‘Our mission is to understand social media better than anyone else’

21 Feb 2019

Lisa McDonald. Image: Storyful

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Lisa McDonald outlines how Storyful has evolved alongside the social media landscape to help stem the tide of disinformation.

Lisa McDonald is the global chief creative officer for Storyful, responsible for the development and execution of consumer insight reporting, creative strategy and social threat intelligence solutions for Storyful partners. She is also general manager for Storyful EMEA, leading the business strategy and operations for the region.

Previously, McDonald was the creative director of Notorious PSG, one of Ireland’s leading creative brand communications agencies. She was also a board director of parent company PSG Communications (now Teneo). Prior to that, she was a director at Slattery Communications.

Storyful was founded in 2010 and founder Mark Little will be speaking at Inspirefest 2019 this May alongside former managing editor Áine Kerr.

‘There is no other organisation in the world that offers the range of services, to the variety of partners, that we do’

Describe your role and what you do.

My role as chief creative officer is to set and oversee the mission and strategy for a global team, ensuring that our products and services are unique in market and provide unparalleled value for our clients. I’m specifically tasked with developing solutions for two key target customer profiles: corporate clients and social media platforms. As such, I work with my colleagues to set and implement the commercial strategy and inform our product roadmap.

We are best known for working with newsrooms around the world and our social newswire. However, as the social media landscape has become more complex and more important, we saw an opportunity to use our social media expertise, data access and bespoke technology to provide corporate customers with unique consumer insights derived from social media, social threat intelligence and creative strategy.

We also work with a number of platforms to support them in their efforts to fight the spread of misinformation and disinformation on their channels. Our expertise and technology allow us to help them understand the tactics of bad actors, and also allow them to understand and map how disinformation spreads from platform to platform, from its inception on fringe networks, through mainstream social media networks, and sometimes through to traditional mainstream news outlets.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

My to-do list seems to get bigger on a daily basis, so I use some simple filters to prioritise my workload – is this customer-related or business-critical? Can someone on my team handle this? Is this a blocker to someone else’s goals?

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Storyful faces a unique challenge, in that we are operating in a category of one. There is no other organisation in the world that offers the range of services, to the variety of partners, that we do. This presents us with enormous opportunity, but we face the challenge of market education and marketing a complex offering. We’re currently focused on simplifying our offering and putting clearly defined products in the market.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

We’re focused on helping our customers navigate and understand the social media landscape so that they can protect and grow their businesses, be they publishers, brands or social media platforms. The ongoing evolution of this landscape and our mission to understand social media better than anyone else, through our expertise, data access and technology, is the opportunity for Storyful.

What set you on the road to where you are now?               

I didn’t set out with a specific career in mind and landed in the world of public relations shortly after graduation. The creativity, problem-solving and results-driven aspects of public relations and communications were the initial pull factors for me. I quickly realised that I’m happiest in a role where the work is diverse and I’m regularly learning from my colleagues, clients and the industry at large.

As my career progressed, I became more engaged with the commercial and business strategy within the organisation and progressed to board level at PSG Communications, now Teneo. At that point, I hadn’t really considered what, if anything, was next for me. I had a great role in a fantastic organisation that afforded me the flexibility that I needed with a young family at home, so I had a very difficult decision to make when the opportunity to join Storyful came along.

I was very aware that I would be faced with a significant learning curve, using the expertise and knowledge that I had to develop Storyful’s intelligence offering for brands and corporates. I also knew that I would face unknown challenges that come with working within a global environment while managing a global team but, during the process, I learned that I’m more ambitious than I thought I was.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

My biggest regrets have always come from not speaking up – whether from a lack of confidence or courage. The best career advice I was given was from Padraig Slattery. When I joined the board of Slattery Communications, now Teneo, Padraig took me aside and spoke to me about the importance of finding and using my voice. This advice was crucial to me developing my influencing skills and overcoming a reluctance to challenge others’ thinking. It’s advice that I continue to practise personally and often share with others.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Set a clear vision and direction for your team, and involve them in developing the strategy that will get you there. This inspires a sense of ownership of the strategy and accountability for delivering on it.

When it comes to getting a team working effectively, real-time feedback and coaching are invaluable. They are also the most efficient ways of helping people to develop the communication skills required, particularly within a global context, when virtual communication is the norm.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

This is an issue near and dear to me. I personally lead gender equality initiatives at Storyful and recently announced our second annual celebration of International Women’s Day. This will include a panel discussion about inclusiveness and gender equality, a charity drive, and Vox Pop series celebrating women in our workplace.

Overall, STEM businesses have made strides, but there’s more to be done to balance out the workplace and create an even playing field for everyone.

Who is your role model and why?

I’ve never given much thought to who my role models are in the traditional sense, but I have been influenced by many people who I have encountered over the course of my career. When I’ve seen behaviours or approaches I’ve admired, I have adopted them. Integrity, customer-centricity, creativity and commercial acumen are very important to me.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Although I am an avid reader, I’m not a big consumer of ‘business books’. However, I’m currently working my way through The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, as it’s been recommended to me many times recently. I’m always interested in improving my leadership skills and ensuring my teams are getting what they need from me.

I’ve also listened to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In audiobook, and thought it had some great advice for women in business.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I’m quite traditional in this regard, I’m afraid. My calendar, notebook and to-do list keep me on track!

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