GEN Y EXCLUSIVE: How DoSomething.org’s CMO is revolutionizing the world of marketing and philanthropy
(pictured above: DoSomething.org’s CMO Naomi Hirabayashi and her team ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange)
New York, NY — Naomi Hirabayashi has worked as chief marketing executive at DoSomething.org for only two years. Follow her around for an afternoon, and you’d think she’s been running the joint for a decade.
I spent the day at DoSomething’s headquarters with Naomi, 29, in Union Square. She’s known for being a champion of her teams, and supportingly sensitive. I wanted to find out what makes the organization (where the average age of an employee is 24) tick.
Whether it’s their rockstar COO Aria Finger who makes frequent appearances at conferences (and a recent cameo on the cover of Crain’s New York Business), or the DoSomething awards with VH1 or the stream of pop culture news stories about any one of the DoSomething campaigns (24 in 2012 alone!), these guys are changing the world like no other company I’ve seen.
HOW IT HAPPENED
I’ve been friends with DoSomething Chief Operating Officer Aria Finger for almost two years. I asked Aria if we could follow her around.
She wrote back: “I get too much attention for what we do as a team. Would love to introduce you to Naomi.”
Naomi, turns out, is Dosomething’s CMO. We set up a time to hang out. It was a Friday afternoon. After brief niceties in the lobby, we went into the conference room for her weekly PR catch up with Sunshine PR’s account executive Stewart Goodbody.
RAPID FIRE MEETINGS FOR CHANGE
DoSomething.org operates like a traditional advertising agency with account, campaign and new biz dev teams. They pitch brands to get involved with campaigns for 6-figure commitments. With a budget of $8,000,000 annually, they tackle issues that impact and engage their 1.3 million 13-25 year old database.
Part of the appeal that draw big brands to do big business with this non-profit is their celebrity engagement and massive PR reach. That’s where Stewart Goodbody comes in. She heads all PR and celebrity involvement for the organization.
Naomi and Stewart run through campaigns and PR outreach — what’s working and what’s not — faster than I can keep up. Together, they are responsible for filtering the information to their team of 22.
Fox News, Today Show and E! News are discussed. Top secret celebs that will be a part of upcoming movements are also talked about. I ask Stewart about having junior Dosomething employees (sometimes fresh out of college) about being company spokespeople.
“Initially we were concerned to let such young people front and center and speak on the organization’s behalf,” Stewart tells me. “But we see the wisdom in what these guys (DoSomething management) were pushing for.”
Naomi powers through the update. All current campaigns are discussed including Vote Up or Shut Up (“campaign to get young people pre-registered to vote and find local polling places”), Pics for Pets (“participants become publicists for pets who need homes”), Grandparents Gone Wired (“participants teaching their grandparents the Internet and technology”) to bullying in schools.
I stop and ask about the bullying initiatve.
“In most national media on bullying, teachers and administrators were interviewed,” Naomi explains. “What we didn’t see was someone asking the teens about the issues of bullying in schools.”
DoSomething launched the Bully Project, giving young people a platform, via a Facebook app, to discuss bullying in schools.
Armed with the data, DoSomething.org partnered with the New York Times and got the story placed in conjunction with the Adcounsel on bullying.
“We’re here to serve the students,” Naomi says, shifting her focus to Stewart. “What’s up with the New York Times piece?”
BIG BRANDS INVESTING IN CHANGE
After the Friday PR meeting, Naomi and I walk to a conference room for a call with Intel. All campaigns are brand-backed, and they tap into the 13-25 year old database.
I asked Naomi what happens after you turn 25.
“We say best of luck to you,” she says, giggling.
She explains that there are plenty of non-profits geared toward adults. But, she says, far fewer hit the teen and young adult sweet spot.
“Did you know the number one fear of high school students is how to pay for college?” Naomi asks me.
I didn’t know that.
“So we set up social scholarships, making it easier for kids to Dosomething,” she said.
In fact, DoSomething.org gives away about 9% of it’s operating budget, or $600,000, every year to graduating high school seniors. She and her team want to make it as easy as possible for young people to get involved in their communities.
A WORK FORCE YOUNGER THAN 25
Naomi leads the call with Intel executives because she hasn’t met them yet.
“I just got back from a month of volunteering in Kenya,” she says as she dials into the call.
For employees at DoSomething, the perks are a bonus. Four weeks paid vacation when you’re hired, and after two years of employment, you get a one month paid sabbatical to volunteer anywhere in the world.
Naomi switches into business mode. She outlines the plans and initiatives for “Grandparents Gone Wired” with Intel execs. The execs are impressed.
Naomi’s account executive, Sydney Cohn, is just 24. She’s a recent college grad and this is her second job.
“To have so much responsibility so quickly is overwhelming,” Sydney admits. “At the last PR firm I worked at, I was so sad to go to work all the time. I had never been close with the people I work with until I got here.”
THIS GENERATION’S MARK
An entire office of 20-somethings, rallying each other behind getting involved in changing the world and marrying that engagement with the deep pockets of corporate America is the ethos of DoSomething.
As I walked around the office on my own, eavesdropping on conversations, hearing things like “did you know claymadia is highest among old people than ever before?” I realize that DoSomething.org represents the ideals of our generation.
It is improvement of the world around us through constant and sustainable change, a forward moving momentum powered by the the genius of a generation that – quite plainly — sees our world differently.
It’s not about what we did or didn’t learn in school or the encouragement or trophies we did or didn’t get when we were younger. It’s that the playing field has now been equalized, and many of us are rising up and blowing the lid off of what our parents once thought to be possible.
THE TENDER MOMENT
I’ve spent three hours at DoSomething. I’m just about to leave, but I have one more question for Naomi. What frustrates her most?
“Criticism without solutions,” she says point blankly.
She ponders for a moment, and confides.
“Win, lose, we are very passionate about what we’re doing.”