Laura Tomasetti, CEO, 360PR+, shares insights into the shift in storytelling in 2021. She emphasizes the rise in deeper stories and increased usage of brand CEOs to get the message out. Laura also discusses the importance of creating a pathway to attract members of Gen Z to the PR industry.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: LAURA TOMASETTI
DOUG: Laura, you’re celebrating your 20th anniversary as a company, quite an achievement. Could you maybe give the viewers a couple sentences of context for where your career is at?
LAURA: Thank you, Doug, and great to see you and hear you again. Yeah, we are turning 20 this year, I like to think about it as 20 years young. I spent most of my career in agencies. I think we met when I was working down in DC for some Omnicom agencies. A lot of work on the consumer brand marketing side and then also corporate communications. I went in-house for a little bit in the middle of my career. I went in-house and worked for Fortune 500. I worked for Hasbro. That was a lot of fun working on a lot of their legacy brands and taking them to digital formats. So, that was a lot of fun. And then I also worked for an international non-profit. And today I’m sitting in our Boston office. We have offices in New York and Boston. And I haven’t been traveling down to New York too much, missing that, but hoping to get back there soon.
DOUG: Great, and one of the things that’s obviously been key to your success is you’re always thinking ahead. What do you see marketers doing differently as we head towards the end of 2021 and into 2022?
LAURA: Sure, that’s a great question, a lot packed in there. And in fact, we just did some research with marketers and communications leaders. I think before getting to that specific research, it reinforced a lot of what we’re seeing with our clients just in preparation for our talk today was just taking a step back. And I think what is different is, the storytelling is just deeper in 2021 than it has been in the past. Brands are really diving deep. Our research found that brands are really focused on the convergence of brand marketing and corporate reputation. That had already started, I think, some years ago but it really accelerated over the last 18 months or so. Brands being asked to take stands on social issues and connecting with their audiences, consumers, B2B audiences, customers, in new ways, in deeper ways.
DOUG: Yeah, and it’s interesting there, because one of the questions is always, where does the public relations part of the equation fit in. And it seems like there’s a pendulum swing where sometimes the silos are being really blurred. And then sometimes they’re being separated out again. Where are we in that? Do PR people have to be strong marketers as well and storytellers? Is each discipline becoming more alike?
LAURA: Yeah, well, I think we’ve certainly moved away from 30 second spots and just straight up advertising. People know what advertising looks like and they click out of it. There’s a lot of ways to click out of that. So, I think where PR fits and PR’s center stage, it’s really about the content that we’re creating, the stories we’re telling. But the content is part of that, the value-added content. And a lot of that is longer form, deeper. Some of our research found that brands are really using their CEOs more. And we’re seeing CEOs really step forward and enjoy that role as not just advocating around expected events like earnings, but really being central to brand storytelling, so that deeper storytelling is coming from the top with the help of PR people. I think we’re getting to do some really, really interesting, important work in 2021.
DOUG: Yeah. And it’s interesting you say that, because anecdotally we’re seeing significant increase in CEO participation in things like satellite media tours, getting on television in local markets, which was much harder to get. And interestingly, that’s what the media wants. Since Covid, I think journalists have really taken on a new role and realized they have a deeper responsibility. And they want to hear the story from the people who know the most frequently, that’s CEOs of organizations, as opposed to third party spokespeople. So, how do you sort of balance that?
LAURA: I think that’s really interesting. And I was speaking with one of our media trainers the other day, and she said, I don’t know what’s going on, it’s like every executive in America, every CEO in America woke up like last week and said, I need media training. So, I’m doing a lot of that. We’re deploying CEOs, certainly working with organizations like D S Simon. And I think, there’s this new appreciation for what we do on the front lines of communication and a well told story with a senior executive. And that’s going to come from your PR team or your corporate comms team and brand team, I guess. But it doesn’t have to be, like you said, that third party spokesperson, that celebrity. There’s a place for that, for sure. The most important brand spokespersons today are those senior executives, if they’re really willing to be out there and not shy away from the tough topics, too, and allow us to look at the news cycle today and say, ok, there’s a supply chain story breaking. I think we have something interesting to say here. And so, you know, the best, the most adept executives, spokespersons are out there when they’ve got their big launch, and there’s a new initiative or new product. But they’re also not ducking for cover. They want to stay out there and comment on what’s happening in the news cycle. And that’s one of the best ways to stay relevant.
DOUG: Yeah, and I want to get back to some of the data that you found and also your take on reaching Gen Z audiences, but also to your point the big change sort of happened during the presidential campaign. We saw leading up to it where national outlets, cable news outlets, were literally closed off to businesses wanting to get the stories out. And they really had to go local if they were going to try and reach people. And also, there was a new interest in hearing what brands were doing, how they were coping and how they were helping their customers and consumers. So, are there any other sort of nuggets within the findings that you had that you’d like to share that maybe might be a little surprising or rather just reinforce things that you’ve been thinking?
LAURA: Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of times in brand marketing, we talk about brands solving a pain point for their customers, B2B or B2C. And I think given what you just said, Doug, I think the opportunity is bigger than honing-in on a singular pain point. Marketers need to be focused. Communicators need to be focused. But no doubt brands have an opportunity to play against a much larger backdrop today. And I was just thinking, because it’s back-to-school time, and we work with a lot of friends that are thinking about school lunch, how parents are filling the lunch box, or what’s for dinner. But it was also just thinking about like parents today, sending kids back to school, they’re not just, as they’re packing that lunch, they’re not just thinking about what is my kid going to eat today. They’re thinking about what kind of experience is my kids going to have today, socially, what is the learning going to be like, are there going to be mental health challenges that I’m going to need help mitigating? So, some of that is serious, but you could even have, lighter fare. There are places that brands can play beyond the, my brand is the ingredient for this lunch box. Well, how am I also bringing more joy helping parents get more quality time with their kids?
DOUG: So, it’s probably important that we start attracting members of Gen Z into the PR industry itself. Do you have any ideas to help make that happen, and what would the impact be?
LAURA: I think that’s a great question, Doug, too. This is a generation where the older Gen Z, are in college, are going to be getting out of college soon. Some already are. So, we’d be crazy not to create a pathway to the PR industry with this new generation of talent. We held a really interesting program I thought over the summer that others could potentially model in addition to hiring the usual handful of interns that we bring in and certainly other agencies bring in. We decided to go younger with two cohorts. So, we brought in a cohort of high school students, younger Gen Z’ers, a cohort of college students, older Gen Z’ers, and we engaged them for a research project. And some of that is what I just spoke to. And so, I think that’s a really great way to bring them in. And we weren’t looking for students that necessarily already knew they wanted a career in communication. The goal was to really expose them to our industry, show them what we’re doing, and give them a valuable experience that they can learn from. Get a sense of, wow, this is a really cool industry that I could contribute to in a meaningful way. I have some interesting insights to bring and some interesting skills to bring. And then our people really learn from them, too. So, they learn from us, we learn from them. A different way to think about bringing in students for a program. So, we did that and that was great. They opened our eyes to, of course, we know Gen Z uses social media, but what aspects? Why do they use it? And I had mentioned earlier that this is the loneliest generation, there are statistics around that. And so, I think understanding that for them, social media really plays a different, elevated role in their lives. And I think we need to respect that. And then our work with them from that perspective.
DOUG: Yeah, that’s interesting. This is completely off topic but since you’re so smart, I’d love to get your take on this based on what you’re saying. The fact that the pandemic forced people to sort of not connect person-to-person for that younger generation, as well as them spending all sorts of time on their phone and engaging that way. Do you think it’ll go back for them or be hard for them to have those person-to-person connections once it becomes safe? And are there implications for communicators about that?
LAURA: I mean, it’s interesting. I think that this generation is really, really different from past generations. They are multitasking, they are super capable. And so, I think they’re moving very seamlessly from making those connections online to being back in-person and really celebrating those opportunities and shopping a lot online, researching online. But at the same time going to retail stores like Zara and standing in long lines to get in. They’re not one thing, and they can do multiple things well. So pretty thoughtful generation. I think that they’ve moved back into some sort of in-person experiences just fine.
DOUG: Yeah, well, no one is going to confuse me with a Gen Z’er, but I’m definitely really thankful and appreciate the opportunity to have you share your thoughts and great insights on our program. Thanks so much.
LAURA: You bet. Thanks for the opportunity, Doug. Great to chat.