Lizabeth Landon Cole’s career in branding and public relations spans 16 years. She’s been contracted to lead creative strategy — from public relations and marketing, to merchandising and design — for independent brands, media publications and corporations globally. This past year, Cole transitioned from a 15 year career as the founder of LIZABETH Design & Development, a PR agency servicing both local and national accounts, to join The Penny Hoarder as their first director of media relations and communications. As the head of PR, she has already pioneered the company’s way towards success, landing national broadcast media placements and ranking the No. 1 fastest-growing private media company by the Inc. 500.
This week, Cole sat down with us to discuss the importance of transparency, how to craft successful messaging, and the importance of finding a work- life balance in such a fast paced field.
How did you discover your passion for communication?
From an early age, I was inspired by my grandfather, Ned Landon. He was head of public relations and communications at General Electric from the early 1960s-1980s. He was a chief speechwriter for many top executives — including Jack Welch — and he instilled in his four daughters and 10 grandchildren that networking, creativity and passion were tools for success.
I often got in trouble in school for talking during class. What can I say? I always had a passion and drive for communication, whether through writing or public speaking. As president of my high school business club (nerd alert) I enjoyed debate and role-playing in marketing, which led me to business school as an advertising and PR major.
You have recently transitioned from a successful career as the owner of your own branding and PR agency to the Director of Media Relations & Communications with The Penny Hoarder. Could you discuss some of what motivated that move, what owning your own organization allows you to bring to your new role, and what you are hoping to accomplish as the director of communications?
While the “dream” seems to be owning one’s own business, I’ve really always wanted to just do what I love. At some point toward the tail end of the last 15 years as principal owner, I let go of the ego; it felt right to “go brand.” I quieted my agency, took this role and haven’t looked back.
I’m not sure how many other women — not to mention mothers of three, like me — who own their own business would let it go to work for a startup owned by a man almost 10 years younger than them. This was a no-brainer for me because I believe in our mission and our culture at The Penny Hoarder. I’m grateful for the work-life balance given to all who earn it here.
When I formed my agency during the the rise of internet marketing in 2001, many brands needed multi-channel marketing consultancy. I championed hundreds of people and businesses to launch products and concepts, both regionally and globally. As my children got older and life changed a bit, the urge to simplify, in a way, grew stronger. I wanted to do everything I loved doing, but for one company. My 24/7, Type-A work ethic is still the same as when I ran my own show. However, the team I have now at The Penny Hoarder across all departments is invaluable. And, honestly, like many boutique agencies, I could have never swung this sort of support on my own.
As director of media relations and communications, my goal, ultimately, is to bring more readers to the website. We are currently ranked the #1 Fastest-Growing Private Media Company by Inc.500 and we have no plans to stop. We speak to the unspoken to, currently reaching over 21 million readers per month. We gear our media efforts toward bringing even more eyes to The Penny Hoarder. This way, millions more can benefit from our expert advice, whether through our television, podcast, print, web or social media placements.
What is the most important lesson about communication you’ve learned throughout your career? How does that shape the way you approach communications in your new role?
Be a networker. Build confidence in yourself, your client and your target customer, and mold executives to get out of their own way. Communicating a brand’s value will not work without these steps.
While we cannot control perception, we can control a message. We carefully evaluate which steps and strategies will best propel the brand message. And because I have a passionate approach to instill networking and confidence in my staff and our executive team, we are able to successfully meet goals.
What are some of the key components of a successful strategic communication strategy? How do you determine what will make your strategy successful?
Learn and fully understand the lifecycle of a message, whether it’s a corporate communication or media placement. Get out of your own box and expertise, and think like your customer, client, reader and the media. Bring in staff to brainstorm with you, and always have the mindset to stretch that message and maximize its full potential reach. With social and digital media, these strategies have never been easier. It will take elbow grease and sweat equity, but it is so worth it.
How does social media affect The Penny Hoarder’s mission and goals? What benefits does it provide for a brand’s communication strategy?
Social media plays a large role in our strategy to continually serve our readers. We have a fast-growing and fast-paced team led by Jeff Stevens. Our engagement — whether on our Facebook vertical pages that reach nearly 5 million fans daily or during our Facebook Live segments — never ceases to amaze us.
A brand can use social media to build buzz until the cows come home. However, if you’re not engaging and bringing value to your customer, then you’re failing both the company and your mission.
With so many new technologies and platforms, how should brands choose which ones to include in their communication strategy?
I believe in doing something well instead of trying to do all things and only scratching the surface. Brands simply cannot be all things to all people. It’s important to focus on what will ultimately deliver the best value to your customer.
In communications, specifically, there are still many bare bones — traditional strategies I learned from watching my grandfather’s career or while attending school in the 90s. The ROI must be there when it comes to tools and gadgets. Don’t dive into a technology or a platform just because everyone else is doing it. What you think may be working for your competitor may not work for you.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing brands today? How can they overcome it?
Oversaturation. To overcome it, find your niche. Don’t even start unless you can really help someone with your product, your mission or your services. If your brand is in a slump because a competitor got the edge, you’ll have to hustle and evolve in a quality manner.
At The Penny Hoarder, we write for the 51% of Americans who may not have a savings account, don’t necessarily know the difference between an IRA and 401(k), and are too intimidated by most finance publications to consider opening them. They’re part of the gig economy; they have real, everyday struggles, and our content goal is to give readers solutions with transparency and actionable takeaways.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in this field?
Burnout rate is high, so be conscious of this. After 15+ years of the marketing and communications hustle — not to mention watching family members in the same creative career space — I finally started to check my work-life balance and my ego on the regular. I cannot stress the importance of this enough.
Unless it’s a PR crisis, nothing is life or death (even though I’m slightly choking saying this out loud). The rush of PR is exciting, however, you can train your clients and your media contacts how to work with you, and not vice versa.
As a leader, be accessible, transparent and encouraging as you move up the ranks. If you can’t walk up to a stranger at a mixer and start a conversation, this isn’t the career for you.
Rapid Fire Round:
1. My favorite holiday is… New Year’s Day
2. The song that is my anthem is… “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan
3. I feel accomplished when… I feel like I’ve helped someone else
4. If I had a billion dollars, I would… Buy unlimited black James Perse t-shirts
5. If I could change one law, it would be… Jaywalking
6. I laugh most at… My kids’ random witty comebacks