will eventually be on par with marketing measurement.” “

Doreen also sees a future in which podcasts and videos that are engaging, but brief, will become more important. After all, journalists need things to write about and to share as examples within their articles.

Lesson learned:

When asked what she knows now that would have been good to know when starting her career, Doreen said, “You don’t have to be everything to everyone; hone your craft; it’s okay to specialize.”

Quotable quotes:

“If you really pay attention, you can become an expert in anything.”

“Relationships are everything.”

“Stay up to date on your craft; you have to always be a learner.”

“PR is necessary, 100%.”

“PR is about elevating reputation and building credibility.”

“When you decide to do PR, make sure you’re starting from a strategic perspective.”


Contact Doreen:

If you are the Founder, CEO, or Marketing Director of a company that is looking to add public relations to enhance your 2018 goals, contact Doreen at dclark@smartbugmedia.com or connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/doreenclark

About Doreen:

Doreen Clark is the Director of Public Relations at SmartBug Media.  She has worked in PR and communications for more than a decade, on both the agency and the corporate side, and across multiple industries.

Doreen has created strategic plans to increase visibility, build credibility, and promote thought leadership through targeted media relations.  She also is  a member of the Forbes communications council, and a contributing writer for Huffington Post.

About SmartBug Media:

SmartBug is a leading intelligent inbound marketing agency that assists businesses in generating leads; increasing awareness; and building brand loyalty through inbound marketing, digital strategy, design, marketing automation and Public Relations.

SmartBug is a certified “Great Place to Work,” an Inc. 5000 company, and is the winner of 36 MarCom awards in 2017 alone.


Some of the resources Doreen uses:

Cision‘s database of media contacts.

CoverageBook saves time in compiling media reporting.

HubSpot to identify which articles have created the most traction based on links within the article.


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003: Prof Dustin Supa on The Dude Deficit in Public Relations

Prof Dustin Supa - Don’t assume people know what you do in Public Relations

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Prof. Dustin Supa’s key points:

  • 80%-90% of Public Relations undergraduate students are women.
  • Most of the male undergraduate PR students had a prior exposure to PR.
  • Teachers are uncomfortable teaching PR, because they don’t know what it is.
  • Public Relations is a field with a PR problem.
  • Public Relations is not diverse enough, either demographically or in diversity of thought.

Transcript:

Mark:               Hey, welcome back to Better PR Now. This is Episode three. I recently caught up with Prof. Dustin Supa of Boston’s University College of Communication. He was presenting the findings from a pilot research project that explored ‘The Dude Deficit’ in undergraduate public relations classrooms; why are so few young men choosing to major in public relations, as opposed to related fields like marketing and journalism? Dustin’s research points to an explanation and suggests some ways to address this issue.

                            I’m here at the International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami Florida, and I’m joined by Dr. Dustin Supa, from Boston University. We’re going to dive into a study that he presented here with his research partner Liza Moskowitz, who was a 2015 undergraduate alumni at Boston University’s Public Relations Program.

                            The title of the study was An Examination of Undergraduate Males’ Reticence to Study Public Relations. Dustin welcome.

Dr. Dustin Supa:       Thank you very much.

Mark:               Okay, let’s jump on this study, because I think there’s a lot of really interesting things to unpack out of it. So, tell me about the study; how did you do it and what did you find?

Dustin:               Well, the study originally came from the concept that you keep reading all these non-empirical studies or anecdotal information, particularly in a lot of trade pubs about how we need more men in public relations. Why do we have so few men? And, you know, this kind of concept of the PR girl, right? Everybody has the picture in their mind when we use that. And that’s really become, at least at the entry level, the kind of dominant paradigm.

If you have a public relations entry level job open, you might have one male apply, but you might have 200 females apply.

Mark:               And your experience in the classroom?

Dustin:               And the experience in the classroom is that, if you have more than one male student in your classroom, depending on the size of class, you’re impressed because you just don’t see that very often.

So that’s why I wanted to kind look at it and say, “Okay, maybe we should take an empirical look at this; is there something there?”

We know that 60% of students going to college are women. But that doesn’t account for why 80% or 90% of students in public relations are female. So there’s the deficit, ‘the dude deficit,’ if you will.

Working with Liza, we did a lot of background research. And first of all, there’s not an issue with too many women in public relations; the issue is not enough men in public relations. So we’ve got to be clear on that, because women traditionally had not been in roles of leadership and I think that’ll change over time, given our numbers right now.

We wanted to see if there were any systemic reasons why we were not seeing men. So we looked at 262 undergraduate males representing 62 institutions, so it was a fairly broad spectrum.

Mark:               So this was not limited to Boston?

Dustin:               No, this was nationwide. There were Boston University students, and there were other Boston-area schools, but it was all across the country.

We wanted to see and we wanted to find male undergraduate public relations majors. Male undergraduate communication majors, not public relations, so maybe in advertising or journalism, or even to some degree marketing, and then undergraduate males who were not in communication, not in public relations, so we kind of had three groups set up.

And what we found was that the males who were undergraduate public relations majors really seemed to have a solid grasp of the field. They seemed to understand what public relations did. The understood the upward mobility, they understood the job openings pretty well. So, the males who are doing public relations seem to get in it and they seem to have a high opinion of the field. The issue was not that they’re being driven out of public relations, because the ones who were in public relations really seemed to like the field.

Mark:               So it’s not that they’re leaving; they’re just never coming in.

Dustin:               They’re just never coming in. We did find that the other communication majors, non-public relations, also seemed to have – not to the same degree, but also seemed to have a pretty strong understanding of the public relations industry, had a fairly high perception, not as high as those in the field. But it doesn’t really surprise us that a journalism major may not think as highly of public relations as a public relations major, so again not super surprising because they had some knowledge.

But really the non-communication, the non-public relations majors, the evaluation of the field was significantly lower of those in the field. They did not perceive public relations as something that they wanted to do. They did not perceive public relations as a field that had financial stability.

They basically looked at public relations through the lens of shows like Scandal or Sex and the City, or saw public relations as mostly as event planners, social media stuff and just media relations, so they see the tactics of public relations and they’re not interested in those tactics.

But one of the things that we found that was really interesting was that most of the students who were in public relations came to it because they had a prior exposure.

Mark:               Did you get any sense for what what that prior exposure might be?

Dustin:               Usually it was a family member or a family friend or somebody that they knew was in public relations. And that’s where most of the people said, “Yeah, that’s interesting.” The other thing was they had found it after they had been another major. I mean the average undergraduate changes majors seven times.

Eventually public relations may or may not have been one of them. One of the questions we had was, “Have you ever been a public relations major?” The non-communications majors, no, but some of the communications majors had been public relations at one point. So some of them were leaving, but I don’t think that’s really one of the issues, because they tend to move around a lot. And some of them had been other majors before they were in public relations.

So they’re finding out about public relations usually in the first communication class. Well, if a student comes in and doesn’t take communication classes or doesn’t take an intro-level communication class, they’re probably not being exposed to public relations. When we started digging into it like, “Why don’t you want to be in public relations?” and more than 70% of them never heard of it.

One of the things that we think potentially could be, not the solution, but a solution is to see what we can do about increasing exposure and getting factual information out there. Not just the cultural perception of public relations, but factual information about public relations, because a lot of our students were in marketing. And marketing aligns perfectly with what I want to do. Well, great, but there are enough elements of public relations that you shouldn’t be saying, I’m in marketing because it aligns perfectly with what I want to do, and then strongly disagreeing about public relations aligns with what I want to do.

There may still be a discrepancy there, but there should be that much of a discrepancy. Obviously, they’re different fields but they’re not so entirely different that they should be at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

One of the things that we looked at is, could we offer some exposure programs either at the high school level, most people were taking journalism in high school. And most people maybe even get some kind of principles of marketing or some business level type of course in high schools, but there are no public relations.

And in fact, one of the comments that I heard during the discussion was that teachers are uncomfortable teaching public relations, because they don’t know what it is. And we have a hard enough time finding our own field just to our friends and family, but how do we then try to educate others on public relations? It’s not just talking to the media. It’s not just planning events. It’s not these things, but we need to be able to say here’s what it is. And that’s one of the solution that we think might help start addressing.

I don’t think we’re ever going to have equality and we may or may not be on the tipping point. I don’t ever think we’re going to have a 50/50 split of males versus females, but 80/20, 90/10 that’s not healthy for the field either.

Mark:               So, if you put on your prescriptive hat and you look at the academy, and you look at the world of professionals who are out practicing, do you have recommendations for things that they can do, either on the academic side or on the professional side, to start to mitigate this? To make the profession more widely known and to make it more attractive to a truly diverse audience of folks who are potential students and future practitioners or professionals?

Dustin:               I think one of the things that all practitioners should do is understand that they are in a field that has a public relations problem. And what are they doing as individuals to help that situation? I think if we can recognise that, “Hey, I’m in public relations and public relations may not have the best perception. What can I do to change that?”

Could I go to my kid’s career day? Could I offer to speak to a class, or is my company involved with something that is a pro bono client or charity organization that deals with children? Is there something that I come in and say, “Hey, here’s what we are helping with, and here’s what we do.”

So it’s not even a matter of doing stuff that’s so outlandish. I don’t think that we should necessarily be trying to weasel our way into high schools to find people. But if there are opportunities where I have some younger people or high school students, I’ll take the 30 seconds to say here’s what I do.

Or if I’m out doing something and someone asks, “What do you do?” “I’m in public relations.” Well maybe you add a sentence. So, instead of saying “I’m in public relations,” maybe at the end of the sentence saying, “I’m in public relations and here’s what I do on a regular basis …” to help explain to people what it is that you do.

So, I’m in public relations and I help manage the relationship between this organization and this group of people. Or I am involved with promoting the work that is done by this non-profit organization, or something like that.

And I think that if we can just add that second sentence and not assume that people know what you do when you say, “I’m in public relations.” I think even that starts the ball rolling in a simple way; those are some simple steps.

Mark:               Brilliant. Is there anything else you would like to add about the study, or the next steps on the research side, or the next steps to address the issue?

Dustin:               Well, I think the important thing is to recognise with this particular study, is it’s totally a pilot. Right? We didn’t look at comparing men and women. We just wanted to start seeing some empirical data. So what we hope to do is to take this pilot study and then use that to get a grant to help us understand what are the bigger issues?

We have 262 responses; that’s great, but what happens when you get 5,000 responses? How do we really start winnowing down? Are there scales or are there things that we need to know that would make the difference? So, we’re at a starting point.

Mark:               What would your next questions be as you start to dive into this deeper?

Dustin:               I think what we want to do is look at the factors that went into them deciding there are other majors? What were those factors? I think if we can start seeing why people chose the major they’re in, then we can start saying, “Okay, what can we now do about that?” But, we are going to need bigger samples. And there are existing scales that do that.

We are just going to come at it from, “Okay, how do we address this lack of diversity?” And diversity is obviously an issue in public relations anyway. But diversity comes in many styles. Because we are primarily a female field, that doesn’t make us diverse; that actually makes us less diverse. We do have a severe lack of African Americans and Hispanics in public relations. If we were 100% African Americans, we would not be diverse then. So we’re looking at this from [the perspective of] “How do we make public relations truly a diverse field?”

Mark:               You have diversity when your profession or your group mirrors the same diversity in the larger society, and we’re not there.

Dustin:               We’re not there, and one of the bigger challenges though, I think, is not only mirroring the diversity in society at large, but also understanding that diversity is not necessarily a category you can see. True diversity means that eventually you have diversity of thought, and that’s really where we need to head towards.

Mark:               Great. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I love this topic.                       

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Thanks for joining us for this conversation about a topic that really is so important to our profession. I think Dustin really is onto something here, and I can’t wait to hear what he finds out in the larger study.

As public relation professionals, whether we’re on the academic side, the practitioner side, or have a foot in both worlds, we all have a stake in this issue. And we can take action to make a difference right now.

I’m going to take Dustin’s advice to help more young people understand what public relations really is about. The more people understand our profession the more it will be seen as a viable career choice for both men and women from every background.

The diversity of perspectives is really important to the future of our profession. Will you join me in this effort?

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Thanks for taking this journey with me as we improve public relations one conversation at a time. I’ll catch you on the next episode!