Sabrina Macias, VP, Communications, DraftKings, addresses how communicators can reach their audiences in authentic and nuanced ways. She goes in depth on how brands can control the narrative of their portrayal in their respective markets and business environments. She emphasizes the importance of preparation for one’s public relations moves based on other contingent factors such as consumer sentiment, cultural factors, and other stakeholders of the firm.
>> More episodes here
About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: SABRINA MACIAS
DOUG: Sabrina, thanks so much for being with us. And with so much focus on DE&I, you actually started your career more in multicultural marketing and then transitioned to more general work. How has that informed what you do? Has there been a benefit of that process?
SABRINA: Yes, absolutely. I don’t think I transitioned intentionally. I think it was just part of the progress of my career. But when I did first start in PR almost 20 years ago now, my work was very much in the multicultural space. So, I was very much focused on communicating to Hispanic, African American, LGBTQ, Asian communities on behalf of the clients that I serviced. And so, I spent a lot of time listening, becoming very attuned to sensitivities, vernacular, just all the things that are really matter to multicultural audiences and started to finesse our clients’ campaigns to be able to direct and engage with those audiences. And then as I grew in my career and transitioned out of the agency side, and I was very lucky to be able to still utilize that when I was at NASCAR, moved in-house into sports, and they very much wanted to diversify their audience as well. And at that moment, I was kind of straddling both general market and working on their main marketing campaigns and communications, but also helping to diversify their audience and the media that cover them, et cetera. And then I slowly ended up a DraftKings, where I mostly focus in the general market audience base, but still have very much the understanding and sensitivity to diversity. And I use that lens, I think, every single day. And I think it’s an invaluable experience and understanding of culture and communities and of consumers. And it allows me to do my job, I think, much better for having had kind of that foundation.
DOUG: And it seems like a lot of the lessons that you learned from that really do apply to a general audience.
SABRINA: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think as a communicator, and our role in communications, definitely includes foreshadowing, having the foresight of like “if we say this, what’s going to be the reaction?” And more and more, all of that matters, especially with the rise of social media and the fact that consumers can speak back to you. And so, I think the sensitivity being attuned to the nuances of different cultures and communities and age groups, all of that matters and I think only makes the communication stronger.
DOUG: Turning more to the business side of what you do, DraftKings, we know that when COVID hit, different businesses were hurt in different ways. Obviously, sports shut down. How did you guys handle that and navigate through it?
SABRINA: I think one thing about DraftKings is that they’re very innovative and fast thinking. We’re a pretty big organization at this point, but operate very much entrepreneurially and as a small little startup. I think we all kind of still think we’re 150 employees big. And so, we were able to very much pivot to other entertainment factors that were happening in the world and culture and all those things and try to reengage our consumers with that in mind. And so, we created a lot of free to play products which allowed consumers to engage with content that was really popular at that time. So, The Last Dance documentary with Michael Jordan, which was a pivotal moment for all of us that work in sports and just so inspirational to watch, counter to everything that was happening around us. And we did everything from talking about hot-dog eating contests, political campaigns, just to keep our customers and just consumers in general, engaged and giving them something to do from an entertainment perspective while all of the chaos was happening around us and it worked really well. We had a lot of engagement. They loved the various products that we were able to offer. And I think it’s a testament to the creativity of the company and the ability to or the willingness to take risks and try things and learn and optimize and then do it again.
DOUG: You’re a big believer in controlling the narrative. And some people are like, “you can’t control the narrative.” They’re throwing their hands up. But you actually believe you can, obviously support shutting down was the case. What are some lessons for people who might want to try and get more control over the narrative they’re experiencing? We can debate whether you can have 100% or 0% control, but if you want to have more control, what are some of the things that have served you well?
SABRINA: Absolutely. I totally believe that the narrative can be controlled, and especially nowadays when you have the opportunity to use channels to your advantage. Owned channels and social media is a great example of that. There’s so many ways, I mean, Medium, Twitter, Instagram, you name it, there’s a ton of opportunity to be able to really hone your message and deliver the message that you want. I think when I first started in my career about 20 years ago, we really had to rely on media to deliver our message. And the data is a little more difficult because I always say you have as much control up until the reporter decides to publish the story and then they can really publish whatever they want. But I do feel that the idea of being proactive and consistent with your messaging, with your story, with your narrative, and building on your narrative consistently, is probably the number one way to really control the message. I think from our experience, especially on the crisis side, a lot of people tend to get nervous and back off of a situation if they’re being criticized or if there’s something negative happening. And I think that that allows the world or the communication measures, whatever they might be, to run away with your narrative on their own, and you’re not actively participating, and I think the way that you control that is to be actively in actively managing your messaging and actively kind of engaging in the conversation to ensure that your message comes across. And maybe that’s a healthy debate. Maybe that’s a reinforcement of your key messages. Maybe that is a refocus on something else. But in general, I believe very strongly that the more that you can prepare in advance, definitely, I think the worst ways for your narrative to get away from you is when you’re not prepared. So, prepare as much as possible, rapid response plans, lots of thinking, scenario planning and thinking through. If this happens, what would we do if this happens, what would we do? And with my team, we always joke that there’s so many plans and statements and things like that that have been left in the vault because we plan for it, and we didn’t have to use it. And those are actually good days. Yeah, we’re happy that we didn’t have to use those things. But we also feel comfortable because we do have a plan for every one of those aspects. And I think also as a communicator and as the head of communications at my company, you also want your executives to feel confidence in the products that you have, in the preparedness, and the preparation that you’ve done. And so, I think that’s also part of your role from a communications perspective in managing out to your executive team, or your employees, or whatever it is that that you’re working on.
DOUG: I think that the message discipline is a key part of getting the leadership at the organization to buy into what you’re trying to accomplish.
SABRINA: Yes, I think that the messaging discipline is very important, both internally and externally. I think if you have an organization where there’s multiple stakeholders and multiple spokespeople throughout the organization, it’s really important that everyone’s on the same page. So, the more consistent messaging people hear more often from the variety of people that you have, the better. I think I read somewhere that it takes three times, someone to hear something three times before it really registers. And so, being able to find those opportunities to deliver that message over and over. And I think, like I mentioned, the social media is a great way to reinforce the message. So, you do an interview on TV, you recount the interview on TV through LinkedIn post, and then you tweet out the link in post. And there you have your three touch points to reinforce those messages. And that’s just one spokesperson. If you have multiple spokespeople or multiple people out there, just generally talking and speaking on behalf of the company, I think that just gives you an even bigger opportunity to reinforce that again.
DOUG: That was great. Well, thanks so much for engaging with us. We appreciate it.
SABRINA: Thank you.