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Messaging That Matters!

Headshot of Liz Reitman.

On this episode of Amplify, Elin talks with Liz Reitman about messaging that matters! They discuss the support group that Liz co-founded, Other Parents Like Me (OPLM). OPLM is an online support group for parents of children suffering with mental illness or substance abuse. They also touch on topics of AI, the impact of video, and going viral on social media.

Time Stamps:

00:15 About Reit

00:47 How Liz Got Into Marketing

04:48 Joining a nonprofit, Other Parents Like Me

08:33 Marketing for Other Parents Like Me

12:34 Work that Liz is Most Proud Of

16:14 Joining Innovation As It Comes Out

18:55 The AI Conversation

20:20 Cutting Through the Clutter in Marketing

21:55 Is Video Important?

23:29 Measuring Success

25:37 Marketing Tips in Short

Full Transcript:

Elin Barton  00:04

Welcome to Amplify, the video series where we interview thought leaders about best practices, trends, and their experiences in marketing and messaging. Today I’m speaking with Liz Reitman. Liz is the founder of Reit, a New York City brand design studio. And she’s also the Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Other Parents Like Me, an organization that supports parents of children with mental health issues. All of that to say, Liz has an extensive knowledge in the area of creating engaging campaigns and marketing strategies that cut through the clutter. Liz, welcome to Amplify.

Liz Reitman  00:43

Thank you, Elin, it’s exciting to be here.

Elin Barton  00:45

Yeah, I’m really, really excited to talk to you. And I want to start out with a little bit about your background. How did you get started in the field of marketing in the first place?

Liz Reitman  00:56

Yeah, you know, it’s funny, I was always creative, my whole life. And I kind of fought it, I didn’t want to be. I was like, maybe I could be a doctor. Or maybe I could. And I discovered this profession called medical illustration, where you could go into a hospital, watch a surgery and draw and illustrate what was happening. And for me, that was the most brilliant thing because I was like, Oh, my God, it’s the combination of two things that I love. And so I wound up going to University of Michigan, because they had a great program for that. And literally, as soon as I started, it became very clear to me that this was not the right thing. I was not a good enough illustrator for the quality, like the illustrations that people were doing looked like photos. And so I had to like really rethink my creative/science side. And I, at the time, I’d never heard of graphic design. And I became exposed to that while I was at school. And for me, it made so much sense because I was a voracious reader. My father was an executive recruiter in the publishing space. So words, lettering had always been part of my vernacular, part of my life. So when I discovered graphic design was this whole idea of like, working with letters and how you communicate and typography, it was like a no brainer.

Elin Barton  02:19

Oh, that’s really interesting. I didn’t know that initial part about the medical illustration.

Liz Reitman  02:24

Yeah. And then I started in the publishing space, essentially, it was the next step, especially because that’s, you know, my dad had some great people he worked with there. And I sort of learned the ropes of working in corporate America and understanding processes. And, you know, I worked in the advertising and promotions department at HarperCollins. And when I was probably in my early 20s, it was Harper & Row at the time, and they were becoming HarperCollins. And they hired an outside agency to rebrand them. And this is literally over, this is a long time ago, was 30 years ago, and they spent over a million dollars. And I remember being just shocked by this, because they had a staff of 50 designers. So why wouldn’t you keep it in house, A. And B, holy cow. That’s a lot of money. And then right after that, I became an art director at John Wiley and Sons. And I saw the same experience. They outsourced their first website and spent 500,000. And at that time, I had a little bit more clout. I went to the other art directors said, who knows the product better? Let’s design their website. I went to the executive team, pitched it. And they said, No. So essentially, I started out, I started Reit because I thought to myself, I want those kinds of projects. I want to be strategic. I want those bigger projects. And it seems like you can’t, at the time, be in house to have those opportunities. So that’s really the beginning of starting Reit.

Elin Barton  03:58

Now you’re living the dream.

Liz Reitman  04:01

I mean, it’s 26 years later, you know, it’s interesting, because I started the company when I was 24. I don’t think I’d recommend that to anybody. Although, you know, now this generation, everybody’s got a side hustle. So maybe. But um, yeah, I am because I really, I still love what I do. You know, and it’s been fun to like I always look at what I do is helping people. So even though I didn’t go into the medical space, I’ve been able to sort of pivot my thinking of like, I’m helping people, you know, build their companies get their message out, make sure it’s the right message, make sure they understand their clients, what are those personas so. I’ve kind of been able to flip that script in my mind where I’m applying at my core of what I wanted to do, but just in a design sense.

Elin Barton  04:47

That’s really cool. What about Other Parents Like Me? How did that get its start?

Liz Reitman  04:52

I went through, my whole family was challenged with my son who was struggling with some mental health issues. And ultimately we wound up sending him to a therapeutic boarding school to get the support while he was in high school. And I was in therapy, I was doing group therapy. And this mom, Casie, had, we had become friends through the process. Her son was at the same therapeutic boarding school. And she called me and said, I started an online support group with other parents, because it was COVID. So we were no longer able to see one another. And she was really wanting support and community. And she was like, please come on. It’s Wednesday at eight o’clock. And I was just like, oh, my gosh, I do not, I’m already in therapy. This is my son’s issue. Why don’t we have to do something else? So I didn’t go. And then being tenacious, the way Casie is, she continued to ask me. And essentially, that first online meeting, I was sold, it became so clear to me the value. You know, I had amazing friends that I could talk to during my experience. But, you know, once you get on, and you’re in a group with people who know exactly what you’re talking about, exactly, and it’s so painful, there’s so much stigma, I felt very alone. My friends were great. But it was very different when I was telling my story. And I was getting emotional. And literally every head on all the screens was doing this, not only do they get what I’m saying, but they’ve probably experienced it as well. And so, you know, I saw the value for myself personally in that first meeting. And eventually, the whole community at this therapeutic boarding school wanted in, and were choosing to sign up, and it grew to such an incredible, at an incredible rate and speed, that Casie, you know, started with 15 families, and in a year, it went to 350. And she needed to get other parents to help her because she’d have no life running these meetings, and started offering different times and started looking at identity-based groups like a women’s group, a dads group. And, you know, as we saw the value and seeing the change in the parents from when they started, versus months later, and we started surveying and seeing people were really seeing the impact of being in these groups, because we’re not led by a doctor, right? It was peer parents, leading these groups. She and I, you know, talked and she was like, I really think this could be something, like we should take our learning and what this small school is getting, and bring it to the world. And you have your own business, you know marketing, you know branding, would you want to do this with me? And this was during COVID. So, you know, my Reit business was feeling the impact. And I, you know, I said let’s do the research. Let’s see what’s out there. Let’s make sure this is a viable, you know, maybe this was a one off, let’s be sure of it. And so we worked really hard behind the scenes, to be sure that this made sense. There was space for this. So yeah, so that’s a long way of saying how it got started.

Elin Barton  08:13

That’s a great story about starting Other Parents Like Me, or co-founding Other Parents Like Me. And it kind of, it makes me think about life and the circuitous route that things take and, and all of that experience that you had with messaging, suddenly had a new purpose. And can you talk a little bit about how you’ve been able to use your skills to amplify the message of the organization Other Parents Like Me?

Liz Reitman  08:43

Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, because it’s actually harder than I thought. I thought it would be easy. But it’s incredibly sensitive, right? There’s a lot of stigma, there’s a lot of shame. And as we started talking to parents that were working with us that were pure parents, to write blogs to do certain things, months later, they’d say, Can you please take that down? Could you please take my name off of that? So-and-so in my family saw it, or my, my child has come to me, and they’re embarrassed. Um, so that was one part that was really hard. The other part is, you know, how vulnerable do I get? I’ve always been sort of like, Liz, the designer at Reit. And then there’s another part of me. And I’ve really tried to keep them separate. And I was really soul searching on how deep do I go with my personal story, and how that will help the business and the messaging. So that’s, I still wrestle with it, right? Because it’s really personal. But at the same time, if we don’t talk about it, and we don’t go deep and far, then we’re not going to be able to move the needle, right? People will still sit in their shame. And then the other challenging part is, it’s a different, like it’s b2c, business to consumer. And my business was always business to business, right? So I, you know, commonly we did like a WordPress site that’s informational. It’s a different way to communicate to the masses. And you have to, what I’ve learned in doing a lot of research is communicating the same thing multiple times, multiple times, letting them understand the deal, you know, making it very simple. You know, trying to understand the different personas and what’s going to resonate with who. And then also the build of the site. Like, there’s one part that somebody’s going to come in and just find information. And then there’s the actual platform that people are logging into. So that’s a whole other experience. And then really understanding how to make that customer experience the best that it can be. And that’s where Casie and I work really well together. She, because she’s like, really the originator of all of this, is constantly in the meetings, the support groups and hearing what people are looking for and asking for, so that we can make sure that we’re, you know, articulating the right things, that we’re elevating their experience. Like right now we’re adding a chat feature, because we’re seeing the community really wants to talk amongst themselves more than just the meetings. So there’s a constant pivot, a constant evolution of learning different things. We’re also learning like our email communication, right? When somebody’s brand new, they’re trying it out for two weeks, we understand there’s stickiness if they attend at least one meeting. If they don’t go to a meeting or a support group, then they may not sign up. So we really worked very hard with our email communication with those individuals. At first, we were like, We don’t want to bother them, they’re in crisis or could be. You know, you don’t want to overwhelm. And we’ve realized that no, it’s important that we consistently communicate within that block of time, because we really got to get them into a support group.

Elin Barton  12:08

Yeah, there’s something about being in that space that you’re describing where it’s such hard work, you’re in that creation mode and learning mode and figuring it out mode. But you know, at the other end of that, there’s great reward, and you’re helping people and you’re growing your organization. And you know, it’s all good, but I know it’s hard. And, you know, kudos to you for sticking with it. So I’m curious, just in thinking holistically about your career, either with Other Parents Like Me or with marketing over the years, is there a story that sticks out where you feel the work you’ve done is like, especially fulfilling or something that you’re really proud of that you could share with us? We’re talking about, you know, amplifying the message and the brand.

Liz Reitman  12:59

Wow. That’s hard because it’s 26 years, right. So.

Elin Barton  13:03

I’m sure you have a lot of stories.

Liz Reitman  13:04

Yeah, I have a lot of stories. I think that, you know, in a very, very small scale level, some of the things I’m most proud of is where we’ve been able to help the community. We teamed up with, you know, I live in downtown New York, and we were helping one of the parks down here. And we created a campaign that people could donate because they needed to replace the basketball courts, they were damaged and not usable. And literally, within two weeks, they were able to raise the money to do that. So for me on a very small scale. I just love that, because I’ve always been trying to figure out how can I use design to give back; that’s been very important to me. And I saw the direct results. And it’s my neighborhood, it’s my community. And we really made that a focus for Reit, where we dedicated a certain amount of studio time to companies that couldn’t normally maybe afford our normal rates, or it was a need based organization. So there’s been a lot of gratification from work on some small. On a larger basis. I think for me, what I love is when a client comes to us, let’s say the auto show, right? So we do the New York International Auto Show. And they have a very, I love working, Mark Scheinberg is, you know, in charge, and he will have ideas, very specific ideas. But I love to push the envelope and will present things that are along the same lines of what he was asking, but we’ve taken it even further. And for me, the goal is the wow factor. He’s like, wow, I would have never thought that, or I didn’t expect that, or you took it to another level. And so I think those are the most gratifying, because yes, you need the data and the analytics. But I like it when we can actually surprise somebody, but it’s collaborative at the same time. To me, those are the biggest wins. And I also think that when somebody doesn’t like something, for me, that’s the most fun, because I love to try to understand what’s going on. Like, there’s so much psychology in what we do, right, because it’s so subjective in some capacity. So, you know, whenever we have those challenging conversations, you know, they’re sent to me. And I actually like them, I enjoy it, because I want to try to figure out, parse out, why did purple make this person so upset? Or why is this, you know, creating friction, and really trying to get to the root of what. And sometimes it’s very hard for people to articulate, they don’t know what they want until they see it. And there’s no way we can design that way. That’s like throwing, you know, sand to the, to the sky. So, you know, those are a lot of my most enjoyable experiences as well.

Elin Barton  16:10

Yeah, the psychology of purple. I love that. So, Liz, you’ve been in this business for a long time, and many things have changed over the years. And what I’m curious about is when it comes to amplifying a message or brand, the techniques that have been available to you over the years have obviously evolved and changed. Is there anything that you kind of resisted when it first came out that you wish you would have kind of grabbed on to sooner? Can you think of anything that you’re like, Ooh.

Liz Reitman  16:46

I mean, like everything, I’m so old school, like it’s crazy. I, What I learned, what, I mean, it’s changed so much. Like I started when email was starting, right? So just think about that. My world was paced up and mechanicals. And computers were just coming out. That’s how old I am. But what I learned was I really leaned into my team. And so I remember in the very beginning, QuarkXPress was the big layout tool.

Elin Barton  17:16

I remember QuarkXPress.

Liz Reitman  17:18

Yeah, and I knew every keyboard, like control. I could like maneuver through that program like there was no tomorrow with my eyes closed. And then all of a sudden, InDesign came out. And that was the big hoopla. And, you know, my team really pushed back. They were teaching it in school. And, you know, and it also made sense from a, from a cost perspective, because they were bundling it with Illustrator and Photoshop, which we were already using. And so I remember that was like one of my biggest shifts in the very, very beginning, because I, like, we knew QuarkXPress. Our files were with QuarkXPress. I was like, why shift? Why make a change? So you know, it’s, I’ve constantly pivoted, otherwise you can’t stay in business. Then I remember websites became a thing, right? So then we pivoted for that. And then I added a developer. And now there’s SEO, and there’s pay-per-click advertising. And so there’s a lot more analytics to things as opposed to maybe design. So, you know, I think when I look back, maybe I regret that I didn’t start a CRM system soon enough, right? I remember HubSpot talking to me years ago, and I was like, Hmm, that sounds too good to be true, their program. Now look at them, right? So there’s definitely been a lot of opportunities. But I’ve always really leaned in and listened to my team. And then also, you know, just other entrepreneurs and what they’re doing, and learning from people. So I’ve made it a point to not be too rigid anymore with where we are. Because I mean, there’s no way we’d be in business.

Elin Barton  18:56

And now we have to address AI, of course.

Liz Reitman  19:00

Yeah. Yeah. And I think it’s exciting, honestly. To me, I, you know, obviously we’ve got to be wise about it. I’m still learning. I know it’s helped us a lot with copywriting, with giving us ideas. There’s definitely going to be, you know, changes in the design world. But at the end of the day, it’s what’s the prompt? What are you telling it? What’s the direction? And I truly think like from, you know, we offer strategy, we’re coming into a company and we’re really rolling up our sleeves. Like I just met a client. They haven’t even signed us on yet, but they wanted to meet in person, because they really wanted to talk to us about their business, their challenges, what they’re going through. How are you going to replace that with AI for somebody to be like, Okay, this is, here’s your, here’s a communication plan. This is what you should do. And here’s the budget, right? So I think it’s great because I think it’s going to make some of these sort of task oriented elements quicker, faster, easier. And then I think there’s other capacity, like the people are always going to need what we do, in my opinion. And I also believe so much of why Reit has been around for so long is the relationships. I genuinely believe, like, I generally like people. And I like to understand like, what’s their goal? What’s the business’s goal? And so I feel like there’s always going to be a need for that.

Elin Barton  20:24

Yeah, absolutely. And so each campaign, obviously, is a little different. People’s needs are different, goals and companies and all of that. But if you had to generalize and go to the other end of the spectrum, what do you think are some of the elements of a fundraising campaign or a marketing campaign that really grabs somebody’s attention? There’s so much clutter out there. How do you connect with your audience?

Liz Reitman  20:50

Yeah, I think, well, we approach, you know. I’ve worked in so many different verticals. Like I’m working with a prosthodontist, right now, never even knew what that area of dentistry was. And then I work with the Auto Show, right? Like what could be more different right? Cars versus a rebuilding of a jaw and teeth. So we just we approach every project the same way, we’re going to talk to the organization, understand what’s your goal, number one. And I always say to my designers, we can make anything look good. But it’s got to be the right message for that client. And what I’ve learned is keep it simple, right? People really don’t want to read a lot. Be very succinct. Always have graphics, visuals, video to support what you’re saying. And, you know, deliver the message multiple times in multiple places. That’s kind of our core.

Elin Barton  21:45

Yeah, I mean, that makes perfect sense. And I love that, keep it simple, keep keep the message consistent. And, you know, share it again and again, is what you said earlier. What about video? How have you seen or how have you used video in engaging campaigns? Is it an important component of an engaging campaign?

Liz Reitman  22:05

Yeah, I think video has really just grown exponentially. I think of all mediums, it’s probably the fastest, and especially with captioning so that you can watch something, but you don’t even have to have the volume on, I think that’s just been transformative. And, you know, it just tells the story better, especially when it’s done well, right. Like, if you get a video that’s not, that’s kind of cheesy, or put together poorly, that could work against you as well. Right? So you can still use that medium, but you got to do it right. But yeah, I noticed that, you know, everything we do now is including video. Anytime we’re building a website, we’re adding a video, if there’s an e-signature when we’re doing branding, we’re adding a video. On social, there’s video. So that’s just part of our vernacular right now. And, and I also am seeing like designers as they graduate, have so many more talents, right? Like when I graduated, you just learned graphic design, but now they need to be able to edit, they need to be able to maybe create their own video, they need to be able to be familiar with some code, they need to be able to design so, you know, video is just part of all of it.

Elin Barton  23:22

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And I can listen to you talk all day. This is fabulous. So what are some of the ways that you can tell if a campaign has been successful besides money, besides numbers? What are some of the other ways that you can tell if it’s been successful? Sometimes it’s hard to measure but you know it’s worked.

Liz Reitman  23:47

I totally agree. And you know, what’s funny is like, I’ll even say that when it comes to social media. You know, we have a lot of clients that are like, we want to go viral. How come we don’t have, you know, millions of viewers? And I try to explain to them that that is like a unicorn, right, that’s not common. But what I noticed was like, if I use Reit as an example, we would promote a lot about our successes or projects were working on or thoughts on things in the industry. And maybe we wouldn’t get a ton of likes or people commenting, you know, always at your core. But then I would be out and about, I’d go to a conference and I bump into somebody and they’d say, Oh my gosh, you guys are killing it. I can’t believe how many awards you’ve won. And I think to myself, wow. So she saw our LinkedIn posts. She didn’t thumbs up it or say anything, but she saw it. So for me, that’s when I see that there’s validation, and I try to explain to our clients, it’s really just getting, being out there. And I see myself the way I look, I may not comment but I’m noticing. And those people that are consistently putting their message out there, providing valuable content, not just like, hey, look at me. Um, you know, I’m noticing it. And it’s just, I think it’s in your unconscious. And to me that is success.

Elin Barton  25:10

Yeah, I think that’s so common too. I have that all the time where I run into somebody, and they’re like, Oh, you guys have been so busy doing so many things. And I’m like, How do you know? Because they’re seeing it, because we’re putting out consistent content. So, so much value there. But that was actually my last prepared question that I have for you. And I just want to ask, is there anything else that you want to add regarding amplifying messaging?

Liz Reitman  25:39

Yeah, I just think that, you know, you just gotta stay open minded, keep pivoting. Look at what’s out there, you know, try to be unique. And I don’t know, I just think it’s fun. You know, it’s been exciting. But I do know that you’ve really got to know your customer, and market, like use the right words, use the right visuals to represent yourself. I go crazy when I see these templates, right, where everything looks the same. Just you know, try to, you know, be unique, but true to who you are.

Elin Barton  26:12

Hmm, Amen. Love it. And it’s so true people, sometimes, especially emerging brands, or newer brands, they, newer people, newer to the marketplace maybe, don’t recognize the value of investing in this type of work, but it’s so important. And and we see it too with video, like we see people not making the investment and representing their brand with something that just isn’t reflective of the value that they want to portray. Okay, Liz. Well, it was a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much for taking the time. And you have a great weekend.

Liz Reitman  26:54

Thank you, Elin, and thank you and your team. I really love what you guys are doing. I love your new branding. I found your marketing for your company really impressive, consistent and a good role model for other people, so.

Elin Barton  27:09 Thank you. Thank you. Right back at ya.

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