Behind the Headlines With Imelda Suriato

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Brands need to connect with their audiences through effective communication. But how will you send the right message if you don’t know what consumers want?

Imelda Suriato, vice president of Cone Communications, says the consumer needs to be the focus, not the brand.

In this interview, Imelda discusses the importance of data and analytics, what brands can learn from nonprofits and how to keep up with today’s consumers.

What are you most excited for in your new role as vice president of Cone Communications? What will your role entail?

I’m most excited at the opportunity to marry my background in creative, strategy and research with the capabilities of an agency leader in consumer PR and cause marketing. Prior to Cone, I was in the digital and user experience space for the majority of my career, so PR is a new animal to me. It’s allowing me to flex my brain muscle in a different way, as I learn how to maximize what I can do for our clients in the world of public relations.

I’ve built my career creating strategic, insights-driven communications solutions for global brands, helping them navigate the dynamic consumer marketing landscape. By blending quantitative, qualitative and anthropological methods, we can unearth compelling insights that ultimately lead to more meaningful connections between consumers and companies and their product or service.

At Cone, my expertise in uncovering these consumer insights will further enhance the agency’s creative campaigns and initiatives. Cone is the unparalleled leader in delivering innovative communications programs that always make a difference to businesses, brands and society. I’m thrilled to build on the amazing heritage of the agency.

What are some of the key components of an effective PR strategy? How do analytics drive PR strategy?

An effective PR strategy, especially in today’s hyper-digital and always-on world, needs to be based on credible data, smart insights and holistic activation. There must be an intense devotion to research, insights, creative, content, digital and social engagement and earned media.

Cone is an agency that believes in and acts on this premise—and is proactive and bold about initiating that conversation with its clients. This coincides with my view of always think future-forward. Analytics inform us about consumer behavior.

But it’s not the analytics I like; rather, it’s the insights pulled from the analytics that are golden, especially when you apply nuances to the insights.

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You’ve worked with global brands, such as Revlon, Christian Dior and Pantone. How do you adapt brand communication on a global scale?

Whether you’re a global brand or local company, the consumer is always at the center, not the brand.  Understanding what consumers want, how they behave and the markets they are in is crucial to successful brand communications.

Let’s face it: people have the same drive no matter where they live or socio-economic level. Whether it’s in the United States, Australia, the U.K. or China, consumers look for food to eat, clothes to wear, etc. On a global scale, it’s all about matching what products or services mean to consumers in various markets with what their needs are: adapting to the consumers on the ground level.

You also founded the advocacy initiative, I’m Not a Monster, to benefit animal welfare organizations in the U.S. How does nonprofit communication differ from brand communication?

Photo by Virgil Ocampo

Photo by Virgil Ocampo

With nonprofits, you are not getting consumers to buy a brand. There has to be an emotional, sometimes even primal, connection to hone in on. You have to engage the consumer in the call to action for the issue at hand.

The challenge for nonprofits is, as they grow, continuing to maintain the image that they care about the cause, not the dollar. Those in brand marketing could learn a few things from those marketing nonprofits. That emotional connection needs to be there to engage the consumer.

Cone is an agency that has recognized this, and has historically delivered incredibly successful, emotions-driven marketing campaigns for brands – from the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women to Lindt’s annual Easter partnership with Autism Speaks – and continues to do so today.

Ask yourself: what are the needs of the end consumer, and how are they fulfilled?  For brands, there is the purchase of the product or service being sold. With nonprofits, the “consumer” gives a donation (monetary or time) to help fulfill a charitable cause.

You have to find people out there who care about your issues and the messaging needs to be strong enough to get them to commit and take action, either by opening their wallets, volunteering or spreading the word. So it is not unlike what we should consider as brand marketers.

What do you see as the biggest PR challenge facing brands today? How can they overcome it?

Put simply: how do brands grab the attention of consumers long enough to enable a brand message to penetrate deep enough to drive an action? Today’s consumers are smart and empowered, asking brands to get it right, and brands are racing to meet the demands.

PR agencies need to think of creative ideas that demonstrate integrated thinking across all touchpoints. Today’s ‘right now’ culture also means that there is little time for insights-driven ideation. Time is a luxury often not afforded to agencies so you have to be consumer-obsessed, staying on the pulse of trends – always asking what’s new, what’s different, what’s next, what we should be doing and how to do it right – in order to be highly informed and culturally relevant.

What is the biggest lesson about PR you’ve learned throughout your career?


I’ve learned that PR is not just about press releases. No, I’m just kidding. This is my first foray into “real” PR, so it might be a little premature to ask me this question. But what I am seeing so far is the importance of an integrated communication strategy.  It is absolutely crucial.

Rapid Fire Round

1. My biggest pet peeve is…I can’t decide between arrogance, ignorance or laziness.

2. I laugh most at…my dogs. And myself!

3. If I won the lottery, I’d…build a place to house after school programs for kids/teens to pursue their passion—art, music, film, photography—under the guidance of mentors who are respected in the industry. The only requirement is that they have to work with adoptable animals housed in the facility, socializing and training the animals to help them get adopted. It will also have a scholarship aspect to it, working with education-based nonprofits with strong mentorship programs like the Jackie Robinson Foundation or the Boys and Girls Club. So a win-win for both humans and animals.

4. My hobbies outside of work include…cooking, deal hunting (I love “Housing Works”) and various gastronomic adventures.

5. One thing most people don’t know about me is…I don’t go to the movies. The last one was in 2002.

6. My hidden talent is…being a master of stupid hand tricks!

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Images via Pixabay: 1, 2, 3

About Maria Materise

Maria Materise is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Formerly a copywriter, she enjoys creating content that excites and inspires audiences. She is an avid reader, movie trivia geek, Harry Potter fanatic and makeup junkie..

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