Marketing

  • April 4th Preview: Cannabis Entrepreneur Rob Toof On Leading MA’s Newest Beverage Category

    As co-founder of Altatude Beverage Company, Rob Toof has now traveled the entrepreneurial continuum full-circle with his first investor-supported venture. Rooted in product development and sales, he has worked on the front lines of word of mouth / influencer campaigns (BzzAgent), funding performance (NextGen Venture Partners), building and selling his online education platform to a fortune 500 company (Pearson) and marquee special event planning (The Boston Cup). Just back from an international sales trip, Loring Barnes caught up with him after his latest Logan touchdown to talk about the role of deliberate communications to support the launch of a new cannabis brand and what being a trailblazer requires of a business owner.

    Q. So I’m going to jump right into the deep end: the Wall Street Journal has declared cannabis beverages as “tasting terrible,” with such yummy flavor descriptions as “hints of dirty socks,” a “gross aftertaste” like “dish soap and urine.” Ouch! How do you overcome such caustic critiques to distinguish your brand as being something familiar or appealing and get people to actually track it down and try it? 

    Before I started the business I went from LA to Vancouver with my attorney (him driving), trying and ranking every cannabis beverage we could get our hands; judging them based on taste, dosage, price and packaging. Out of 60 different beverages we tried, for taste five were good, the remaining were undrinkable swill. Why? Beverages are hard to produce and they are at a higher risk of contamination because they’re always wet. It’s highly possible many of the samples we tried were filled with microbials due to lack of preservatives or food science.

    Alta is a line of beverages formulated to mask and accentuate specific cannabis flavors and aromas while also enhancing the effects. With sophisticated flavors that are unique yet familiar, Alta moves beyond beverages to deliver a “reefined” experience for the discriminating cannabis consumer.  Each product is made in small batches and tested by a third party to ensure food safety standards are being met/exceeded.

    Our team bench is deep in beverage experience including: a food scientist, a sommelier, a café owner, a soda company owner, a vermouth maker and a cold brew expert. We feel confident on the flavor front.

     Q. Communicators with IPO-readiness experience understand that an investor-backed start-up needs a strategy that supports a payback end-game, and possibly an acquisition as an exit strategy. You’ve been down this road as an investor. Now you’re the owner accountable to investors. How does this perspective shape how you value and use public relations as a value driver to build revenue?

    I’ve run my own company with a successful exit to a publicly traded Fortune 500 company. Prior to that I ran word-of-mouth campaigns for brands like SC Johnson, Kraft and IBM on launching new products, which worked closely with PR to get the word out. Word of mouth is the most important aspect of our brand strategy. Shortly behind that is traditional PR. Any credible third party, especially for a cannabis product, means the brand name is trustworthy.  There are a lot of bad products out there and in the end, it will come down to brand reputation.

    Q. Is there any aspect of investment performance that risks impatience for your company to mature and achieve its intended potential? How does financial discipline shape your marketing and PR priorities?

    A: Canning equipment is the biggest. So, if you think of us both as a brand and as a platform, we have two main goals. Our first goal is to expand our own brand. Our second goal is to help other brands produce their beverages on our platform when we have latency. We believe this strategy allows for frequent content creation, PR opportunities, and unique brand experiences that we can budget and plan for before a project even begins.

    Altatude is in a unique real-time challenge: defining a new product category and carving out a distinct brand personality within it. That’s a tall order, at a time when you are spending to hit the retail and restaurant marketplace on all cylinders. How much of your messaging is directed to educating the general population versus customers and buyers?

    A: We are a sales organization first and foremost, which means I’m measuring number of store fronts and units moved weekly, not brand awareness mostly right now. That being said, we know patients and budtenders are influencers to their networks, so we are beginning to work more closely with these audiences to help them understand the value of drinkables, nanotechnology, micro-dosing and sipping Alta.

    Q. The role of social media in the media mix has some restrictions for cannabis where marijuana is not yet universally legal. When you look at earned, owned and paid media, which of them is proving most productive for Altatude? How do you look to measure the impact of your overall media strategy, and as the owner, are you willing to pay for measurement as a feature of your overall communications program?

    We use Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, which we update regularly. We are in an interesting spot as we are about to launch our own CBD line, which is hemp derived, which opens up a bunch of legal questions regarding what we can and can’t do from a promotion stand point. At this point, I’m not willing to pay for measurement beyond SEO and CPA for online reservation, delivery and orders/subscriptions.

    Q. PRSA Boston embraces mentoring and is a career gateway to new graduates and early-stage public relations, social media and sales-focused communicators. Does Altatude offer paid internships and if so, how should someone make themselves known to you? Does it go without saying that interns or employees have to be cannabis consumers, in whatever form that is?

    A: We would love to hear from PRSA affiliated interns. Pay is based on a case-by-case basis. If you have interest in working at Altatude please email info@altatude.com. Consumption is not a requirement. 80% of our team consume less than once a month.

    Q. What is the biggest misconception about the cannabis economy that you would like legislators and/or journalists to better understand?

    A: Dosing is very individual and there needs to be more understanding/less restriction within dosing for the recreational market. For example, recreational beverage have limitations in Massachusetts of 5mg per serving/can/beverage. In that same recreational transaction, a consumer can buy a syringe with 850mg of THC, which they are more likely to over medicate with. So long as there are concentrates for sale, drinkables shouldn’t have dosing restrictions as low as they currently do.

    Q. You’ve been traveling, but you likely haven’t found Altatude at an airport bar in between flights. When you’ve got time to kill, what is your beverage of choice?

    A: I don’t drink much alcohol anymore now that I’m drinking cannabis. No hangover and lower calories. Staples though are water and coffee.

    Meet Rob Toof on Thursday, April 4th and hear about beverages as the newest cannabis industry’s  product category (plus sample some Alta Fueganon-infused). He joins an A-lister panel of marijuana business experts and policy influencers. The lively discussion will be lead by Jess Bartlett (@BOSBIZJess), veteran cannabis and craft beer beat journalist for the Boston Business Journal. Click on this LINK to get your ticket.  Special rates for students, young professionals and members. 

    **With special thanks to our generous hosts, Zazil Media Group (@zazilmediagroup). A donation from the program will be made to the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • April 4th Preview: Meet Cannabis Control Commission’s Exec. Dir., Guiding MA’s Hottest Economy

    In 2008, the vote by Massachusetts to decriminalize marijuana set the BayState on its journey to legalizing cannabis by a ballot initiative eight years later. This set into motion the need for a centralized authority whose purpose was to operationalize the law for the opening of medical and recreational retail dispensaries across the state. Enter the Cannabis Control Commission, (CCC) which has handled the dizzying charter of providing host municipalities with guidelines intended to balance community impacts with new revenue opportunity. As its Executive Director since the agency’s found, Shawn Collins brings the most current perspective on this growing industry. He recently shared his insights about how public affairs have been an economic driver with Loring Barnes for a PRSA Boston’s Fast Five… and a few more questions.

    On April 4th, some members of the Cannabis Control Commission’s communications team will be in attendance. Our team includes:

    We draw agency talent from the State PRF60 Contract for advertising, graphic design and public awareness, including this campaign:  “More About Marijuana

    Q: We share the experience of holding elected office in respective hometowns. Interestingly, you were chair of your school committee. As a general statement, schools are a municipal department that will claim new budget needs to fund educational impact or mitigation programs stemming from the arrival of local cannabis cultivation or dispensaries. How has your insight from your elected office tenure factored in decisions as related to deploying state-level marijuana health and safety programs targeting youth, families, staff nurses and educators? What is the delineation of educational resources to be provided through the CCC versus the Department of Public Health?

    A: Public education and awareness, especially during the infancy of this industry, is critical.  Our campaign, “More About Marijuana,” specifically identifies the importance of parents talking with their children about the potential impact of youth access.  It also reminds parents that if they intend to purchase and consume adult-use cannabis, they also have an obligation to keep those products safe and secure within their home.  We have made these public awareness materials, including rack cards, available through the state’s clearinghouse and shared them with superintendents across Massachusetts. Education and awareness are the best tools we have, and we’ll partner with anyone that can help us get those messages out.  That includes other state agencies, as well as local and community partners.

    Q: You’re an attorney. How do you reconcile protection of First Amendment rights with the recent actions taken by Instagram and Facebook to delete social media accounts of early-stage marijuana businesses, to include those newly opened in Massachusetts? For a small business, social media is a key engagement tool used for marketing and education.  Is the CCC taking an advocacy position or providing guidance to these businesses as how to navigate social media?

    A: I’m an attorney, yes, but I’m not in the best position to offer legal advice in this particular area.  The Commission, consistent with our objective to be as available and transparent as possible, does seek to leverage social media as often as possible to get our own message out.  We know that a lot of our key constituency can be found on these platforms. We also know, too, that kids are present and active on these platforms. So, we do expect any of our licensees to be mindful of that when using these tools.  

    Q: A cornerstone of the cannabis industry is social equity, which is a program described as a deliverable by the CCC. How does the CCC advance access to small business investor capital, grants or other benefits for minority or underrepresented business populations if federal lending laws make it so difficult?

    A: This is really the challenge that is facing this industry and these entrepreneurs across the board.  Access to capital limits everyone’s access to this market, but especially hinders those small business owners that aren’t independently wealthy.  Given the federal constraints, the solution may have to be multi-faceted. This could include state-run and supported programs, including grants and loans, as well as private investments targeted specifically to small business, particularly those economic empowerment applicants and social equity program participants.  There is no one, single solution to this.

    Q: Does the CCC hire paid interns for experiences supporting communications, public affairs or outreach functions? Will the CCC be expanding to meet the needs of the growing cannabis industry?

    A: As a start-up agency, our Commission is always looking to add additional resources and support.  We have tried to develop a strategic approach to public awareness and community outreach, and both are two areas of potential growth within the Commission.  We do not currently have any opportunities for internships, but think they are something we will absolutely consider in the future.

    Q: What is the biggest misconception or information gap that the CCC is working to address?

    A: While the Commission has broad regulatory authority, we do not oversee all things cannabis-related.  We rely on other state agencies and scores of local partners to regulate this new industry. Relatedly, residents have a lot of rights with this new law, including the ability to grow plants in their home.  This isn’t something the Commission has the authority to police, but we’d gladly work with residents to understand their rights and limitations, as well as local authorities in a similar manner. Lastly, I think it is important for folks to remember that we’re still a young and growing agency.

    Q: In the morning when you’re enjoying your morning coffee, what are you reading to start your day? Then during your commute, do you listen to podcasts or news stations as might intersect with your need to keep on top of cannabis-related topics?

    A: I rely on local media in the Boston area and other regional outlets in the state to get my news every morning, including the Boston Business Journal and Boston Globe.  I also make a point to scroll through Flipboard, which helps me cast a much wider net for all news – including cannabis.  As for my commute, I’ll admit I’m much more likely to listen to “The Daily” from the New York Times, or “Up First” from NPR, as opposed to cannabis-related podcasts.  Sometimes I need the break.

    Meet Shawn Collins on Thursday, April 4th and hear from the agency tasked with shaping a safe and equitably accessible cannabis industry in Massachusetts.  He joins an A-lister panel of marijuana business experts and policy influencers. The lively discussion will be lead by Jess Bartlett (@BOSBIZJess), veteran cannabis and craft beer beat journalist for the Boston Business Journal. Click on this LINK to get your ticket.  Special rates for students, young professionals and members. 

    **With special thanks to our generous hosts, Zazil Media Group (@zazilmediagroup). A donation from the event will be made to the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.

     

     

  • Fast Five with Deirdre Breakenridge, 2018 Social Media Summit Keynote Speaker

    Deirdre K. Breakenridge is Chief Executive Officer at Pure Performance Communications. A veteran in PR, marketing and branding, Breakenridge is the author of six books, including “Answers for Modern Communicators”, “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional”, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations” and “PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences.

    Deidre teaches online PR and social media courses for the UMASS at Amherst  and for Rutgers University’s PR Certificate course. She is also the host of a podcast program, Women Worldwide, interviewing women around the globe who are encouraged to share their incredible stories, educating, imparting advice and offering insights to show listeners. Women Worldwide has recently joined the C- Suite Radio Network, where Deirdre is recognized as a C-Suite Advisor.

    Deirdre will be the opening keynote speaker at the 2018 Social Media Summit on May 11 at Bentley University.  Join Deirdre and a host of other speakers for an amazing day as we explore how social media is being integrated in communications strategies at some of the region’s most visible brands.  Learn more and get your tickets here

    What prompted you to start PR Expanded?

    I launched PR Expanded (formerly PR 2.0) when I was researching and writing my book PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools and New Audiences. The blog was a way to document my social media journey, share topics covered in the book and gauge community member reactions and thoughts that I would include in my manuscript. Since the launch of PR 2.0, I’ve rebranded my blog as PR Expanded, which represents the many opportunities for PR professionals today. PR Expanded continues to showcase new roles and practices in PR as a result of the changing media landscape, advancing technologies and shifting consumer behaviors.

    What is a recent winning move your social media team has made for a client?

    We work with a digital marketing agency that is taking a stand on Artificial Intelligence and marketing ethics. A recent study of 6,000 consumers in the US, UK and Germany reveals consumer attitudes and concerns about AI. Our team was able to immerse ourselves in the survey data to come up with creative pitch angles. Our pitches have led to more media exposure in the form of byline articles, Q&A guest posts, radio interviews and expert commentary in business, technology and industry trade publications.

    What top deliverables do you look for in your social media team?

    Your social media team must deliver outcomes for your business. Yes, there are communication goals as a result of your campaigns, but you’re also tying what you do to higher-level business goals. A social media team that has a purpose and goals and sets up a measurement program that shows how social media directly relates to sales and lead generation, marketing optimization, customer satisfaction or brand health, is a team that gets the attention of the company leaders.

    What big goals or programs do you want your social media team to accomplish this year?

    Companies need to share stories and share meaningful information with the public, but they also need to create a sharing culture on the inside of the organization. Our social media teams are focused on igniting employee champions within the organization to create more strategic participation and greater momentum and engagement through employee networks. As a rule, good communication (including social media communication) starts on the inside of the company.

    What do you look for in a social media professional when you are hiring?

    A social media professional needs a balance of IQ and Emotional Quotient (EQ). It’s great when a candidate knows the areas of social media management, data and analytics and good writing and communication skills. However, the EQ is important when you’re dealing with a community and any issues or concerns that may arise. Showing EQ means stepping back to evaluate a situation in a social media community and having more empathy for your customer. When you blend the strategic with the empathy, you can solve problems and prevent the escalation of issues for your brand.

    When your clients just don’t get social media, how do you explain it?

    When clients don’t understand social media you have to show them why it matters in their world. Showing them could mean sharing the results of a competitor audit and how the competition uses social media. You might also reveal that the top companies in their industry are using social media to attract the best talent. You can also share how their customers, employees, media, and other important stakeholders are on social media giving them a reason to monitor or to engage directly. For these clients, it could be a crawl, walk run approach to get them comfortable with social media and understanding the meaning and value for their business.

    About Fast 5

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go, and nailing them down for a conversation is about as easy as … winning Powerball at $1.5 billion! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, author’s books about to hit the stands and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos

    Do YOU have a candidate for a FAST 5 interview? Email: Joshua Milne at josh@joshuamilnepr.com and pitch your subject expert!

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or  board of directors of either organization. 

  • Fast 5: Making Social Media a Judgement Free Zone

    Jenna Reynolds, Planet Fitness

    @JennaAReynolds  @PlanetFitness


     

    Jenna Reynolds is a proud tiny-house owner and dog mom who spends her days as a Digital Communities Manager professional at Planet Fitness World Headquarters, the home of the Judgement Free Zone. She spearheaded the creation of Planet of Triumphs, the company’s very own social community, where elevating positivity and inspiring members is the goal.

    We caught up with Jenna to talk about how social media can help people achieve their fitness goals, what she is looking forward to at the Social Media Summit, and what life is like in a tiny house.

    Q. Just when the news feed couldn’t seem to be any more crowded, the flow of information seems to have picked up to a dizzying pace. How can brands break through that noise?

    A. Every brand’s focus should be on what works for them and their brand personality. Planet Fitness members’ feeds are filled with the latest fitness and diet trends. We aim to break through that noise by empowering our members with positive messaging about our Judgement Free Zone and by celebrating their fitness triumphs, big and small.

    Q. What was the drive behind creating Planet of Triumphs? Why was it important to create a social community for Planet Fitness?

    A. We have seen first-hand the amazing things that are possible when our members encourage and support one another in our gyms. We wanted to forge a special community where they could do so digitally as well. The platform has truly taken on a life of its own and our members have used it to detail their fitness journeys, cheer each other on and ask for support when they need it.

    We surveyed a focus group of our members, and more than 70% said that they don’t post their fitness experiences on traditional social channels as they are afraid of being judged; Planet of Triumphs provides them a place where they can feel comfortable doing so.

    The platform has become an important part of our brand, and our CEO visits the site every day to learn about our members’ stories and offer words of encouragement. As a company, we are diligent about keeping the site from becoming overly promotional and instead have let our members build their own community and celebrate their everyday wins.

    Q. What advice would you give brands that are nervous about engaging on social media?

    A. It is all about trust. Using social media helps immediately open up direct feedback and establish trust between your brand and consumers. It isn’t just about pushing out content. It should also be about how your fans respond and the learnings that you can distill from that, not just in terms of social media, but in all areas of your business.

    Additionally, my biggest piece of advice would be to closely monitor your response volume and ensure that your social media strategy is equipped to handle it.

    Overall, don’t overthink it. You’ve got this!

    Q. What are you most looking forward to about the Social Media Summit?

    Lanyards. Besides that, connecting with other social media advocates. No matter the industry, it is always a positive learning experience to hear about other brands’ successes and challenges, along with the trends that they are witnessing, when it comes to social media.

    Q. You say you are a tiny-house owner. Doesn’t it get a little cramped?

    The winter months can test my two dogs’ patience but otherwise, we utilize our yard which has a mini outdoor theater, fire pit, dining area, etc.  I am social by profession and personality, so not being able to entertain a lot of people has been the biggest challenge; however, I am also addicted to re-decorating, so living in a smaller space has helped me to successfully limit my HomeGoods visits.

    About Fast 5

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics (https://prsaboston.org/hot-topics/) blog page. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go, and nailing them down for a conversation is on the fly! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, authors’ books about to hit the stands and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos

    Do YOU have a candidate for a FAST 5 interview? Email Joshua Milne at josh@joshuamilnepr.com (mailto:josh@joshuamilnepr.com) and pitch your subject expert!

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or  board of directors of either organization. 

  • Cheryl Gale Client Messaging

    Fast 5: Q&A with March Communications’ Managing Director Cheryl Gale

    In Campaign, Marketing on
    1. What makes for an effective client message? How do you, or the client, know when it’s time to update it?

    It needs to stand out, it needs to be different and, most importantly, it needs to be simple. Too many companies try to cram in everything that they do, or they load it with too much jargon. That doesn’t work.

    As for when to update your message, I would say there are a few catalysts. I think the most important one is if people’s eyes gloss over when you give them your elevator pitch, and then they say, “oh that’s great,” and change the subject. Or, they ask you to explain it again and again. You want to make sure the message resonates with your target audience. Are you hitting their triggers or pain points? Do they want to hear more?

    There are many other catalysts though. Often a new CMO joins the company and they want to change up the message. Or maybe they’re refreshing their website. An acquisition is another big one.

    1. What are a couple examples of a message done right?

    One that we did for Relayware, a partner relationship management SaaS provider: “Companies that rely on their partner networks for revenue growth use Relayware. Our software and services provide valuable insights, bring you closer to your partners, provide visibility into their effectiveness, improve their training and empowers them to reach their potential.”

    This clearly outlines who the target audience is, identifies the needs of those audiences and positions Relayware as the one who can fulfill those needs – all without any kind of jargon (for instance, not one mention of partner relationship management solutions or PRM), and in just two sentences.

    1. Do you find that most clients are eager to revamp their messaging? Or do you think more need to be talked into doing it, and why?
      Most are very eager, but they also know the process isn’t easy. Our job is to help our clients reach a consensus and cut through to a clear message, and make it as painless as possible.

     

    1. What do you think other PR pros need to know about client messaging in order to ensure they’re getting the most out of these sessions? What are some best practices that you think others might not be aware of?
      Get the right people in the room, but keep it small. Too many cooks in the kitchen means there’s less of a focus. The right people tend to represent the sales efforts/team (VP of Sales), the customer’s challenges and pain points (VP of Customer Success), the go-to-market strategy (CMO/VP of Marketing and/or Corporate Comms VP) and the product itself (CTO or other product-focused manager).The next step is to break it down into two half-day sessions. The first one is spent on brainstorming ideas, phrases and words in the context of specific questions around benefits and target markets. The second session should focus on testing the message(s).

    Make sure you test the message externally, too. Go to a few customer friendlies as well as industry analysts.

    And, finally, make sure that those involved have fun, are open minded and feel like they’re getting something of value out of the sessions.

     

    1. Do you have any unique tactics to help pick your clients’ brains in these message sessions? Something that helps get the ball rolling and the creative juices flowing?
      Start with a brain teaser, to get everyone relaxed and feeling open minded. Write down ideas onto sticky notes and post them on the walls – it’s a fun and interactive way of keeping everyone engaged. Ask the difficult questions and participate so they can know where your thoughts are going in terms of their message.

     

    About Cheryl Gale

    Cheryl started a 20-year, international career in PR and communications over on the other side of the pond, where she helped shepherd two agency transformations in the United Kingdom: the opening of The Weber Group’s (now Weber Shandwick) London offices and the creation of Band & Brown’s technology division. She cultivated an extensive background in international PR experience, but perhaps the ultimate takeaway from her time in the U.K. was the value of defining her own PR mission statement – and taking the reins herself in driving that forward.

    That’s why, when Cheryl relocated back to the U.S. 12 years ago, she co-founded March Communications on a simple but essential principle: helping innovative technology brands, both in the U.S. and abroad, to stay a step ahead of the curve by creating lasting momentum and aligned marketing communications programs. To do that, Cheryl has assembled an eclectic group of energetic, creative and intelligent people at March with a shared passion for pushing the envelope in how to effectively market U.S. and international tech brands, and leverage cutting-edge solutions for maximum exposure.

    In addition to her role as Managing Director at March, Cheryl also seeks out and embraces every mentor and advisory opportunity outside of the office. She currently serves as the President-Elect of the Publicity Club of New England, and sits on various PR panels at Boston University and Emerson College, where she shares her ideals of what makes for exciting PR to inspire a new generation of rising young professionals with their eye on the tech PR world.

    About FAST 5

    This is an interview feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go, and nailing them down for a conversation is about as easy as … winning Powerball at $1.5 billion! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, author’s books about to hit the stands and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos

    Do YOU have a candidate for a FAST 5 interview? Email: Joshua Milne at josh@joshuamilnepr.com and pitch your subject expert!

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or  board of directors of either organization. 

  • Who Ignited Cause Communications? Carol Cone, That’s Who. And She’s @ PRXNE16!

    PRXNE Keynote Speaker Carol Cone does more than CSR. She holds an impressive record of show jumping accomplishments.

    If your PR efforts include getting any organization to think beyond its boundaries by bettering society, odds are you applying the tools and cause marketing ideology that were pioneered by trailblazer and serial entrepreneur, Carol Cone. Long before terms like CSR, cause branding, corporate citizenship, sustainability or social purpose were adopted as business vocabulary, Carol created and claimed a new position within the C-suites of Fortune 500 companies, awakening them to the compelling business outcomes of engaging with society to leverage their reach and resources to do something purposeful with their influence. Where that vision has taken her, and savvy business leaders and marketers of all stripes, will be the subject of her PRXNE16 keynote on Monday, June 13th when Carol Cone comes back to where it all began, Boston.

    Loring Barnes, APR, PRSA Boston Chapter President and an early alumna of Cone, Inc., caught up with her former boss on topics ranging from authenticity to what it means to be competitive for this special expanded installment of Fast 5+5.

    Carol ConeSo Carol, you’re coming home to Boston. What are your thoughts on how Boston looks today?

    CC: When I founded Cone in 1980, Route 128 was known as “America’s Technology Highway”, with Boston home to important corporate brands –­ John Hancock, Gillette, Sheraton, Polaroid, BankBoston, Digital Equipment and Reebok – that gave this region a unique center of innovation, power and corporate leadership. Today, there is a differing type of innovation largely centered in healthcare, bio and medtech, underpinned by the regions expansive educational foundation of our universities.

    Q: You’ve been called ‘the mother of cause marketing.’ Is that a big mantel to carry?

    CC: To the extent this associates me with authentically linking the power of companies and brands with social issues, I’ve come to accept this as a succinct explanation of a complex and very exciting new business strategy. If every CEO or Executive Director understood how to harness social transparency and the interconnectedness of people and social purpose, their corporations and NGOs wouldn’t need an expert to bring big ideas and diverse partners to make this happen. It’s fulfilling professional vocation that has been exciting to nurture over time. Actually, it is my personal purpose that I was fortunate to discover very early in my career.

    Q: Are Millennials the torchbearers for advancing purposeful corporate social engagement?

    CC: Their generational imprint is an asset to a company or nonprofit that is looking to grow its visibility and impact. Millennials are teaching organizations that committed employees want to bring their ‘whole’ selves to work, contributing to missions that are compatible with their personal values and sense of purpose. They don’t want to bifurcate their convictions, rather they view their jobs as another channel through which they can achieve meaningful social impact. The challenge is for the employer to understand how to leverage that compassion as it inspires younger stewards of change to support the goals of their employers at the same time.

    Q: What is your worst PR or marketing experience and what did you learn from it?  

    CC: The phone call from my office started this way: “At least no one died!”  It was Thanksgiving weekend and that opening certainly got my attention. We were conducting a promotional tour for Smirnoff Vodka providing a real-time concert via a highly accomplished pianist, formally dressed in tails, sitting on an elegantly decorated flatbed truck, touring the city. Key to the decor was a 15’ high Smirnoff bottle illuminated with tiny glowing lights. What we didn’t know was that the display’s creator did not use inflammable plastic. The giant bottle, after an hour or so, burst into flames causing the pianist to leap off the flatbed. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the news coverage was not exactly what we planned. Lesson learned:  make sure you have lots of insurance coverage and plan, plan, plan for all eventualities.

    Q: OK, so what was your best experience and how did that inform your work going forward?

    CC: The creation of the Rockport Fitness Walking movement, that brought fitness walking to America as the next means of credible and accessible exercise. It also elevated Rockport to become a beloved national brand, growing them from an unknown $20 million company to over $150 million in 5 years. The second has been inspiring PNC Financial to embrace early childhood education as their core social purpose, committing $350 million over 20 years helping children to be socially, emotionally and intellectually ready for Kindergarten. We coaxed PNC to partner with the National Head Start Association (obvious) and Sesame Street (not so obvious). They have reached millions of children and families and have helped launch a national movement for early childhood education. Lesson learned for both: do your homework; find the next emerging social purpose and link amazing partners with a long-term commitment.

    Q: How would you describe yourself in one word?

    CC: Passionate!

    Q: You’re at a point where you can write books and relax. What is it that you still want to accomplish with Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, your next entrepreneurial venture?

    CC: When we’ve cured every social malady or inequity, I guess we can fold up our tent, but one only need to look at crushing world health and education needs, environmental abuses, and social stigmas to see the demand for change in our world society. Big ideas need expert accelerators to bring them to life, and that’s where our Purpose Collaborative steps in. I am so excited that in less than a year, we have grown to 32 members, representing more than 300 experts in purpose, from culture enhancement to comprehensive program development and execution to virtual reality for social impact. I am humbled by the community we have created, the smarts and passions of my “partners” and the challenges we are addressing.

    We find that while executives want to do more, they often concede that bandwidth limits how their organizations externalize ethics and trust. This is the new way of doing business, and its only growing. As long as there exists a need to upscale bold ideas with organizations that are willing to anchor them at the center of organizational and brand strategy our work is not done. Companies that get it – like Unilever, Microsoft, CVS, PNC and Starbucks ­– show the upside of adopting societal engagement at their core and learn that integration of their core competencies with society provides magical impacts well beyond their initial plan.

    Q: The reality of virtual communication reshapes how employees and customers learn and interact. What are your thoughts on the best of technology vs. in-person learning?

    CC: Technology allows almost unlimited access to information, from short form to long, from print to videos. The challenge is not getting overwhelmed, yet staying curious and looking for obvious — for learning — and not so obvious, such as connections for ideation. In-person learning has a wonderful aspect too, especially if teams come together with a shared purpose to solve a challenge and some ground rules as to how they interact. I really like both.

    Q: I will never forget our first phone interview: were keenly interested in how I defined being ‘competitive’ outside of the office. I later learned that you had arguably a dual career as a competitive equestrian. It’s hard to term your impressive record of show jumping accomplishment a ‘hobby,’ but how does this competitiveness indicator predict the profile of someone who will excel as a cause communications specialist?

    CC: The DNA of any innovator requires habits that hone knowledge and grow your confidence outside of business hours. Competitive horse jumping, as one example, takes inordinate discipline, off-hours commitment for work and travel, and a selfless willingness to roll up one’s sleeves for the most unceremonious tasks, such as cleaning horse stalls. The performance aspect emerges as minutes from years of training, learning and being coached. There are personality parallels of a competitive person that informs the focus of anyone who sees their PR career as one of transforming our world. Carol Cone ON PURPOSE is being built with collaborators who live this truth of social activism: you have to make it happen, with resilience, persistence, and active collaboration. Being competitive – meaning never giving up and learning, learning, learning and giving of oneself is a perceptible core belief system that is evident in how someone spends their personal time and influence others to do good works.

    Q: When you finish your presentation at PRXNE16, how do you anticipate the audience will think and feel about who they are, what they do and how they do it?

    CC: I hope they will be inspired, and have an elevated understanding of the role of social purpose in business today and how they can bring their values, passion and smarts into this new way of working for personal, business and societal impact. Doing well and doing good can be profound! You just need to be authentic, do your homework, not give up and look for the ‘gems’ to ignite for amazing outcomes.

    Carol offers this list of inspiring and must reads for CSR best practices: Download CCOP Cause Resource List  HERE.

    About Carol Cone, Founder + CEO, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE
    Twitter: @carolcone Web: http://www.purposecollaborative.com

    Carol Cone is CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE (CCOP), a 21st-century consultancy whose mission is to move social purpose to the center of business and brand strategy. At the core of CCOP is The Purpose Collaborative, a collective of over 30 agencies, boutiques and individuals, with deep purpose, CSR and sustainability capabilities from strategy to execution.

    For over 25 years, Carol has embraced a commitment to building lasting partnerships between companies, brands and social issues for deep business and societal impact. Her groundbreaking work includes Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, Reebok Human Rights Awards, American Heart Go Red for Women, American Lung Association Lung Force, PNC Grow Up Great, Microsoft YouthSpark and The Vaseline Healing Project.

    She is also a recognized thought leader in social purpose, having conducted the world’s first research, then dozens of studies with business executives, citizens, employees and nonprofits to gain critical insights to inspire organizations to engage with society as being a wise business strategy.  She is a sought-after speaker and media expert, sharing her insights on purpose branding, corporate citizenship, sustainability and CSR.

    Carol served as the founder, CEO and Chairman of Cone, Inc. from 1980-2010. In 2007, PR Week called her “arguably the most powerful and visible figure in the world of Cause Branding.”

    In 2009, she was one of two US judges for the first PR Lions Awards at the Cannes Festival of Creativity. Her first book, Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding was published in 2010. Overall, Cone’s signature cause programs have raised more than $2 billion for various social issues. www.purposecollaborative.com

    About Loring Barnes, APR, Chief Communications Officer, Clarity
    President, PRSA Boston + PRXNE16 Conference Co-Chair
    Twitter: @claritynews + @loringbarnes  Web:  www.claritygroup.com

    Anyone who caught World Cup fever in ’94 or rode transit to Boston’s first Tall Ships knows Loring’s capacity for creating and executing big ideas, in part by uniting new partners, a core premise of cause communications. These programs earned nods by the USOOC and changed the culture of a behemoth government bureaucracy, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

    Cone, Inc. was among Loring’s earliest and most influential agency posts that included the eventual Omnicom sibling agency Copithorne + Bellows among others in TX and PA. She founded Clarity in 2001 as a reputation and brand-building consultancy in order to be closer to the action as a C-client advisor. Clarity’s transformation of the CDC’s National HIV Testing Day campaign to become the Federal agency’s most impactful and praised at the United Nations by the White House stands out on a career highlight reel that includes: professionally recognized launches, mature brand reinvigorations, partnerships and effective crisis counsel alongside law enforcement agencies of all jurisdictions. The UMass Amherst ‘Alumna to Watch’ is passionate about dog rescue among a variety of board and volunteer commitments she keeps in play.

    PRXNE16 Speakers, Directions + Registration: HERE  Hosted by: @prsaboston with @prsane

    Follow PRXNE16 News: #PRXNE