December 22, 2012
An interview with Matt Grossman, VP for Publicity, Communications & CSR at The Walt Disney Company EMEA
It’s been quite some time since my last post and a great deal has happened in the meantime, the biggest of which has been the start of my internship at The Walt Disney Company (TWDC).
Since I started back in July, I have worked on a number of campaigns and initiatives including the Inspired by Minnie Mouse designers collection, the Winnie the Pooh Storytelling Academy and most recently the collaboration with Harrods to create a Disney Boutique, the first Disney Cafe in the UK and a Disney Princess Windows Extravaganza in the Knightsbridge store.
I have enjoyed access to some of the most senior executives at TWDC EMEA, all of which I’ve found to be extremely passionate and inspirational people with a real desire to develop their staff, in particular their interns, as much as they can.
With this in mind, I approached Matt Grossman, Vice President for Publicity, Communications and CSR at The Walt Disney Company, who kindly agreed to let me interview him.
CV and Experience
Matt’s path into PR is an indirect one, which emerged from his love for film and entertainment. Matt studied his undergraduate degree in Film & Production at Middlebury College in Vermont, USA. It was at this time that Matt began to get his first real taste of the entertainment industry, including working as a ‘runner’ for Woodstock 94 – the 25th Anniversary Concert of the famous Woodstock in 1969.
Soon after that, Matt was taken on by worldwide talent agency for writers, actors and directors, William Morris, as a trainee – despite failing his typing test!
“I loved working for the William Morris Agency; I got to see the whole film process from start to finish.”
Matt knew he wanted to work in the entertainment industry, but hadn’t quite found his calling. It was at this stage Matt decided to study for a MBA in Marketing and Entertainment at the highly revered Anderson School of Management, UCLA.
Having gained an invaluable network of influential contacts during his time at UCLA, Matt was soon snapped up by First Look Entertainment, an internet company that promoted upcoming movie, music, games and TV releases with sneak peak previews on the internet.
Matt was then quickly snapped up by The Motion Picture Association (MPA) in 2001, working on Digital Strategy and Corporate Communications. The MPA is funded by the major US studios, 7 at the time, including MGM, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount and of course Disney. Matt’s network multiplied significantly during his time at MPA, as he liaised with all of the Comms Heads across the 7 studios on a regular basis. During this period, internet piracy was beginning to emerge as a serious threat to the future of entertainment business.
“What we had to communicate was that illegally downloading content was stealing! People just didn’t seem to understand that they were harming the industry they enjoyed so much.’
In response to this growing problem, Matt and his team at MPA launched localized and adapted an industry-wide education program in more than 40 countries to raise consumer awareness on the impact of new technologies and piracy. Although Matt was keen to stress that getting 7 competitors to form a consensus was “difficult” to say the least!
Matt then decided to use his expertise in the increasingly significant digital world as Senior Vice President of Digital Entertainment, Rights & Technology at Edelman, in California in 2005, before moving across the pond to Paris in 2007. Matt’s clients at Edelman included the likes of Microsoft, Warner Bros, MySpace, Avid Tech and Xbox.
“In an agency environment, attention to detail should be at the core of everything you do. When I was at Edelman, I used to preach to my team that you’re only as good as the last thing you sent – so make sure it’s perfect!”
In 2008, Joyce Lorigan left her role as Vice President of Corporate Communications at TWDC EMEA and one of Matt’s contacts at Disney from his MPA days put him forward as a candidate and he was offered his current role.
Marketing vs PR
Working at such a vast, transnational company has reignited my interest in the turf war between Marketing and PR, and the extent to which one ends and the other begins. When asked for his opinion, Matt claimed there was a fundamental difference in the two fields.
“Marketing can be seen as one to many, where as PR is one to one, then to many. Marketers just want to get their message out there, there’s not really a dialogue—think of most advertising for example. Where PR is concerned, there is an argument to make, which makes getting our message out there and presented in the desired way somewhat more challenging.”
Matt argues that Marketing is either owned or bought, where as PR is earned – resonating with Richard Bailey’s advocacy of Fred Hoar’s saying: ‘advertising is pay for play, PR is pray for play.’
Who owns social media?
I asked Matt about his views on social media, and more specifically should it owned by PR? Or Marketing? Or neither?
Matt claims that managing social media should certainly not be a standalone business function and instead should be utilized by both Marketing and PR initiatives, depending on the nature of the message or call to action. According to Matt, there’s no reason why Facebook and Twitter should be exclusively used by either discipline. Although, blogging and blogger relations has to be handled by PRs.
However, as the discussion developed, Matt illustrated how it’s not always as simple as that and the nature and sector of the organisation will dictate the division of ownership over social media.
For example, the social media channels of an FMCG brand like P&G will be dominated by Marketing. However as Disney’s multichannel business model derives from a heritage of storytelling and quality content, the way in which Disney leverage social media is split between the two disciplines.
“I think people get caught up in who ‘owns’ social media. Slice and dice it however you like – as long as your messages are aligned and coherent.”
In-house or agency?
I asked Matt to critically analyse his experiences of in-house and agency roles in terms of skills gained from each and which he thought would be more suitable for a graduate.
Matt responded immediately with ”time management skills! When you work for an agency, you have multiple clients to cater for – all expecting you to devote the most time to their account, you learn how to prioritise your work much more effectively.”
The randomness of the clients you work with at agency is also beneficial to developing your skillset, according to Matt. In addition, in an agency, you work on products you don’t always want to sell, which really tests your PR skills. As Matt puts it ‘you get really creative when you have to sell s*** products!’ But you have to be at the edge of changing industry and are expected not only to embrace new trends, but also be an instant expert.
“Agencies compete for intellectual capital. Therefore to thrive in the extremely competitive market, you have to have a rigorous work ethic. Your clients expect exceptional results, and if you don’t deliver, there’s always someone else who will. But the main advantage for a graduate is agencies are always looking for new people.’
Matt then talked about how in-house roles are generally more secure, but you don’t get the breadth of work in the same way do in an agency.
What’s the best way to evaluate PR?
During my degree, I’ve found that evaluation of PR is a tricky subject to talk about. Despite the CIPR trying to curtail the use of AVE as an evaluative tool, Disney heavily relies on AVE its main measurement of success.
When asked about his views on evaluation of PR, Matt cited a quote by Sir Martin Sorrell: “I’d cut 50% of our marketing budget, if only I knew which 50% to cut!”
Matt advocated that although PR initiatives are not always easy to evaluate when studied under the objective lens of ROI, it is still a vital business function. Positive, editorial coverage in the media is something you can’t put a price on.
Matt highlighted how Microsoft evaluated their outreach initiatives during his time at Edelman based on impact. Microsoft would set a target of a certain number of what they deemed “top stories”. But the criteria for a top story included among other things:
· That the brand name is in the title of the article
· The article must be exclusively about the brand
· It must feature a powerful quote from one of the brand’s executives
· It should include a placed image
Matt then claimed that thinking of PR in terms of ROI is a fundamentally flawed way of thinking as reputation is not always a monetarily quantifiable thing. Evaluation of PR should consist of comparing the results of your initiatives against the initial objectives of what the initiative wanted to achieve- whether that is awareness, sales, brand elevation, social engagement, tune-in etc.
On the future of PR
As a student entering the PR industry, I find the turbulent interefficatious relationship between PRs and journalists fascinating. I asked Matt how he envisages the future of PR in a changing media landscape.
Matt commented on how every journalist has increasing workloads, shrinking resources and less expertise and influence.
“Consumers get their info from so many different sources nowadays. New technology, such as Google Alerts has changed everyone’s mind-set – we no longer look for news, news finds us.”
With this in mind, Matt advocates that PRs should be extremely mindful of what journalists and the demographics and psychographics they write for want.
Advice for students and aspiring communicators
Matt was keen to stress the importance of experience to any budding PR, but not in the conventional sense.
“Of course climbing the ladder is important, but students and young professionals need to look at the importance of inspiration, broadly speaking. The next step in enhancing your career and personal development is not always upward or linear.”
Matt then went on to discuss how choosing to study an MBA in Marketing and Entertainment presented a pivot point on how to develop his broader skillset with a more business-focussed lens.
When asked for advice on my own academic path, Matt recommended that I gained 3-6 years work experience after obtaining my BA before considering studying a Master’s degree, as this will ensure my skillset will be developed enough to maximise my value for money and indeed time.
All in all, Matt Grossman is an incredibly fascinating, knowledgeable guy who relishes in sharing his wisdom to employees of all levels, and I hope to emulate his success in my own career.
November 8, 2011
The fourth of the CIPR Autumn Guest Lecture Series at Leeds Met was hosted by Managing Director of the northern arm of Euro RSCG, Brian Beech, accompanied by Jenni Bamford, a recent Leeds Met graduate now working as an Account Executive at Euro RSCG.
Brian began with an entertaining metaphor: “PR practitioners are like rhinos – thick skinned and charge a lot!” He then stressed the importance of the utilization of the news agenda and topical word of mouth, citing the death of Schmeichel (a dog from Coronation Street) and Pets at Home’s information campaign to advise pet owners on how to deal with a death of a family pet.
Brian then identified the key issues surrounding the future of the PR industry:
- Significant growth in online media
- Less journalists covering more areas
- Explosion of social media
- Development of consumer-generated content
Nonetheless, he was quick to outline that British people remain the most avid newspaper readers in the world, with 33 million print readers a week, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Moreover 71% of people read regional papers in contrast with 57% of people who read nationals and the percentage increases the further north you go due to a growing perception that nationals are too London-centric. This outlines the redundancy of ‘mass’ comms and the need to target micro, rather than macro-environments when communicating a message.
“The growth in new media is the biggest paradigm shift since the industrial revolution. It’s not a fad, it’s here to stay,”
Brian quoted the fact that 96% of people have used social media at some point, and the new phenomenon has overtaken pornography as the number one activity on the web. 1 in 5 couples met online. However as Brian ironically pointed out 1 in 5 marriages that end in divorce are because of Facebook.
“ 50% of pensioners in the UK use Facebook and a third use Youtube, every minute 24 hours of video is uploaded to Youtube; there are even babies in Egypt named ‘Facebook!’”
These statistics illustrated the need for PR students to transcend beyond mere enthusiastic amateurs to experts in digital media. Social media is instant, mobile and permanent and professional communicators will need to respond rather than deny – to quote Brian “What happens in Vegas, stays on Facebook!”
Brian concluded a rather entertaining lecture by emphasising the need for students to be doing work experience throughout their studies, otherwise how will you know what you like and you are good at? Brian was also keen to outline the need for PRs to specialise, or be negatively regarded as generalists. Ending with on a comical note, when asked what he specializes in, Brian replied “Bullshit!”
April 11, 2011
This initiative coincides with the launch of the new +1 feature. Page is asking all employees to test the new social product, tell friends and family and feedback. This tactic infuses an incentive for employees to spread word of mouth and hype about Google’s social products – after all; it could affect their pay packet!
Google’s previous attempts to leverage the social-sphere have been dubious at best. Twitter rival Dodgeball was abandoned in 2007, the ambigious Wave was shut down in summer 2010, Buzz is mired in e-commerce controversy laws and Groupon turned down Google’s $6 billion takeover offer.
It’s not ALL doom and gloom
Youtube (acquired for $1.65 billion in 2006) has continued to build a significant global community of users across 23 countries, viewing in excess of 2 billion views a day.
Orkut (launched in 2004) has a huge density of users in Brazil, although those figures are beginning to decline.
Google’s new mobile app Latitude looks promising however. The location-sharing app is similar in design to Foursquare and Facebook, however with an innovative angle – users can only obtain latitude-endorsed offers (20% off at Macy’s for example) if they unlock certain statuses i.e. Regular, VIP, Guru.
Nonetheless, the status-based offers don’t work on the iOS app and are only redeemable in the US – excluding a massive chunk of users.
Google’s social conquest remains largely dubious. Although according to DigiTimes, 20-25 million Andriod smartphones are expected to be sold globally in 2011, surpassing Symbian to become the largest smartphone platform, with emerging markets such as China accouting for 10-13 million sales. The accuracy of these predictions has yet to be seen.
Although the apple-shaped elephant in the room sold 3 times more iPads in their first week than Motorola have sold Xooms thus far according to the Deutsche Bank who got this estimate after looking at the Andriod developer website to see how many people are using Honeycomb.
You have to admire Google’s persistence in the face of consistent failure to dominate the social and smartphone markets. That said, Google have been slow to react to the actions of the organisations they are trying to contend with. Maybe Google should concentrate on what they excel at – search technology.
March 27, 2011
After becoming fed up of checking the same old websites religiously, I thought I’d try the network StumbleUpon to see what all the fuss was about. It soon became my new addiction!
The idea is simple, yet genius – users pick their interests from a lengthy list of topics from fashion to space exploration, then begin stumbling through a plethora of randomised web pages that other users have stumbled upon while surfing and felt the need to share it with fellow users.
The database of websites grows and grows as more users share content onto the network. Stumblers have the option to share content with their Facebook & Twitter accounts.
All of these qualities result in a user-friendly social network that cures boredom constructively – by allowing you to access information and media you may have otherwise been oblivious too – a far cry from ‘So Bored! 5 People like this.’
But is the seemingly lucrative fountain of knowledge a curse? Because of its simplicity and effectiveness it entices you to keep clicking the magic stumble button. The network has managed to hardness mans’ innate desire to know, and overcome man’s natural indolence.
Our techno centric culture has the potential for unhealthy obsession. Many people are self-confessed Facebook or Twitter addicts – with super-fast broadband and smart phone technology, it’s hard not be engrossed in the online culture and StumbleUpon is just another form of social-media that has the potential to make us anti-social, neglecting our physical lives in favour of this digital information goldmine.
But is this really as sinister as this image would have you believe? The thing that makes StumbleUpon different from the other fads is its insightfully interesting tailor-made content. Its nature inherently encourages the sharing of learning – for free!, which can only be a positive. I’m a keen user of the network, regardless of how long I spend glued to the screen!
March 24, 2011
Ailsa Brogan-Hewitt graduated from the BA PR course in 2009. She is now an Account Executive at Rising Digital, a social media and word of mouth marketing consultancy specializing in the music industry.
Ailsa was undecided about where to study, however the reputation of PR at Leeds Met coupled with a more than impressive open day swayed her choice.
Ailsa’s fondest memories of LMU include achieving her first ‘first’, finally completely her dissertation, graduation day and of course what every student loves best – excelling in the Leeds club culture.
In her current role at Rising Digital, Ailsa helps both emerging and discovered artists make the most out of new technologies and online platforms. She works to create environments where clients can communicate with fans, look after and maintain their social networks by uploading quality content and enhancing their online presence in an ethical manner.
Mostly, Ailsa manages accounts by promoting new releases, podcasts and competitions. She also updates clients’ websites, blogs and social networks with relevant content.
Working with DJs / Producers the likes of Axwell, Deadmau5, Chris Lake, Michael Woods, Sander van Doorn, Mauro Picotto, Mason, Sasha, Paul Rogers and Simon Patterson, Gorillaz, Ailsa struggles to pick a favourite as they’re all so different and talented in their own way.
“The best thing about my job is that no day is ever the same – it’s one of my favourite things about working in social media. Everyday presents new ways of doing things through the use of evolving technologies and obviously the fact that it’s music means it’s very difficult to get bored. For example, I love the instant satisfaction of posting a blog post on a clients Facebook page and seeing the amazing feedback left by fans… you don’t get that from seeing your press release in a magazine.“
Ailsa’s advice to current students is to “play hard, but work harder, nothing that’s easy is worth having – a great philosophy which I live by!”
March 14, 2011
Recently valued at $65 billion, Facebook has transcended beyond a social network, or a business: it’s become a global contagion – the 5th estate.
According to Facebook’s statistics, users install 20 million applications a day, 250 million people engage with Facebook on external sites 2.5 million websites are integrated with Facebook.
It seems having a Facebook account has become compulsory nowadays. If you ask most users why they use Facebook, the usual response is ‘because all my friends use it.’ Facebook is the monopoly of social media.
But is this right?
Most users are unaware that once they upload a picture onto their profile, they forfeit ownership of that image to Facebook (this may pose a dilemma for aspiring photographers!).
Facebook also provides a qualitative market research goldmine. Users are encouraged to disclose as much information about themselves, even what languages they know. The check-in feature adapted from Foursquare now means users can share virtually every move they make!
Not a day goes by when I don’t check my Facebook account at least once and I imagine most users are the same. Perhaps Facebook’s widespread success is down to its game dynamics: the more users interact with the website, the more rewards they get i.e. more friends/likes, more comments and engagement from other users and a bigger online presence or branding.
Zuckerberg (probably) isn’t a super villain on an evil conquest to take over the world, he just managed to innovate a service that people all over the world are attracted, and in some cases addicted too.
Once a Facebooker, always a Facebooker.
February 28, 2011
No-one could have anticipated the avalanche of protestation we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa since the new year, which has been aptly dubbed The Arab Spring
Ben Ali and Mubarak have been ousted from their positions of power in response to prevalent protests which were organized, co-ordinated and shared via the use of social media platforms, predominately Facebook & Twitter.
The most effective weapon in the protesters’ arsenal was the smart phone, which allowed demonstrators to capture and record the transpiring events and publish them on their various networks for the entire world to see.
The popularity of social media has effectively destroyed any notion of censorship (a fact that Gaddafi struggles to come to terms with). In this sense, social media can be regarded as a force for democracy as it has empowered the people of North Africa to receive, consume and broadcast their discrepancies directly, as well as organise and mobilize demonstrations and protests without state intervention and propaganda.
I for one find it exhilarating; yet alarming that social media has the potential to topple governments. Wikileaks savvy decision to publish cables involving Egypt & Tunisia during the protests has had influence over the outcomes as well, although the world has seen firsthand how social media can sway the future of a nation.
Revolution does not require a smart phone – the European Revolutions of 1848 needed no such technology to overthrow their regimes. However there is undeniably an inherent pro-democracy nature of social media, and dictators and despots across the globe fear its power.
February 3, 2011
Everyone has a lot to say about social media nowadays, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.
I for one am a keen advocate of the use of social media because of its ability to connect anyone to everyone. Sites such as Twitter have enabled me to network with industry professionals and peers instantly for free.
Facebook allows me to keep in touch with my close friends and acquaintances. LinkedIn has enabled me to display my CV online which can be accessed by potential future employers.
Youtube users can upload unlimited videos which can be viewed instantly (most of the time!) by anyone with a computer or smart phone. I use it all the time to listen to new music and can share these tracks with my Facebook friends at the click of a mouse (or tap of an iProduct).
This blog has allowed me vent my thoughts and opinions and open a dialogue with others. I guess what I’m trying to say is that social media empowers people. It’s a natural territory for PR by definition – its allows anyone and everyone to relate to their publics (or stakeholders).
I wrote a blog on anti-social media outlining my opinions on the negatives of usage of social media. But on balance, social media has far more positives.
For me, the unique selling point of social media is its novelty. It conveniently connects us to the people in our lives as well as allowing us to meet new friends and handy contacts.
Social media isn’t just the future, it’s the present.
January 18, 2011
In my first semester at Leeds Met, it became increasingly evident that social media was the future of PR (and Advertising, Journalism, Marketing & Networking for that matter). I realized the magnitude of social media when Richard Bailey not only allowed, but encouraged live tweeting throughout his lecture, with the hash tag #prlecsm.
Social media allows PROs to communicate and coverse with their publics instantly from the comfort of their office. It bypasses the traditional journalistic ‘middle men’ and puts power in the hands of of anybody and everybody. Communication has never been easier, with awesome smartphones and super-fast broadband, the power of social media is constantly growing, ushering in a ‘Golden Age’ for the PR industry.
However the revolution in social media, could lead to devolution in the real world. The most popular social media platform is without a doubt Facebook, which is currently valued at $50 billion. Over 500 million people worldwide have a Facebook account (including my nana!). However what can be a vibrant and entertaining platform can be abused and turn into anti-social media.
People seem to be so engrossed with their Facebook account that they neglect their offline lives. I actually overheard two girls the other day bickering over who had more friends on Facebook, as if it’s an accolade to have more friends added than someone else.
Some of my Facebook ‘friends’ post some insulting, childish, pointless and baffling status updates. I have actually starting removing people from my friends, because of their annoying updates on my so-called ‘news feed.’ I noticed that I didn’t even know some of the people on my friend list!
Without ranting too much, seemingly innocent things, such as uploading and tagging photos of people in a drunken mess can have disastrous consequences. Many employers have been deterred from hiring candidates because of embarrassing and unsavoury photos
It’s not just Facebook, Paul Chambers’s tweet in November last year read “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” This tweet may have been a joke, but Chambers was still sentenced to a £3,000 fine!
The Liverpool footballer Ryan Babel was fine £10,000 this week by the Football Association Regulatory Commission because he tweeted a picture of referee Howard Webb wearing a Man Utd shirt following their 1-0 defeat. It’s worrying how social media has the power to become anti-social.
Although, social media is predominantly useful and entertaining. It allows friends, family and colleagues to communicate and network instantly across vast distances. Social media can and does empower people.
Just look at Linkedin, which allows people to connect with past and present colleagues as well as advertise themselves to prospective employers in a fair and objective way.Other social sites such as Foursquare allows you to tell your friends where you’ve been, where you’re going and the quality of that experience. Path is the opposite to Facebook, limiting you to 50 friends so you stay connected with the people that really matter in your life.
Moreover, after reading ‘Social media lessons from the year I spent in bed’ by Jennifer Kane, you realize the amount of benefits social media bring.