I usually have a rule for folks I profile in this series: I must have met them in person. Simple rule. And I’ve followed it to the letter of the law. Until today.
I’ve “known” Christian Plewacki for years. That is, I’ve followed him on a combination of Twitter and LinkedIn. And, I’ve always respected his viewpoints. Seems informed. Opinionated. And willing to stand tall behind those opinions. And, unlike many others who have these opinions on trends in the social media world, he’s actually done the work. Namely, with Patterson Companies, 3M, and now, Toro.
And yeah, I’ve spoken to Christian a few times on the phone. I “feel” like I know him–but again, we’ve never met. That will be changing in the not-too-distant future. But, for now, let’s meet this Social Media Rock Star and learn more about what he’s up to at Toro.
First, tell us more about your role at Toro as Social and Digital Media Leader.
The nature of my role at Toro is similar to what I did at 3M, but different in scope and scale. At 3M, I was one member of a pretty big corporate team of social & digital marketing specialists whose services span many divisions across just about every industry you can name. I left that behind for an opportunity to build a modern marketing center at Toro, more-or-less from the ground up. I work across functions, divisions, and other levels within the company to drive change and scale up excellence. This can take the form of working with executives to formulate near and longer-term digital strategies, to educating divisional marketing teams on industry trends & best practices, to planning/executing/measuring/optimizing paid campaigns for proof of concept or to support product launches. It all depends on the day.
You’ve been at Toro now for a little over a year. What’s been the biggest challenge of this role for you? What’s been your biggest win so far?
The biggest challenge is that, as an individual contributor (AKA, a one-man show) with few resources and the inability to clone myself (or…no direct reports), I rely almost solely on my ability to influence. But I see this as a positive, as it forces me to exercise and strengthen my influencer muscle like never before. It forces me to learn new ways to tell compelling stories with data, and empathize with folks who see the world differently than I do. There’s a lot of appetite for smarter marketing across divisions and brands of Toro – and folks in pockets of the organization who champion digital/social marketing within the older construct. I think my biggest win at Toro so far – and definitely a career highlight – was presenting to the Board of Directors about the shift to digital (literally the title of my slide deck) during the annual strategy meeting earlier this year. I was the lowest-ranking employee in Toro’s history to stand before the Board and make strategic recommendations, and this had less to do with how awesome I am – it was mostly attributed to being in the right place at the right time. (The presentation was well received.)
As someone who’s been in social media marketing your entire career so far, and someone who has worked his way up the social media ranks, what do you think of social media as a career path? Would you recommend a career in social media to today’s young grads?
I’ve thought a lot about this lately. Back in 2009-2012, when social, search, mobile and other channels under the digital umbrella were less mature, specializing in one of those disciplines seemed like the way to go, and that was the advice from career experts. Back then there could be 1 person at a big F500 brand with “social media” in their title, and as social grew as a more legitimate channel, that person was promoted to Sr. Manager or Director of social media, and now manages a big team of social media specialists. Now, in 2018, as big brands strive to integrate siloed processes, tools and resources across all of the channels where they touch customers, the career advice I’m hearing is that the modern marketer should generalize and broaden the scope of their subject matter expertise, to be more holistic. I think that experience working in an agile marketing environment at a big company, or a smaller agency/startup where you can quickly get exposure to and responsibility for managing other disciplines can be helpful if you’ve been focused on one discipline, and want to expand or have aspirations of being a CMO or CDO someday. But everybody’s different – if you like working in social, stay in social. There will be plenty of demand for social media experts in the years to come. I believe this is true because social is the one channel that can literally span all stages of a customer’s journey, and yet it is, ironically, still treated like an afterthought or a box to check. Smart folks who love social and have a knack for working across functions and connecting those dots internally for a more seamless and personal customer experience are extremely valuable.
You’re also a part of the first generation to enter the workforce during the dawn of social media marketing (unlike us old folks who came into the industry using fax machines!). What have been the notable shifts you’ve seen impact brands the most in the social media world since you’ve been in the workforce?
What’s a fax machine?
From an employee standpoint, the generational preferences and habits are so interesting to observe at these big old companies. I’m on the elder end of the millennial spectrum, so I find that I have tendencies of both gen y and gen x. I find that, for the most part, legacy folks are trying hard to understand this influx of younger counterparts, and evolve a little in their own adoption of social media or other tech. Younger folks would do well to soak up the knowledge and wisdom of their elder colleagues. That’s one shift…not sure if I’ve answered your question.
Since we’re talking trends, what are the key trends you’re talking to your teams at Toro about in 2018? And what should brands have their eyes on as we head into 2019?
I’ve learned that, in any industry that’s being disrupted by digital technologies (which is all of them, to varying degrees), it’s easy and natural to chase shiny toys, while neglecting leaking pipes. Knowing my internal audience and where they are on the digital maturity scale, I mostly reinforce the basic but often-neglected principles of effective marketing – less is more/quality over quantity approach to publishing; invest more in amplification/targeted distribution of content than creation of content; social customer care is becoming the new marketing…stuff like that.
But of course we’re talking about VR, AR, AI, blockchain, blah blah blah. I really like this recent post on how marketing automation is evolving, and think this trend is really important.
You have big opinions in the content marketing world–I’ve seen you share some pretty interesting viewpoints on LinkedIn (and I’ve agreed with many of them). What do you see as the biggest mistake most brands make when it comes to content marketing?
Honestly, I don’t think most brands even know what the hell content marketing is. Many marketers assume they know; they publish marketing content, and call that content marketing. Content marketing is a process, and a hard one. It is not for the faint of heart, as my friend and content marketing wizard Carlos Abler often says. It’s not enough to simply have a corporate blog, or manage an editorial calendar and publish content you think people will like. A content marketer religiously collects and analyzes audience data from a variety of sources, which unlock insight about which content topics and formats will add the most value across the fragmented spectrum of touch points also known as the customer journey. And then they rigorously measure the performance of that content against metrics and KPIs that tell whether or not that content is achieving its twofold purpose of delighting customers and driving revenue. That’s content marketing.
You’ve decided to pursue your Master’s of Business Administration at Augsburg University–congratulations! What drove your decision to purse the advanced degree? And, just out of curiousity, why did you land on Augsburg?
Thanks! For me, the decision sort of came down to cultural fit and values alignment with the institution. As far as the structure and curriculum of the program, it’s hardly different from what any other school offers. What really attracted me to Augsburg is their emphasis on creating and cultivating a diverse student body, and they’re continually recognized for this. My program director says, “We don’t try to recruit rich white kids like some other schools around town. We close the education and achievement gaps, and actually change people’s lives.” Augsburg is also a bit more affordable than Carlson, which is nice.
So far in your career you’ve worked with all B2B brands (primarily, at least): Patterson Companies, 3M and Toro. Was that a deliberate choice? And, what attracts you to B2B vs. more consumer-focused brands?
Not by design, but I’ve really come to love B2B. A consumer brand creates strategies around minimizing the steps a consumer takes from awareness to purchase. Conversely, a B2B actually adds steps in the path to purchase because of more complex sales cycles and to capture quality leads. But we’re approaching this tipping point where the B2B buyer’s purchasing preferences and media consumption habits as a consumer are dictating those expectations in the professional setting, increasingly. At some point, B2B marketers and channel partners are going to be forced to make it a lot easier for customers to do business with them, period. I love hearing a B2B marketer say, “My customers are not active on social media,” and then showing that they actually are, which opens up the door to discussing ways to reach, engage and convert in these spaces that are often more effective and efficient than traditional tactics.
I’m always interested in if/how people who work in social media spend their personal time on social media. Where and how do you spend time on social media outside of work?
I actually use Facebook the most, but mainly for posting trivial/silly or politically-charged thoughts and opinions among friends and family members (like most people, right?). I love Twitter (@CPlewacki) and use it a lot, mainly for business-related stuff, and a bit of levity too – it is Twitter, after all. As you mentioned earlier, I use LinkedIn pretty heavily for professional networking and expressing industry thoughts and opinions through the platform’s fantastic publishing tools. Instagram some. Snapchat a little. They’re all fun, and serve a unique purpose.
Send me a friend request on Facebook and I might accept. 😊
Final question: Best concert you’ve been to in the last year?
I have a penchant for heavy metal, and try to go to metal shows often. I know I’ve been to at least one concert this past year, but can’t recall exactly which band it was. It’s been a busy year. I was planning to see Anthrax & Killswitch Engage in Minneapolis last winter, but it was during a mega blizzard, so I stayed home (super metal of me, right?). I was really stoked to see super group Prophets of Rage (members of Rage Against the Machine & Public Enemy) at the 93X 20th anniversary festival this summer, but they canceled it for some reason. So this past year has been a bit of a dry spell, but I’m going to turn it around.
I was all set to write a post I was going to title “The PR agency family tree.” I was modeling it after a great article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last weekend featuring the Minneapolis advertising agency family tree.
But, as I started to research this “family tree” I started to see a trend. There really aren’t that many “new” small PR or social firms. Unlike our advertising partners, PR and social has NOT seen a big jump in smaller firms in the last 10 years in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Sure, there are a number of small firms that started about 10 years ago that have seen an uptick in growth in recent years. My friends at Bellmont Partners come to mind (big uptick!). Lemke Anderson is another. And when I think of social firms, The Social Lights comes to mind.
But, there simply hasn’t been a big jump in small PR or social firms (or, reputable social firms for that matter) founded over the last 10 years. And, that kinda surprises me.
Because the conditions have been ripe.
Let’s see–in the lsat 10 years, we’ve seen:
- The economy bottom out and rebound in a big way
- The job market bottom out and rebound in a big way
- The PR industry shift and change dramatically due to social and digital media
- A whole new generation of employees (Millennials) have entered the workplace, and their far less risk averse than the Xers before them.
All of that should have (in my view) paved the way for a new slew of PR and social firms. Similar to what we saw in the late 90s when you saw firms like New School Communications (Blois Olson’s former firm) open their doors.
But, it just hasn’t materialized.
Maybe competition is too stiff with the bigger agencies?
Maybe the market is saturated–after all, we do have a decent list of PR shops in this town.
Maybe solo consultants have picked up the slack? After all, the #SoloPR group I help manage has grown significantly the last 4-5 years.
All those issues are probably contributing.
I guess I’m the most surprised that we haven’t seen the Millennials pick up the slack here. I think about people like Martha McCarthy Krueger and Emily Pritchard who founded the Social Lights years ago right out of school. I’m just surprised we haven’t seen more young people start out at one of the big PR firms, realize there has to be a better way, and take a stab at starting something new.
But, we haven’t seen that. Not yet, at least.
I just found it interesting–especially with the growth of small ad firms in the last 5-10 years in this market.
Note: Photo courtesy of Ophelia Cherry.
Last week, Jeremy Wheaton wrote an interesting piece on just how far we’ve fallen when it comes to companies and training employees to fill the increasingly large skills gap. The article talks about the issue from a 10,000-foot level, looking at the economy across industries. However, today, I’d like to talk about a topic specific to our industry:
Why don’t more companies invest in training their PR and social employees?
Because, according to what I’ve experienced in the past, and what I’ve heard from clients, colleagues and partners over the last 8-plus years as a solo, it’s a BIG problem.
Let’s start with the facts.
We know the economy is purring along well–and unemployment is very low (hovering around 4–the lowest it’s been in a long time). Translation: Times are good to be an employee.
And anecdotally, I hear from friends all the time that it’s very hard to find good people in this market in PR and social. Translation: Times are good to be a GOOD employee.
At the same time, I also hear from people that it’s hard to find people with niche skill sets–video production, audio production, analytics and paid social media come to mind right off the top.
Allow me to recap: Employees have more power than they’ve had in the last (maybe) 20 years. But, there remains a fairly long list of skills that are increasingly difficult to find for employers.
And yet, employers continue to resist investing in employee training.
Why? What’s behind that decision for employers?
If you’re having a hard time finding certain skills in the market, why not hire people with aptitude and “train them up” to desired levels?
If you have existing start performers who are clearly asking for training in certain areas, why not give them what they want to keep them happy?
Or, maybe you have other employees who aren’t necessarily “star performers” but could get there with a bit of additional training, why not invest in those people and CREATE your own star performers?
These decisions all seem easy. Yet, I continue to hear from people who have to essentially beg to attend a $600 local event. Or, people who have to make a presentation to leadership to get funding for an annual $375 PRSA membership. Or, people who are learning Google Analytics all on their own, with absolutely no help from their employers.
Why do companies continue to turn a blind eye to employee training in PR and social?
The answer is probably painfully easy: On the corporate side, PR/social folks are support staff. In other words: We are COSTING the company money. Most companies aren’t going to invest more money in staff that are already costing them money when they can invest in areas of the company that bring in the money (product, sales come to mind).
On the other hand, there are companies in our business that typically invest heavily in training and development: Agencies.
Why? Because when you’re on the agency side, you ARE the product (or, service, in this case).
Agencies do all sorts of things to help their people get smarter on PR/social. Professional development budgets are typically a bit looser on the agency side. Trips to events like SXSW are a bit easier to come by on the agency side. Don’t want to send people to industry events? Many agencies will bring renowned thought leaders and speakers in to talk with and train their employees (Olson did this for years with one notable event; not sure if they’re still doing that).
But let me go back to the question of the day: Why aren’t companies doing more to develop PR/social talent? Because it’s a great question considering employees have the huge upper hand right now in the market.
Can employers afford to hold this stingy attitude much longer? I guess time will tell. But, I’d certainly like to see more companies devoting more resources to training existing talent.
Those that don’t might be left behind in the years ahead.
Note: Photo courtesy of MIMA.
I’ve long been a fan of list posts. No so much in consuming or reading them–I’m more about creating them. But, unlike many others in our industry, I really just like to have fun with them. I’ve written about this mindset before (way back).
Today, I wanted to take a stab at sharing a list of “social media power brokers” in the Twin Cities. I want to be absolutely clear: There was zero science or process behind this list.
No magical formula.
No Klout scores (not that Klout is even around anymore!).
Nothing. It’s just a list developed by me and my opinions on people based on my 20+ years experience in this market.
That said, I think I sit in a fairly decent spot to build a list like this. After all, I’ve been working in the social media marketing field for almost as long as that discipline has been around (almost 10 years now; 20+ years in the marketing/comms industry). And, I know a lot of the people in Minneapolis/St. Paul in many of these social media positions. It’s my JOB to know them!
When I think about a “power broker” list, I’m thinking about factors like:
- Ability to hire and influence budgets
- Position within the agency or organization
- Flat-out ability to influence others in our market (or, in a position to influence others in the market)
So, with those disclaimers and that explanation provided, I give you the official/unofficial Minneapolis/St. Paul social media power broker list of 2018!
Kevin Hunt, Manager-Corporate Content & Channels, General Mills
Why is he a power broker? For one, he’s the co-host of the wildly popular and revered Talking Points Podcast! (tongue firmly planted in cheek) In all seriousness though, Kevin is a one of the senior-most leaders across Mills when it comes to social media. He’s been with Mills eight years–almost the length of time the company has been active on social. During that time, he’s been responsible for the creation and launch of the Taste of General Mills blog AND podcast. And, he manages a small team of people who manage the corporate GM social channels (external AND internal).
Holly Spaeth, Director-Digital Marketing, Polaris
Why is she a power broker? Holly has played a key role in leading social at Polaris since she started with the company more than six years ago. What’s more, she also led the MIMA Summit (along with Bryan Vincent, another power broker on this list) a few years ago. And, in that role, she was an important champion for women’s speakers within Summit.
Amanda Gebhard, Social Media Communications Manager, Boston Scientific
Why is she a power broker? One of the younger members of this list, but also one I expect to see in a very senior social/digital role before too long (she’s been a PR Rock Star after all!). She’s already worked her way up the chain at BosSci, with a recent promotion. And, she’s been volunteering with Social Media Breakfast since 2014. Amanda is primed to be on a list like this for years to come.
Sue Serna, Global Social Media Lead, Cargill
Why is she a power broker? For the mere fact that Sue has almost built the social media function from the ground up at Cargill, Sue is deserving of being on this list. And, she’s been in social media marketing just about as long as anyone in town. She’s also an active member of SocialMedia.org and is involved with at least one social media networking group that I know about.
Kristin Zima, Director-Social and Paid Media, Optum
Why is she a power broker? As one of the key (if not THE key) leaders in social at Optum over the last eight years, Kristin has the title to be on this list. But, she also has the overall marketing chops, too. Her 20-plus year background also includes roles in marketing at ADC, Dow Corning and NAMG. Her position at Optum and her role as a hiring manager in social easily puts her on this list.
Bryan Vincent, Vice President, Digital Communications and Social Media, United Health Group
Why is he a power broker? With almost 20 years in digital and interactive marketing, Bryan may be one of the most senior social media marketers in town. And, he happens to lead corporate social/digital for the biggest company in town. And, as I mentioned above, he also helped lead MIMA Summit for two years. And, he’s in a hiring position with, again, the biggest company in town. More than deserving to be on this list. In fact, he’s probably a hall-of-famer.
Alyssa Greve, Director of Content Marketing, Cambria
Why is she a power broker? Alyssa’s more of a fly-under-the-radar power broker, but she’s essentially leading social for Cambria and doing a lot of the right things. I wrote about Alyssa and Cambria’s new blog recently–some interesting insights in that post, if you have time. Alyssa’s also in a manager role at Cambria, which solidified her “power broker” status.
George Fiddler, Creative Director, Olson Engage
Why is he a power broker? George has been working in social (at Fast Horse, and now Olson) for more than eight years now. And, he has big-time brand experience to back that up. He’s also responsible for developing the “real time” social approach that Olson Engage has fully adopted as part of its work. You’ll probably recognize it best in Olson’s work with the Belize Board of Tourism.
Kristen Pechacek, Digital Marketing Director, Anytime Fitness
Why is she a power broker? Not only is she in a lead role for digital marketing at Anytime Fitness (really, Self-Esteem brands), but she’s also in a hiring role for staff and vendors. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also an adjunct professor with the University of Wisconsin-Stout shaping the next wave of social talent in our industry.
Martha McCarthy, Co-Founder, The Social Lights
Why is she a power broker? How many 28-year-olds do you know who have started a successful 28-person social media agency? But that’s exactly what Martha has done and it’s exactly why she’s on this list. Her and Emily Pritchard are also up for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award–no small feat.
Greg Swan, Director of Digital, Social and Emerging Media, Fallon
Why is he a power broker? Greg probably falls more into the “futurist” category than social media power broker, but I would simply be remiss to leave him off this list. He is the chief social leader at Fallon, still one of the biggest agencies in the Twin Cities. And, more importantly, he’s respected across the social industry locally as a thought leader and someone who’s consistently looking at what’s coming next.
Mykl Roventine/Jen Roventine, Organizers, Social Media Breakfast
Why are they power brokers? As caretakers of the longest-running SMB chapter in the U.S., this husband/wife team is on the list because of the stage they essentially “control”. Because access to this audience is a big deal. Not only is it the longest-running chapter in the country, it has to be one of the most active. In some ways, Mykl and Jen are driving the conversation around what matters in social media here in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
By now you’ve heard of Instagram’s latest update: IGTV. Instagram made the announcement a couple weeks ago, and since then it’s been a very hot topic of conversation among marketers, communicators and social media creators and influencers.
However, the big question on marketer’s minds is this: How does IGTV fit into my already busy social media mix?
First, let’s start with the facts and what we know about IGTV.
- All videos on IGTV are shot and shared in a vertical format only (for now).
- IGTV videos aren’t limited by time—videos can be up to an hour in length.
- IGTV shows up right at the top of the Instagram app—so it’s easy for users to find and use.
- Users will have the ability to upload videos right from your phone, just like you do on Instagram Stories and in the feed.
We also know that the appetite for long-form video content is growing. One recent survey showed that in 2016, 29% of respondents were interested in long-form (20+ minutes) video content. And in 2018, that number had almost doubled to 54% of folks who were interested in long-form (20+ minutes) video content.
We know people are spending more time on the Instagram app. Instagram recently released data that claims its users spent 53 minutes per day with the Android app in June—just five minutes less than Facebook users spent with their app.
And we know Instagram continues to grow. The photo/video-sharing app now has 1 billion users—behind only Facebook in terms of total users for a social network.
Finally, we know Instagram continues to trend younger. 61 percent of Instagram users are between the ages of 18-34, while only 15 percent are between the ages of 45-65+.
Given all those facts, what we know about vertical video, and how things are playing out early on, here’s how I see IGTV fitting into brands’ social media mix:
Repurposing content—not producing original content—will be the name of the game early on.
So far, many brands are merely repurposing video content from other content channels (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram Stories, etc.). And, most brands I’ve seen are also sharing more professionally produced video here—it’s clear this is not Instagram or Facebook Live. In these first few months, I don’t think we’ll see too many brands producing IGTV-specific content—you’ll see much more experimentation with video content that’s already been produced for other channels.
Younger demos will be targeted heavily
As mentioned above, there’s a growing appetite for long-form video. Especially among the younger set. Twenty-second videos may work well on Facebook where the demographic is more broad, but on Instagram, where the demographic is definitely younger, users are more open to 5-10 minute videos (and much longer, in many cases). You’ll see many consumer brands targeting these younger people early on with IGTV–and I think you’ll see far fewer B2B brands experimenting with it.
Fewer 30-second ad spots, more GoT
IGTV represents a real opportunity for brands to think differently about video—especially as it relates to younger consumers. IGTV gives brands the chance to think more like publishers and TV production companies—not necessarily the same way brands have thought about video content in the past. This means instead of thinking about video as advertising, we’ll (hopefully) see more brands creating more episodic, TV-series-like content, and mimicking the behavior of YouTube and Instagram influencers, who have done this quite well in the last 3-5 years. Brands that adopt this TV production-type mindset, and those who are targeting a younger demographic that isn’t opposed to spending hours on Instagram, are going to see success using IGTV.
It’s all about better video metrics
As with other video content across the social web, metrics will be absolutely key for brands. What will Instagram provide? Will we get something akin to the 3-second view metrics we get on Facebook? Or, will we see metrics with a little more depth? For brands to take IGTV seriously and really invest, Instagram must deliver richer video metrics that get at time spent watching and maybe even actions taken during viewing.