Fostering meaningful connections with creators is a priority at Pinterest, and what differentiates it from other social media platforms. LeMia Jenkins Thompson, Global Head of Communications at Pinterest, discusses the communications strategy behind the company’s big launch. She also shares how agencies can partner with Pinterest and effectively utilize the platform to engage with their audiences.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: LEMIA JENKINS THOMPSON
DOUG: You’ve just had an interesting launch announcement, really underscoring the effort you are making to put the creators on the site front and center. Can you share a little bit about that?
LEMIA: Yeah. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here today. Yes, we recently launched Creators, which was kind of a pivotal point in our future state as Pinterest. So, we’re thinking really big about our long-term strategy right now. And what we know is that we must innovate and evolve our products and experiences to really attract, and engage, and maintain our creators. And so, cultivating those meaningful engagements, fostering collaboration with our communities, and really thinking about shopping and greater capabilities around shopping. And so, our new creator experience really sets us apart from other platforms in terms of its fostering more meaningful engagement between creators and their communities and also really encouraging people to react to, build on, and make and shop inspired ideas. So, we’re really excited about it.
DOUG: You’re also providing a lot of support to the creators, I guess with Haven and trying to make sure that you’re supporting those that might be less represented on the site.
LEMIA: Yes, so, probably about a month ago, I’d say now, we launched Havens, which was invest in rest, and it was our first and one of its kind opportunities where we brought Pinterest to life in a real community. So, Boxville in Chicago was an area where it’s an underrepresented community, and we really want to invest there and really think about how do we help organizations around the world think about mental health and emotional well-being, because it is a big value of our company. And so, we did our first of its kind and execution in Boxville, where we had a mural that was Pinterest inspired with things like rest and relax. And then we also encourage people to use the platform to post their own ideas and to think about rest and investing. And so, we encouraged folks to make a board, pin ideas around inspiration and rest and relaxation, but also, we invited the community of Boxville to come and join. So, we had Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper, who came there to read a book to kids there. We had yoga classes sponsored by Lululemon and we just had a bunch of executions around that day of just investing in rest and really thinking about your mental health and wellbeing. And so, we also gave out about $80,000 out to different organizations that were really there on the ground. And I think that was really super helpful. And we also committed over a million dollars to giving to organizations that are investing in emotional health and well-being. So, we’re super excited and we want folks to know this is a really serious priority for the company.
DOUG: Yeah, and emotional health has become such an important topic that’s out there. You’ve referenced something in your first answer about how this is part of your long-term strategy. A lot of communicators, PR people have to balance their short-term strategy, and long-term strategy can almost feel like a luxury. How do you advise people so they can do both? And of course, some of that is informed by your long-time work for Walmart previous to you joining the Pinterest team.
LEMIA: Yeah, I think one of the most important things I’ve learned over the pandemic is how important it is to deprioritize things, and I know that may sound crazy, but with all of our teams running super fast, everyone’s got so much on their plate. It’s really hard to just keep 20 balls moving in the air, and also it’s hard to be able to give 100% to 20 ideas and efforts. And so, one of the bigger things that we’ve tried to do, my chief of staff and I have one try to deliver a lot more clarity to our teams in terms of like what’s on my mind, what’s on the mind of our CEO and our executive leadership team and thinking about how those things affect our work and pass on that prioritization. So, every Monday, I meet with my chief of staff, and we actually deprioritize a lot. And it may not seem like that to my team, but we do deprioritize in order to put things on our plate that are burning or something that’s a crisis or an emergency. And thinking about that, I guess in the short term, and then long-term thinking, who do we want to be as a company? You know, our CEO has laid out a really robust vision for us to think about in terms of our strategy. And I think a lot of my long-term thinking is, how do we execute on that strategy? What new things are we thinking about? I’ll take the creator’s launch as a good example of how we thought about our communication strategy, but our comms strategy was centered around a really big white out moment, right? So, on October 20th, we wanted to generate multiple stories on how Pinterest is uniquely approaching that creator market. And so, we did a pre-announcement of our creator festival, I’d say late in September, to really drive buzz around that actually like “save the date” moment and then add that calendar invites to press, creators, and other influencers. And then we used our media moments in our social media to kind of tease out those social media moments along with our partners in marketing. And we managed a lot of press leaks with our reactive press statement, so that we kept the news internal as long as we could. And then we really leaned on embargoed press briefings, and I think that’s where it really matters, how much you’re speaking with media, how much you’re massaging those relationships and really making sure folks understand what you’re really doing and why. And then on October 20th, we launched the festival, and we hope to have kind of a drumbeat after that and thinking long term to our creator strategy of the next six months to really drive engagement and interest. And so, we couldn’t be more excited, but I think it was really a coordinated approach of thinking, what do we need to get out short term and then longer term in terms of that steady drumbeat of announcements and engagement.
DOUG: Yeah, and that also indicates the close relationships you have with the media because, note to people watching, not a good idea to send a blast email to people telling them something’s embargoed and important news. You’ve got to really have that relationship to deal with it to have the trust. So, there’s the mutual trust. They’re not going to blow your embargo and ruin it, and have the plans undermined for a “Today Show” hit by, Good Morning… pick the name of the city. I won’t pick one, I don’t want them to be mad at me. But you really have to be strategic about it. Now, Pinterest has really been such a powerful force for brands in the PR and communications space and for agencies as well. Do you have many or any short-term tips and guidance? And we can take that first and then get into sort of longer-term guidance and how communicators can be using Pinterest even more effectively. Let’s start with short term.
LEMIA: Yeah, short term, I’ve really challenged my team to build relationships. So, if you have a contact at, I don’t know, Coke, you know, who are you talking to there, right? And thinking about maybe connecting with the comms person there, or the marketing person, or the partnerships person because we’re all working together, right? We want to make sure that brands that comes to our company and our platform are successful, and we also want to make sure that we’re driving what we need to drive for our pinners and giving our creators the tools to be successful and also making sure that they have the right eyeballs on their products. And so, I think short term, it’s really been an aggressive approach in terms of making sure that we’re making the connections that we need to make and thinking about what’s our message, what’s the story that we want to tell? And I think as we mentioned longer term, really thinking about our pinners and creators, and I’ll give you a few examples of kind of over the pandemic everyone was on lockdown, right? Everyone was shut in.
DOUG: Except for those frontline and essential workers obviously.
LEMIA: Exactly, which was the thing that I experienced most at Walmart, where we had frontline workers who were out and about every single day. And so, we had this kind of almost dichotomy of employees, if you will. So, you had our corporate staff and then our frontline workers who were their day to day. And so, how do we balance the two? And so, making both our frontline workers and our corporate workers both feel appreciated and making sure that they have the support they needed. I remember every day we were getting a new guidance from a county or a state, and at Walmart safety is our top priority, and so are our customers and associates. And so, how do we make people feel safe? And so, instead of reacting to the constant, I guess, you know, guidance from different counties around the world, we just said like everyone’s got to wear a mask, right? We’re going to have the metered approach to the store. And so, really thinking about the safety of our employees, making sure that we had hand sanitizer and then, really making them feel appreciated. I mean, everyone at that moment was kind of in a state of, you know, we don’t know what’s next. I guess we kind of are in that state still today. But at that time, it was very critical that we made sure that we gave the right guidance and appreciation, because they were going out there doing the impossible every single day. And so, that was big in terms of importance. If we pivot a little bit more to Pinterest and our pinners, you know, similar experiences in terms of like the frontline workers that work at Walmart are pinning on the boards of Pinterest and some of those corporate employees, same thing. So, how do we kind of meet in the middle and give folks kind of what they need during this kind of time of pandemic and shutdown in some cases?
DOUG: So, LeMia, do you have any examples you can share of how brands are partnering with Pinterest?
LEMIA: Yes, great question Doug. We’ll take our partnership during the pandemic with Volkswagen, where we partnered for our first ever 365 virtual test drive, and so, consumers can come to test drive or shop for a new car, making it a lot more easy and convenient and also safer for folks that were shopping for cars during the pandemic, when a lot of companies had to shut down, or people had really busy schedules, or rushing out to work. And so, we wanted to make it a first of its kind event and also provide that flexibility for our consumers and brands.
DOUG: Great, and other examples to share?
LEMIA: Yeah so, I would say the Toyota partnership where we celebrate the Toyota Sienna, it was similar to our Volkswagen event. We worked with L’Oréal for a first of its kind beauty brand collaboration where we thought about ideas and ads. And so, we had 20 creators on the platform with branded content across Urban Decay, YSL, Maybelline, Redken, L’Oréal Paris, and Lancôme, so that folks would come on to the platform, they could try on makeup to make themselves feel better, or if they were looking for something special for all these Zoom calls they were all on or also just making it safer. I mean, a lot of folks, were not going into stores, and we wanted to protect folks in terms of trying on makeup, which cannot always be super sanitary, especially as we’re in a pandemic, and at that point where we’re really on the early side of the pandemic and didn’t know what shopping would look like going forward. And so, we were really excited to be able to utilize our platform to give people stuff that they needed at a time when they needed it most.
DOUG: Let’s say, though, put yourself in the shoes of someone who owns XYZ mid-size communications agency. What could they be doing? What’s the advice you’d be giving to them or you’d be sharing about how their employees have their clients can be utilizing Pinterest most effectively for communications value, given your unique experience and role?
LEMIA: That’s a great question. I think the biggest thing is we have almost half a billion users. And so, if you think about in terms of getting a message out, you have that captive audience that’s on our platform monthly. And so, I think there’s a strong alignment between, I guess, what people use Pinterest for and what marketers want to achieve. And so, I think for brands, the fulfillment of inspiration is the star of our show on Pinterest. And so, if you think about people who use Pinterest to build their future life, what do people want to do on Pinterest? And I think that lifecycle expands through our entire marketing approach. And I think up and down funnels. So, discovering things that they didn’t know about, planning an upcoming meal or trip. So, think about those things that you want to communicate to your audience, and how do you want to communicate them? And so, using our platform and we can obviously work together as teams to really think through what’s the right approach, what’s the right moment? Really bringing awareness to a product, right? Consumers use different products around Halloween. And so, nearly 75 days before every holiday, we kind of see an uptick in people searching for Halloween costumes or for Thanksgiving, and Facebook, Instagram also see a huge spike in activity starting, I think, the day before Halloween into several days ahead. And so, we really think about awareness in terms of our users. I think the other thing is action. Is there something that’s actionable that you want your audience to do or how do you communicate that? And we can work on ways that so often folks are online; they see the action, right? And we want people to go from inspiration to action. So, seeing a recipe to executing it and doing it for your family, delivering it for your family. And I think because about three fourths of the content on Pinterest come from businesses, our promoted pins are really interwoven into organic services that don’t interrupt the user experience, but also are very additive to that experience. And so, I think if you think about that awareness piece, the action piece, and the content piece, there’s a lot of value there that you can get as an agency or as a communicator.
DOUG: LeMia, thanks so much, it’s easy to see why you’ve been so successful in your career, and thanks for sharing your great thoughts and insights. Definitely, especially even that last point, just if agencies and brands take a look at that and pay attention, there’ll be a lot more effective using and partnering with Pinterest. Thanks so much.
LEMIA: Of course. Thank you for having me. It was lovely to chat with you.