🍞 Communications Introductions: Ken Shuman
Founder of InterConnected Strategies and Interim VP of Communications at Misfits Market
In This Interview
🎓 How your professors become career mentors
📊 Why you need to understand data in communications
🥊 Who should be in your Challenger Network
Ken Shuman is the founder of InterConnected Strategies. ICS focuses on developing brand narratives and building marketing communications programs to help bring the narratives alive with internal and external audiences. Ken is currently working with Misfits Market, Sealed, and Telstra Ventures. Prior to starting ICS, Ken led communications at Rivian, Pindrop, NerdWallet, and Trulia.
What sparked your professional path into Communications?
My journey into communications began with an unlikely origin: as an accounting major. I went to the same university as my father and grandfather who were running Shuman & Shuman CPAs so it was natural that I was going to become an accountant and take over the family firm. But when I took my first accounting course, I realized it was a lot different than helping my dad sort checks when I would go to the office as a kid.
I went on a discovery journey. I met with different professors and chatted with them about what career paths I could pursue with human resources, operations or communications majors. I found amazing professors who were in the Communications department who really helped me to think about what inspired me. I realized that I'm a natural storyteller with lots of energy. I love meeting people and learning about new technology. Communications felt like the right direction.
One of those influential professors was Simon Moore. I took my first PR practice and theory class with him. I’ll never forget the first day, he held up a banana and said “tell me something newsworthy about this banana.” The class looked at him in silence. Then, he said tell me about the nutritional value, the place where it's grown or the top five recipes for bananas! Instantly, my mind exploded in excitement.
With Professor Foertsch who taught small group communications, a similar experience happened in her class. On the first day, she had us all un-tie our shoes. She challenged me to teach everyone to tie their shoes. It was incredible how an activity that seemed so simple was all about communications — the challenges of explaining and the importance of clarity. These wonderful mentors taught me a lot as I took the time to explore my passions. Ultimately, it’s led to an exciting career in communications.
What projects are you particularly proud to have accomplished over the years?
My six years at Trulia were truly magical! The culture of the company was great. I’m also really interested in real estate, even exploring options when I'm on vacation. I was there at an interesting time when the housing crash happened. I’ll share two projects I’m proud of there.
We went really deep on real estate data, but it was challenging because there were all these established real estate data metrics out there. But, there was no real data tracking the demise of the industry hour by hour instead of at 30-45 days. So we created a first-of-its-kind price reduction report. We developed a way to sort and search for homes to find all the recently reduced prices. I partnered with the teams to create a formula for the industry and homeowners that could predict the average day when prices would drop. CNBC, Yahoo Finance and Reuters would cover these updates. From this moment, we created an entire data program, hired a Chief Economist and we did more with data and visuals.
We also knew when celebrities would be putting their homes on the market. But, we had a moment where we decided to become our own newsroom — not having us pitch the entertainment blogs, but we wanted them to follow us. We launched Lux Living with beautiful celebrity homes and other gorgeous houses. It was one of the first real newsrooms for a company where we were issuing our own breaking news and the media would write about our discoveries. It really flipped the script, from us hoping someone would cover it to us getting hundreds of thousands of visitors per month to our own media property. At the time, it was really big and different.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Communications?
The best piece of advice that I can give about skills is to stay on top of all current technology. 25 years ago, the only way you would communicate was by faxing your news to a newsroom. These days, you control so many channels — there’s direct access to consumers, video, infographics and data.
In particular, data is a key part of any communications program. It used to be that comms professionals only used a spreadsheet to track reporters they were pitching, now it’s so much more. You need to be able to communicate with data science and tell those stories. You also need video skills to be a strong storyteller in today’s streaming world.
I'm a big believer that every company needs a Chief Communications Officer because we're responsible for protecting the company's reputation. You need to work closely with every part of the organization internally, from HR and internal comms to the Executive Team to the Board. This means you need to understand how to read an S1, understand the fundraising process and how to attract executive talent to help scale a growing company.
In your role, how do you partner with Internal Communications?
I love internal communications because it’s such a powerful force — your employees are your number one brand advocates! When you work with a brand like Misfits Markets, it can be twice as powerful because people join for the mission!
We are constantly reminding employees how much food we rescue and how we reach rural areas where there's very minimal selection because of food deserts. We want to make sure everyone has access to healthy food and that is why people join Misfits Market to feel good about that impact. A great example is our recent annual report we published to start 2022.
It's so important to slow down when talking with your employees. An informed employee can be your biggest cheerleader. They are excited to tell their friends and family about the service and they want to reach into their network and help fill key roles. I'm working to help build stronger employee communications programs because it’s just that important.
How do you continue learning about the field of Communications?
Five years ago, I was introduced to a philosophy that’s been transformational for me — creating a Challenger Network. When I saw this post by Erica Alioto on LinkedIn about how she's created that network, I immediately loved the term!
We all have a network that pumps us up. It feels good and cheers you up, but is it really going to help you? This challenger network takes a subset of your network to truly challenge you — they're not just friends that always say nice things, but they will push you.
For me, it consists of agency owners, content specialists, video creators and designers. They ask me questions like — have you thought about trying it this way? When it comes to really zigging when others zag and really learning and growing, I lean on them heavily. I learn by talking to people in the industry, by pushing myself to think differently and by trying new ideas.
What's your favorite food you've received in a Misfits Market box so far?
I love exploring new products with my orders. One of my favorites has been Dave's Killer Bread English Muffins. It’s a story of a great company giving second chances. There’s a salsa that I love called Sam's Famous Salsa. I also just tried Yo Mama's Marinara which I love for the name, and the product is low in sugar and has great flavor.
What I love about Misfits Market is the way they rethink the whole food system! They've been doing interesting work upcycling a product. For example, when Belgian Boys’ Stroopwafel are made and cut into round shapes — what happens to all the edges that fall off the assembly line? We’ve partnered with them to make special co-branded waffles that pick up all those bits and pieces and turn them into waffles.
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☎️ Every edition of The Switchboard is personally curated by me — Julia Levy. This post is based on a live interview conversation and edited for publication. Learn more about why I write.