A digital-first marketing and business strategist, Joanne Tombrakos has taught courses as an adjunct assistant professor in the Integrated Marketing & Communications department at the NYU SPS Division of Programs in Business since 2013. She previously held senior management positions in media advertising and marketing at CBS Radio, Time Warner Cable, and NY1 News.
Above all she is a writer. An expert in content marketing, social media, pitch-perfecting, and personal branding, she is a contributing writer to Media Village and the author of three books, including the workbook, Getting Your Personal Brand Story Straight. She also hosts a weekly podcast, Marketing, Mindfulness & Martinis. She is on the final stages of a book, Creating Your Pitch: A Guide to Writing a Presentation That Engages and Sells.
Tell us about your background and how you entered this industry.
I fell into marketing and advertising when I got a job selling ads on a fledgling country music radio station in Philadelphia. I had two degrees in education and no business experience. I wanted the experience. I had no idea I would fall in love with the industry. That was 1983. I consider that job a mini-MBA. Many of the lessons I learned there would serve me decades later as we shifted to digital—not the least of which was user engagement. Many tout radio as the original social media. From there, I went on to CBS and Time Warner Cable, NY1 News, and NY1 Noticias. In 2008, I branched out on my own, graduating into digital.
What is the importance of storytelling in marketing? What are the key elements of a good story?
Storytelling is everything in marketing. It engages and connects us. A good story has the ability to change our brain chemistry and give us that delightful feeling we get when we eat chocolate or fall in love. The term has been elevated today in marketing circles as a result of the noisy, distracting environment we’re living in. No one wants messages pushed at them using old-school marketing methods. They want to be pulled in. Story is the way to do that. A classic story arc is comprised of five stages: the hook, setting the stage for what’s to come, an inciting event that keeps us hooked, the unraveling of the story, and a resolution.
Talk about emerging trends in communications and marketing.
Trends to me are the tools we have available, whether it is a new social network, NFTs, or the mountains of data we have available to inform our decisions. Notice I said inform, not drive. I do not believe in letting data do the driving. Without human intervention, data is useless.
How is NYU SPS educating our students to keep pace with these trends?
The majority of NYU SPS faculty are practitioners. That makes a huge difference in the education our graduate students get. The tools and technologies we use to reach customers are changing in real-time. Whether I am teaching Digital Marketing or Social Media and the Brand, I start each class with, “Tell me something I don’t know.” The challenge is to find something I don’t yet know about. The idea is for students to understand that as marketers, their education will not stop when they get their degrees. There will always be something new to learn in this field. That is both the challenge and the fun.
What are some of the initiatives you are working on?
One of the programs I am involved in is the Real-World Strategic Partnership headed by David Hollander. This semester, my class is working with Samsung and its vice president and general manager for consumer electronics, Bill Lee, who gave the students a brief with a real-world problem to solve. Their assignment is to solve the problem and deliver a final pitch at the end of the semester. Not only do students get to solve a real-world problem with real-world interactions, they learn to work better within a team and improve their presentation skills.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities you see?
In today’s fragmented media landscape, in which everyone—not just products and services—is a “brand,” marketing is more important than ever. The challenge is to remember that at the end of the day the core of what we do has not changed. We are problem solvers, humans trying to connect with other humans and persuade them that we have a solution that is worth spending money on.