🛬 Communications and Marketing Introductions: Julie Inouye
Communications and Marketing Executive and Advisor
In This Edition
🛬 Find the right altitude in communications
🧭 Be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable
💥 Lean into your superpower
Julie Inouye has spent more than two decades helping brands tell their stories and leading marketing and communications teams for global brands, such as Podium, VSCO, LinkedIn, PlayStation, Yahoo, and more. She has spent her entire career building global communities and helping companies of all sizes and stages to scale their businesses and teams. She is a self-proclaimed crisis communications junkie and will travel for good eats.
What sparked your professional path into Communications?
I started my career as an intern at CNN. My first day was 9/11. I can take myself back to that day and still hear, smell, and feel all the emotions in an instant. I was sitting in the waiting area for my manager and I remember seeing all of the TV screens filled with images of the first tower being hit, then I sat horrified as we saw the second tower get hit. It was not clear right away that the crashes were terrorist attacks, but I felt the immediate shift in energy and urgency across the newsroom.
I remember wanting to help somehow and offered to answer the press hotline. I hadn’t even been introduced to the full comms team yet and I just jumped in. While many of my friends opted to end their internships early and head home, I chose to extend my time because I knew I was right where I needed to be – to see firsthand how decisions would be made in the coming weeks and months to come, and to be in a position to help people access this information and find connection and community with others.
I always tell people, this is when I knew I’d be a career communications person and that I would run towards the things that felt hard or unknown. I became obsessed with learning about all aspects of communications so that I could continue to storytell and help brands to positively impact people’s lives.
How have you focused on internal communications in your leadership roles overseeing Communications teams?
I don’t see a world where internal communication is not part of how you communicate. The employees are always your first audience! LinkedIn was very advanced in how it invested in internal comms. For any product announcement, we always had employees play with the product first and talked about it with them before sharing it publicly. Even as a public company, this is something that we did exceptionally well at LinkedIn and something I’ve brought over with me to other companies.
I think building authenticity and trust is critical for internal communications to be effective. This gets built by being intentional in sharing both the good and bad news — and then doing it consistently. I think another critical ingredient is finding the right altitude. Many companies fail to establish this and then find themselves largely in reactive mode to whatever is the issue of the day. This causes so much whiplash in the system. When I join a new company, I think about what altitude we want to fly — how can we be clear and consistent at this altitude? This helps to set the tone of what employees can expect and in establishing employees as your first audience.
How do you define communications?
Communications has evolved so much in the past 20 years and even during the past few years of the pandemic. What has remained constant however, is that I’m in the business of brand reputation.
My job is to make sure the brand is known, understood and trusted by all audiences. Using this framing has helped me navigate my career in a way that has not pigeon-holed me into one type of comms or marketing — and has allowed me to be pulled into all aspects of the business as an advisor, ambassador, and truth seeker.
What is a project you are particularly proud of accomplishing?
In 2020, in the midst of George Floyd’s death and protests, we wanted to do something meaningful and find a way to support our Black creators at VSCO. So my team launched a campaign called Black Joy Matters through the leadership of Shavone Charles and Ashley Robinson.
My team wanted to do something that highlighted more than the trauma and violence that typically is used to depict the Black experience in America. So we asked our community to share photos of #BlackJoyMatters inclusive of Black joy, success, confidence, love and more. It was a wildly successful campaign with a minimal budget. While we didn’t launch the campaign trying to drive metrics, it became one of our most engaged and powerful conversations we’ve hosted with our community. It also received a ton of press but most importantly, allowed us to spotlight such a needed conversation about what it looks like to create space for and to celebrate Black joy.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Communications?
Two things have worked really well for me. You have to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. With new apps launching every day, you have to be willing to try new things and be comfortable with not being the expert on everything. My personal practice is to regularly download top apps and use them for at least two weeks, as well as surrounding myself with people who are way smarter than me on a range of issues and topics that I am not! It has helped me stay on top of and ahead of changing dynamics and trends, particularly in how people connect, communicate, and relate to one another.
The second thing is something I’ve learned later in my career and it’s to catch myself from being the naysayer in the room. Having been in communications for 20+ years, it’s easy to say something won’t work or to not give it the right amount of breathing room because you’ve seen it not work before. I’ve learned that it is critical to give things the chance to transform, turn into something new, or just have a different outcome. This practice has also helped me to create the safe space needed for my teams to bring their ideas and challenge ideas too.
How do you continue learning about the field of Communications?
I ask a lot of questions. When I see something interesting, I’ll reach out to people to see if they’d be willing to share more about their work. You’d be surprised how positively people respond, even when you cold message them on LinkedIn.
I was asked once by a leader to rethink the contribution of earned media to SEO attribution. At the time, I felt it was out of scope and a wild request, because quality over quantity is what we do in comms. So we decided to use it as an opportunity to learn and get smarter so that we could have a more evolved conversation with our business stakeholder.
We spoke with a variety of teams at different companies and ultimately learned that our gut instinct was correct – that one hit in the New York Times was in fact more valuable even for SEO than dozens of third-tier hits. However it changed the way we tracked our work. My team implemented a way to leverage SEO attribution in our quarterly coverage reports which allowed us to have a very different conversation with the internal team. And I got to learn a lot about SEO in the process!
What advice do you have for someone considering a career in communications?
Communications always interested me because at its core it’s about building community through storytelling. As I look back at my life now, I can easily spot the pattern recognition. Building community and storytelling have always been my jam. It is my most natural superpower. Even as a student I was always running for student leadership positions, hosting events to connect different groups of friends, and rallying people around common causes and issues.
So my advice is to take a moment to really understand and embrace your natural superpowers. What are your natural passions? What are the things that make you most proud? What do you find yourself doing even when nobody's looking? If you can align those natural gifts with whatever career path you take, be it in comms or not, you’ve hit the career jackpot.
Thank you for reading The Switchboard. ☎️ Every edition is personally curated by me — Julia Levy. This article is based on a live interview conversation and edited for publication. Learn more about why I write. Review the Index of past posts.
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