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EP.7 Show Runner – Susan Morrisey

EP.7 Show Runner – Susan Morrisey

•Public Issue, Mission Driven, Nonprofit Marketing•

Susan’s firm focuses on public issues, healthcare, and mission-driven organizations. She brings amazing insight to the conversation with more than 20 years of experience in strategic communications, public engagement and public policy marketing. She gives tips on how to excel at cause-based and nonprofit marketing, and leadership skills.

Susan Morrisey, CEO of SE2

Lessons you will learn from this podcast:

  • How to excel at nonprofit and cause-based marketing
  • How millennials are curating their personal brand
  • The secrets of human behavior marketing
  • Why CEOs need peer groups and networking to hone their business and leadership skills
  • How using a journalistic approach to marketing can make a difference
  • ROI – results and analysis of the continuum of behavior modification
  • New ways to break through the clutter with tight resources and a crowded marketplace

Listen to Next Episode


Intro: Congratulations. You’ve joined the Show Runner, a network of accomplished business women who are running the show, where you’ll find the inspiration and the inside information you need to take your marketing expertise to the next level. Bringing her 25 years of experience as an agency owner, and her thirst for continued learning, here’s your host, Kathy Cunningham.

Kathy C.: Hi, everybody, and welcome to the Show Runner Network. It’s Kathy, and today we’re talking with Susan Morrisey. She’s the CEO at Denver based SE2. It’s an integrated communications agency that’s focused on public issues. Susan and SE2 are trusted advisers to public health, healthcare, and mission driven organizations. Susan is committed to working on issues with broad public impact. She’s a member of the board of directors at Arapahoe House, a leading provider of substance use disorders treatments in Colorado. Susan, welcome to the show.

Susan Morrisey: Thanks for having me.

Kathy C.: I’m so excited to talk to you today. I know you’re going to share a lot of wisdom with our listeners. I mean, you have, I’m just going to say over 20 years of experience in strategic communications, public engagement, and public policy. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and your journey?

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, so I probably took a somewhat different path to doing what I do now, than a lot of women who work in marketing. My background involved going to journalism school, and having early career positions that were sort of heavy in writing and editing and some marketing, and then ended up going to work with a member of Congress. So I got a pretty deep experience over that five or six year period, doing public policy. And that ended up sort of through some twists and turns, leading me to find the business partner that I have today, and establishing the firm that we’ve now been running for 20 years. It’s our 20th anniversary in about a week.

Kathy C.: Well, congratulations. 20 year. Boy, that’s not easy.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. It’s been some good times, some challenging times, but it’s always been interesting.

Kathy C.: Well, I think that’s important for our listeners to know, because there’s always sort of the front of the house. Everything looks great when you’re owning an agency, and you’ve got great clients and things, but it’s an awful lot of work, too, and there are ups and downs. So I appreciate you saying that.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, absolutely.

Kathy C.: So your background started in writing. You’re a journalism major, and then you went and worked for a Congressman, and that got you interested in public policy, which led you to the type of work that you’re doing now.

Susan Morrisey: Exactly. So both of us, actually, both my partner Eric and I, have backgrounds in journalism and writing and public policy. It led us to this niche that we continue to work in, which is working with either nonprofit organizations or public agencies, and sometimes corporate entities, maybe working in some kind of a coalition to advance some kind of public issue. They might be focusing on public policy objective, like passing a bill or even passing a ballot measure, or they might just be working on sort of increasing understanding of the issue that they work on. A lot of our clients are in the education sphere, healthcare, public health. So we’re always doing some pretty interesting issues, like obesity prevention, and tobacco control, early childhood education, things like that.

Kathy C.: Very interesting sub-level of marketing, the public issues. And there’s so many of those out there.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, absolutely. And so we have to use a lot of the same tools and methodologies that other marketing organizations use, but we’re doing it just in sort of a specialized sphere, where instead of selling products, we’re selling ideas. Instead of trying to get people to go to a store or to buy something, we might be trying to get them to change their behavior around eating or exercise or smoking. Instead of trying to educate a consumer, we might be trying to educate a voter. So we just think about our audiences in slightly different ways, but use a lot of the same approaches that probably a lot of your listeners use.

Kathy C.: Yeah, so the same marketing principles, only you’re trying to change behavior and, in a way, educate.

Susan Morrisey: Yes, and sometimes that can be challenging, because some of the issues that we work on have been advancing for many years. People are trying to end tobacco use since the ’50s and ’60s, and it’s gone through a lot of different changes and the issue has really evolved. But so it’s sometimes challenging to continue to pursue the same issue, but do it in a different way, because of course the external environment continues to change. The audience continues to evolve. The tools and ways that we can reach them continue to change, as well. So it can be challenging to try and work on some of these issues that at the end of the day, you may not know whether you’re making headway for a period of maybe a year or more, because it’s not necessarily just about purchases, it’s about getting people to change a behavior or changing their intent to change a behavior. So it can take a long time sometimes to see progress.

Kathy C.: Wow, that’s very interesting the way you described that. So your mission is really the change, and you have the same issue that you’re working on for years, and there’s all kinds of things externally that are changing, and everybody’s evolving, and you’re still sort of chasing that same behavior change on an issue.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, so of course, we have to try and stay as fresh and interesting as everyone else does, because the audience is of course, being inundated with advertising, marketing messages from all sides. So the audience you’re going after, and the audience I’m going after might be the same person. We’re just going after them for different reasons. So we have to use marketing strategies and tools that are evolving with the audience. So we’re using a lot more … Obviously going to a almost entirely digital environment to communicate with people, a lot of social media, a lot of social influencer marketing, things like that. A lot of the same things that the bigger brands are doing, we’re just using them to try and sell ideas.

Kathy C.: That’s really interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about the responsibilities that you have at SE2. Can you describe those for us?

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, so I lead the organizations that we have. We’re a fairly small firm. We have 14 people in our office in Denver, and I lead our management team, so my job as CEO is to establish the overall vision and direction for the organization. Then to lead our management team in advancing toward those objectives. So our management team includes our director of finance, director of operations, and our director of client services, so my job is to sort of hopefully keep them excited, motivated, keep us all moving forward together. And kind of serve as that lead cultural ambassador for the organization, you know, establishing the tone, and championing the values for SE2 amongst our staff and community of stakeholders, you know, vendors, clients, and so on.

I continue to provide support on client work, although as the corporate responsibilities have become more demanding, I do less client work than I used to, but tend to be involved in supporting some of those key client relationships and bringing strategy to different client projects, as needed. Then lead our business development efforts, so obviously we spend a lot of time thinking about filling our pipeline and marketing the firm, and my job is to try and keep that stuff moving forward to the extent possible.

Kathy C.: Well, it’s interesting the way you describe that, because sometimes the role of a CEO is very mysterious. You know, what the heck does a CEO do? So even though you might not be as hands on with the clients as you used to, it sounds like the fact that you’re leading the culture, and you’re the champion of your company values and you’re supporting your group and working on strategy, that all is so important that it trickles down to your customers. So it’s important to have someone at that top level looking at those kinds of things.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, and we have I guess learned the hard way that you really do need to spend time thinking about working on your business, not just in your business. You know, we spent a lot of years just sort of doing the … Thinking about the corporate responsibilities somewhat secondarily to client obligations, but now I try to at least spend some time of every week or month where I’m sort of planning, thinking ahead, thinking more about the trajectory of the agency that … Just where we are today. Because you really do need to be thinking about both those things at once. Obviously supporting your team, so that they can do a really good job while working on client work. But at the same time, thinking about where the company is going.

Kathy C.: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s almost like rubbing your belly and patting your head, right?

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, exactly. You have to be able to do both at the same time.

Kathy C.: Susan, what do you think the most significant misconception is regarding marketing.

Susan Morrisey: Boy, I guess I would say that there’s one winning formula. I think that sometimes I will find myself thinking about doing things that I see my peers doing, and you finally start to feel like we’re all doing the same thing, we’re all following the same leads, we’re selling ourselves in the same way, and I really do think that you need to chart your own course, and kind of do what works for you. You know, serve a niche that works for you, and sort of be your own agency, and there’s not just one winning way to go about it. But I definitely spend time going to conferences and peer groups and so on, where I hear everybody talking doing a lot of the same thing.

So I guess it’s a little bit of a mix between knowing what the best practices are, and lessons that your peers are learning, and being mindful of those, and trying to learn from those. But at the same time, doing what works for you in your market, in your industry niche that you work in. There’s not just one formula.

Kathy C.: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. And I think one of the ways that we’ve established that with certainty is that we’ve been doing the same thing for a long period of time. We’ve been tempted through the years to expand our niche and go outside of public issues, but really have pretty consistently stayed true to that, and it’s worked for us. You know, we got through the financial crisis of 2008 and ’09 without really much of an issue, because we had a pretty distinct niche, and so it has worked for us, being true to what we really want to do.

It really comes down to what we want to do. It’s not just because trying to save the world, but we genuinely want to work on issues that we think are important, and it makes us excited to go to work every day.

Kathy C.: Thank you for explaining that. It’s really interesting how you’re really weighing, is there one formula, and there’s best practices, but also just really being true to who you are as an agency.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, absolutely. Because you know what you do best, right? Staying focused on your niche.

Kathy C.: I think that’s a really good lesson for our listeners, because sometimes the grass looks greener, or people think that they have to expand so widely out of their sweet spot that it may not always work. I mean, you’re a testament to that. You’ve had this business for 20 years, so you’re definitely doing something right.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, it seems like it. Yeah.

Kathy C.: Susan, tell us about a marketing challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.

Susan Morrisey: Boy, let me think here. I would say that, like I mentioned earlier, one challenge that I face is just how do you do something in a new and different way. I think we all face that. But if I’m, for example, if we’re working on a campaign to try and get people to quit smoking, how does that look different than it did a year ago or five years ago or 10 years ago? So just … I think the challenge of just staying new and fresh and relevant so that you can stay in front of your audience, because people are just constantly bombarded, and you’ve gotta figure out how to break through that clutter. So I think that that’s probably the eternal marketing challenge that we face, is just staying fresh and sort of reinventing an issue that sometimes even the people that you’re working with, they get tired, they get frustrated of trying to advance the same issue. So we try to provide new energy and new methods of selling the same issue, because at the end of the day, we still need to get people to change these behaviors, because obviously we still have too many people with chronic health conditions in this country, and so it’s important to our clients that we keep advancing towards these issues. So I think that’s one, and then the other thing that has been challenging is, we work with a lot of, like I said, nonprofits and government agencies that often don’t have the resources to do marketing at the same level that some corporate brands do.

So finding ways that you can efficiently sell your clients on new ways of doing things is a challenge that I think we face all the time. Because they don’t have all the money in the world. In some cases, they’re dealing with, these are not shareholder’s resources, these are taxpayer resources or they’re donor resources, you know, if they’re a nonprofit. So we have to spend their money very wisely and efficiently, and so we’re constantly thinking about doing things that not only are innovative and cut through the clutter, but that we know are going to be effective, so we’re not wasting their money.

Kathy C.: Well, those are some pretty significant challenges, so number one, you’re dealing with the same issues sort of year after year, and your job is to bring new energy and fresh marketing tools to the solutions.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah.

Kathy C.: And then the other part of that is the tight resources, and coming up with new ways to do things within the budget constraint. You sort of have the added challenge of using taxpayer dollars, or donor dollars, so you really want to make sure you’re using your resources wisely.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, I mean, our clients have to be good stewards of those resources, and so we do as well, on their behalf. We need to ensure that we are spending their money wisely, and that we’re not just doing things that we think are innovative and are going to get us attention as an agency, and are going to get us awards, but that they’re actually going to move the issue forward. They’re going to get people to take an action that’s going to change their behavior, and lead to some kind of positive outcome.

Kathy C.: Wow. That’s great.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah.

Kathy C.: Let’s talk a little bit about branding. In your opinion, what’s the role of branding in marketing?

Susan Morrisey: Boy, oh, it’s the heart and the soul of the company, or the agency, or the issue that you’re working on. The brand is really the personality of your company or entity or the issue that you’re working to advance. It’s the promise that you’re making to your audience, the promise that you hold out for them, in terms of what you do, and the outcome that you’re going to reach, and the way that it is going to make them feel being a part of that. So it’s not that dissimilar to our own personality as a person. The brand is really that essence of the organization, so when we do branding, we’re very intentional about thinking through, not just the visual brand assets, but also the editorial.

You know, the language that is going to be part of that brand, the voice that the brand is going to speak with. All of that is something that’s really important to connecting with an audience, because at the end of the day, they’re buying something from you or following your issue because of what it does for them. So you need to be clear about how you help, how you fit into their life. How your brand kind of intersects with their own brand, I guess. Not only know who you are, as an organization, but also know who you’re talking to, so you can have that really authentic connection with them.

Kathy C.: That’s such an interesting way that you described branding. That’s why I like asking that question, because there’s so many different ways to describe branding, and you’re saying that branding is the heart and soul, and it’s the personality or the language, and that’s just such an interesting way to describe it. And then really being intentional with your branding, and also, making sure you understand the brand of those that you’re trying to reach.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, exactly, and I think that that … You know, certainly anyone who’s doing marketing to reach in particular that sort of millennial age audience right now, knows that curating a personal brand is a really important part of their lives. So it really forces us to, as marketers, as advertisers, to think about how does our issue or the product that we’re selling for our clients, or what have you … How does that fit within their own personal brand? How’s it going to make them feel about themselves? If they’re following you, or buying you, or wearing you, what does that say about who they are? So I think it’s become even more important than it used to be, in this ever more I guess media savvy and media centric world that we’re in.

Kathy C.: Fascinating. I love that description. If they’re buying you or wearing you, what does that mean about them?

Susan Morrisey: Totally. Yeah, exactly. Because it’s that feeling of how they feel when they put you on, or how they feel when they share a piece of content that you’ve given them. What are they trying to say about themselves when they do that? That’s what we really need to be aware of as branders.

Kathy C.: Well, this just leads right into my next question for you. Speaking of curating a personal brand, Susan, can you describe for us your personal brand?

Susan Morrisey: Oh, boy. I can, and it’s funny, because being of not the millennial generation, I’m a bit older than that, I probably have come to personal brand curation somewhat reluctantly. My kids do it just automatically. They’re constantly sort of thinking about their brand, and their friends are the same way. But I don’t, I guess I don’t take a lot of time thinking about it, but I would say that if I wanted people to think about who I am, and I wanted to articulate that impression, I would say coming from a journalism background, both my business partner and I, for us it’s all about getting it right and sweating the details, and what you say and how you say it really matters to us.

I’m very focused on you need to put in the time, you know, do what you say you’re going to do, and meet clients’ expectations when you say you’re going to do it. That actually is somewhat of a rarity, is what our clients tell us anyway, when they’ve worked with other agencies. They are pretty excited to work with a group of people who follow through and deliver. I expect people to work hard, but definitely have a lot of fun, and we do have a lot of fun. We work on some pretty serious issues. Our clients are trying to keep people healthy and educate kids and power communities, you know, some pretty serious stuff, but we definitely try to have fun at the same time as we’re working pretty hard. So if that’s the impression that people have of me, I’d say that that’s … I’m pretty satisfied with that.

Kathy C.: Yeah, that’s a pretty amazing personal brand, and it’s interesting how you say it stems from your journalism background and getting it right, getting the facts right.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, and saying it right, and saying it more clearly if you can, and saying it quicker if you can. I think it’s also somewhat of a generational thing. You need to just sort of put in the work, and trust that if you do what you say you’re going to do, that clients are going to support you, and you’re going to have this lasting relationships that are obviously really important to sustaining any business.

Kathy C.: Yeah, and I think that’s important for our younger listeners, to hear you talk about that sort of thing, and doing the right thing, and making sure that you understand where you’re going. Sometimes they just think that you can hope it to happen, and you really can’t. What you’re telling us is it’s a lot of hard work.

Susan Morrisey: Well, it definitely can be a lot of hard work, and I heard a really interesting TED Talk a few weeks ago when I was listening to NPR. It was on a weekend. This woman was comparing and contrasting different social movements, and why some seemed to flourish and some sort of are a flash in the pan and they sort of burn out. She compared and contrasted issues such as the Occupy movement, and the Arab Spring, which were very big, very fast, and now you don’t hear about them anymore. Compared them with things like the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement, and the marriage equality movement, which took many, many years, even decades to advance.

By putting in sort of that hard work of relationship building, and it’s not all about the immediate sizzle that you are going to get from getting people to follow you, whether you’re a leader or whether you’re an organization or cause. Sometimes it’s about putting your head down and just doing that hard work about mapping out a future, and establishing the relationships that are going to help you get there. So I guess I kind of try to think about our business and my own career path in somewhat of that same way.

Kathy C.: I think that was really interesting the way you talked about the different movements, and how some of them just came out really strong, and then you just don’t hear about them. Then there’s some that are really following through, and that was what you said was in your brand. It’s following through, and do what you say you’re going to do, and getting it right. And I think there’s some movements that have got it right, and they’re very persistent, and they’re working very hard to continue to spread their message.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And you know, we have to do both. We have to be innovative and break through the clutter, but we also have to be effective and have staying power and be sustainable. So it definitely is, back to what you said earlier. It’s like we have to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Kathy C.: Right. Super interesting. Let’s talk about a learning experience or a situation in your career where you faced a professional obstacle. Tell us a little bit about that, and how you overcame it.

Susan Morrisey: Boy, I would say that probably the biggest … I don’t even know if I would say it was an obstacle as much as an opportunity, and just a new experience for me, was learning how to run an agency. As I said, I came from sort of a writing background, public policy background, and somewhat came into, I guess, accidental business ownership, like probably many people do. They’re just doing what they do and what they love to do, and suddenly you need to not just make the pies, you need to sell the pies, and run the pie shop, and all that stuff. And you know, I didn’t go to business school. I didn’t get a degree in accounting, or anything like that. So I would say, that just learning sort of the business side of running an agency was a challenge for me. It’s certainly one that I continue to face all the time, because I think it’s not just one and done, you learn it and there you go, you don’t have to do anything else. But I have learned a lot from being in a peer group with other agency owners and trying to network with other business people, whether or not they’re in my industry, reading books and things like that. So really having to sort of learn a different career set of skills, in sort of my mid-career. That was a big challenge for me.

More recently joining a nonprofit board and ending up chairing the board was an all new type of challenge. Running your own small business is different than being part of leadership for a large nonprofit entity. So that has provided a new set of challenges, and I think it’s always good to just keep finding those opportunities to push yourself outside your comfort zone and do things that you have no idea how to do it, but you just have to figure it out.

Kathy C.: Wow. That’s great advice. Thank you for sharing that. You know, being a practitioner in marketing and communications and PR, like you are, and then having to learn how to actually be the boss, and run the company with some skills that you may not have honed in college with business and finance and all that. So utilizing peer groups and networking, and then even just putting yourself out there even more on the nonprofit board. It’s just continued learning, and again, I think that’s why this podcast is so important. Because I want to continue to learn, and I want to provide a network where people can just learn some things from people like you. You have so much great wisdom to share, in even just the short conversation we’re having today. So I so appreciate you, sharing all that wisdom with us.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. I learn from it, too. Sometimes I have to remember that some of the folks that I work with, you know, I think of them as peers and colleagues, and then I remember wow, they’re 20 plus years younger than me, and think about what did I know, or what did I think when I was that early in my career. So I have to … I do get a lot out of sharing with people, whether or not we’re at the same place in our lives or in our careers. I think we can all learn a lot just from sharing what our challenges are. Whether you’re newly in your career, or a little bit more seasoned in it.

Kathy C.: Yes, I think so. You know, they always say we learn so much more from our challenges or our mistakes or our failures.

Susan Morrisey: Definitely. Yeah.

Kathy C.: So I think it’s fantastic to have someone like you share some of that.

Susan Morrisey: Definitely.

Kathy C.: Well, how about some daily habits. Do you have a habit or two that you can share with us that contributes to your success?

Susan Morrisey: Oh, boy. I’m always so impressed and envious when I read management books by leading business people that have these amazing daily habits, and I don’t know that I have really honed that. I do tend to carry a lot of stress, like probably a lot of people, and so doing daily exercise is really important to me. I have to get outside. Fortunately, I live in Colorado, so you can get outside virtually every day of the year. But finding time to decompress and to step away from your life and your work on a pretty regular basis, I think is important, because it sort of allows your brain to think differently.

I’m trying to make more time on a regular basis for that sort of deeper thinking that we all need to do. We have an open office format here, and that means everyone’s … We’re all together, all day, all the time. It’s like Thanksgiving every day. All at one big table. So you do need to find time to turn off email, and I’d like to say shut my door, but I don’t have one. So I just have to go somewhere, separate, and find time where I can think and plan, and things like that. And I can’t do it with the emails constantly coming in all day. So that’s a couple of things, just exercise and turn off your email periodically.

Kathy C.: And working in an open concept environment is like Thanksgiving every day.

Susan Morrisey: That’s definitely the up side of it. Actually I guess there are some down sides to Thanksgiving, too. It’s all that. It’s all that.

Kathy C.: That’s great. Well, Susan, I want to reflect back a little bit. When we started the conversation, you were talking about working with the nonprofits and the public agencies, and working on public issues, which is just so interesting. You said that sometimes it takes years before you see change. So I’d like to have you talk a little bit about measuring results, and how do you do that with those kinds of projects?

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, boy, that is a tough issue that we’re constantly discussing, and thinking about how can we do it better. Earlier in our existence, we worked a lot more on public policy campaigns. In those kinds of efforts, where you’re trying to pass a bill at the legislature, or you’re trying to pass a ballot measure, something like that, the outcome is very clear. You either win or you lose. It’s not that … It comes down to percentages by county, and the numbers make it very clear on whether you were successful.

When you’re working on something like increasing awareness of the importance of physical activity, or getting people to quit smoking, for example, sometimes the changes come more slowly. I mean, the state obviously does data collection, where they look at how many kids are starting to smoke and how many adults are quitting from smoking, but they only collect that data every couple years. So you have to find more kind of interim ways to see if you’re actually moving the needle on the issue. So some of it’s outputs and some of it’s outcomes. We always like outcomes better than outputs. I don’t like just talking about impressions and clicks and so on, because they’re very … They seem very transactional. We have to try and tie those likes or shares or clicks or what have you to people thinking differently, and ultimately taking a different kind of action in their life, which is tough.

We are increasingly hiring external evaluators to help us with that on our campaigns, where we’re actually working with somebody who is a trained evaluator, to say are we changing behavior or are we at least changing someone’s intent to change behavior. But yeah, measuring results is really important in every marketing campaign that you do. Just find some ways that you can get your client to agree to some things that they want to measure, and then figure out a way to do it in a cost effective manner.

Kathy C.: Yeah, you had some unique ways of looking at measuring results, too, boy. There’s nothing more specific than whether a ballot measure gets passed or fails.

Susan Morrisey: Right. Yeah, exactly.

Kathy C.: So that’s very interesting. Then you’re also trying to change behavior, so you’re measuring that sometimes through using state collected data. They’re always running tests on that kinds of thing. Then I like how you said the difference between output and outcomes. So output being clicks and likes and reactions to a campaign, but what you’re really looking for is the action or the change in the behavior, which you call the outcome.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. Yeah, and particularly if you’re focusing on something like prevention. If you’re … The focus of the campaign is to prevent something from happening. You know, sometimes those measurements take some period of time to measure. Either more kids are starting smoking or fewer kids are starting smoking, but you can’t measure that every week or every month or every … Sometimes you can’t even measure it every year. So you just have to find some things that you can measure, so that you know that you’re doing things that are meaningful and that you’re getting people to take actions that are going to hopefully lead to some further action that moves them further along that continuum toward behavior change.

Not that dissimilar to when … In buying behavior, when you need to get somebody to follow a brand, share something that they saw online, and hopefully they’re going to buy your product, and eventually, they’re going to love your product, and be committed to it for life. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight.

Kathy C.: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s the same and it’s different with a product. Because a product is sales. You can count the sales, but how you were describing it is, sometimes there’s a continuum of behavior. So you’re moving behavior, and that can be … That’s not so cut and dried as sales.

Susan Morrisey: Right. I mean, even if somebody is moving toward changing their behavior, they’re going to go through a number of phases before they’re ready to actually do it. You know, they’re going to have a pre-contemplative stage, where they’re kind of knowing they should change their behavior, but they’re not ready to do it yet, so they haven’t really committed to anything. Then eventually maybe, okay now I’m committed. I’m going to change my behavior. I’m going to do it in six months. So I mean, especially if you’re talking about something like a personal health behavior like exercise or quitting smoking. It can take people years to change their behavior around those kinds of things.

Kathy C.: Yeah. This information is just such a fascinating different way for me to look at marketing. I hope our listeners are seeing that, too. Again, it’s just a different facet of marketing. I’m so interested in the way you’re describing all of this. It’s very helpful.

Susan Morrisey: Good. Good. Glad to do it.

Kathy C.: Well, let’s talk about next year. It’s right around the corner. 2018. Talk about some marketing challenges that you’re seeing as being significant for next year.

Susan Morrisey: You know, I think that continuing to break through the clutter and the noise that people are facing is going to be a challenge, as it was this year and last year, it will continue to be next year. People are getting media from so many different sources. They’re getting it … You know, when you want them to be getting stuff in real time, they are, and sometimes they’re DVRing real time news. You just don’t … You don’t even know anymore when people are going to be accessing the information that you’re sending them. So I think just sort of staying abreast of those methods that can help you to break through and connect with your audience in a meaningful way is going to continue to be challenging. For us, working in a kind of cause-related space, as we do, that arena has become increasingly crowded. More and more agencies are positioning themselves as doing work that really matters. Which might mean just doing periodically or occasionally doing a pro bono project or something like that, but for those of us who work in that space all the time, it is getting to be a more crowded marketplace. Also a lot of brands, I think, are positioning themselves as being more sort of cause associated, and so that makes it challenging, too. That you just have a lot of different not just products, but causes, competing for people’s attention and competing for people’s time and commitment and loyalty.

I think the other side of that, in addition to it just being more crowded places, I think, we’re going to face sort of issue fatigue, where people are just tired of hearing about stuff. It’s like, “Oh, my gosh, just turn it off.” I mean, I find myself doing that, where I just don’t want to hear the news anymore. It’s just fatigue around some kinds of issues, and so I do worry about that. So just finding a way to stay relevant for your clients in that kind of environment is going to be challenging.

Kathy C.: Well, that makes a lot of sense. Specifically for the area of marketing and public relations and communications that you’re in, the cause base is just going to be crowded next year, and so breaking through the clutter for you is going to be a little more difficult.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. It is. And it is for everybody. But younger audiences, in particular, they’re all about being associated with causes. They really like the way that it makes them feel. Again, back to the issue of branding. So I think that it’s just going to be a more competitive environment for everybody.

Kathy C.: Yeah, I think so. And I think keeping it positive. I know I am definitely news fatigued, because I think there’s so much negative news around issues and causes, and I think if you keep it positive that people want to hear that.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. I agree.

Kathy C.: Well, Susan, I just got a couple more questions.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, love it.

Kathy C.: This has been again, just a great conversation. Thank you so much for your in-depth answers. Let’s talk a little bit about mentoring. That is something that is very important. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re being mentored, and I know when I look back on my career, I say, “Oh, yeah. That person was my mentor.” Tell us a little bit about what mentoring has meant to you, and if you have any maybe specific lessons that you learned and that you’ve applied to become the successful CEO that you are today.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. Boy, I would say, I think like you, I think most of my mentors have been somewhat accidental, and sometimes I’m recognizing them sort of in hindsight, where I’m like, “Yeah, that person was a really good mentor.” It’s funny because I know I have some colleagues in the business community here who are very intentional about seeking out mentors. They actually identify people that they want to be their mentor. They make a short list. They approach them, ask them if they would be their mentor, which I think is really interesting. And you know, I didn’t do it that way, but I’m sort of wishing I had.

But I had gotten mentoring in different places, from people that are important to me in my personal life and my business life. You know, business colleagues, and my partners … Probably the single most important mentor that I had, and it’s not somebody that I sought out, was my mother, who was a professional woman, now retired, but … And just watching her be a professional woman and actually on the job, watching her get up in front of groups and do training and speaking and those kinds of things, I think made a really big impression on me. And gave me some confidence that I might not otherwise have had. So yeah.

Just … You never know where you’re going to get mentoring, but if there’s somebody you think has important lessons that you can learn from them, I’d say ask them. I have a couple of friends who run agencies, and they actually have asked people to be sort of a board for them, just to hold them accountable, which I think is great, too. Being a part of a peer group, or something like that, where you get together periodically, and hold one another accountable, I think is an important way to get mentoring, as well.

Kathy C.: Yeah, those are several very good ways of talking about mentoring.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah.

Kathy C.: That’s neat that your mom was your mentor. I like that story.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, absolutely. Probably a lot of people’s mentoring probably comes from their parents, and it’s one of those things that you may not recognize it until later in your life, but I certainly do now.

Kathy C.: Yeah, that’s great. Thank you for sharing that. Susan, what advice do you have for women that want to get into marketing?

Susan Morrisey: Well, I guess my first recommendation is you just really have to try a lot of different things. There’s no one path to a marketing career. You and I took very different pathways, and me and everyone else here in my company took different pathways. I’d say that doing internships and volunteering, things like that, are really important parts of identifying who you are, and what you want to do. I did a lot of internships when I was younger, in college, and after college. So I think those are very important.

Staying involved in issues that you care about. You never know where that might lead you, whether you’re working at an animal shelter or you’re involved in some kind of sporting club, or what have you. I think just staying involved with interesting people gives you insight that you can take into the marketing arena, because at the end of the day, marketing really is just about human behavior. You’re trying to get people to think something, or feel something, or do something. So just get out there and just get involved, and be active in your community, and just try a lot of different things. The other thing that I would say, which is more specific, and it’s an actual skill, is that how you write matters a lot. I can tell you that hiring today versus hiring 20 years ago, it can be very challenge to find marketing professionals who are good writers, and it’s essential that you have good writing skills. You can’t fake your way around it. You have to be able to thoughtfully put together an idea on paper. Whether it’s in a client memo, or whether it’s in a research report that you are doing, or whether it is creating good compelling content for a campaign. It does matter whether you’re a good writer, so that’s something that if you’re not, you need to really continue to be concerned about how you can hone your writing skills. But that’s from the old journalism school.

Kathy C.: Wow. That’s fantastic advice, and very specific. I don’t think people think about that enough. That how you write really matters. That’s good advice.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, it does.

Kathy C.: Well, Susan, thank you for your time. We’ve had a great conversation. Time has flown.

Susan Morrisey: Yes, it’s been great. I loved it.

Kathy C.: In leaving, are there any books or podcasts or resources that you want to recommend to our listeners?

Susan Morrisey: Yeah, actually it’s funny. This is not necessarily a new book. It I think came out in 2017, but a colleague recommended it to me, and I’m about halfway done reading a book called Radical Candor, and it provides a really interesting framework for managing the sometimes challenging conversations that you have to have in the business workplace. So I highly recommend it, particularly if you don’t like to have difficult conversations with people, it just sort of gives you a different way to think about it that has been really helpful for me. So I have found it really fascinating.

Kathy C.: Radical Candor. Thank you for that.

Susan Morrisey: Yeah. Cool.

Kathy C.: Well, Susan. That’s it. We’re done.

Susan Morrisey: Great. Well, it was a pleasure. I really enjoyed it. Thanks so much.

Kathy C.: Thank you so much, and thank you everybody for listening. We’ll talk to you soon.

Outro: That’s it for our show today. Our latest interview and show notes have been added to our Show Runner Hall of Fame at Don’t miss an episode by subscribing now to the Show Runner Network Podcast on iTunes. And to network, motivate, and gain some more wisdom from the top, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn. Keep learning and growing, and thanks for listening.

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