Building an Engaged Audience

The word “engagement” is overused.  Everyone is focusing on “online engagement.”  Brands, nonprofits, individuals — everyone wants to improve their online presence and measure engagement to prove what they are doing is successful.  But how do you actually measure engagement? How do you know what you are doing is working? What tools do you use? How do you build a solid foundation to ensure your message makes sense to the human beings behind the social media profiles?  

I studied engagement during my Masters year (in Curriculum and Instruction) before engagement was cool.  My colleagues and I studied it in students, based on their behavior in and outside of the classroom. We created metrics to measure engagement (using Bangert Drowns and Pyke’s seven levels of engagement) and were able to assess how it’s identified and even how it’s increased.

It wasn’t until after I graduated and jumped into a career in events and marketing that I realized you could actually use these levels of engagement outside of the classroom, in marketing. I realized you can use the seven levels to target a specific demographic around a brand, mission, values, or whatever you are really “educating” the public on.  

I use the word educating, because it may not seem like education and marketing have a lot in common, but in reality they are one in the same.  In order to engage your audience in a way that is compelling and walk them through the seven levels of engagement, you have to understand that engagement comes in many forms. There is more to it than you either “are” or you “aren’t.” 

Being that there are seven levels, it is important to note that disengagement and frustrated engagement are actually a part of the engagement scale, and not separate. Have you ever been on a customer call with a massive company that refuses to treat you like a human, and then you happen to get one amazing customer service representative that decides to change the way you feel entirely about the company? That is a perfect example of bringing a customer up a level, from frustrated engagement to structure-dependent engagement.

For a brand, it is the worst possible thing to throw your name on something without real intention behind it. The days of “sponsorship” are over. An integrated partnership between brand and experience has to co-exist in order for it to make sense. Intentions must be clearly defined and the audience educated around a topic that matters to them. 

Brands have voices, on and offline and in order to know how to use them, they have to start looking at themselves as teachers, their digital presence as the classroom, and their audience as the students.

It’s crucial to recognize that you have to take responsibility for the lack of engagement and see it as an opportunity to connect more authentically, not ignore it. 

Engagement can seem complicated, but the step that most miss is the opportunity to bring someone who is uninspired and disinterested into a new conversation. The second you make a person feel listened to, respected, and then share your vision with them based on the words they told you is the second that person will become an ambassador for your brand, not just another twitter follower.

Learn more about CatalystCreativ’s proprietary engagement framework, adapted from the work of Bangert Drowns and Pyke, The Seventh Level Engagement Framework at

10 Tough Lessons I learned about Becoming An Entrepreneur

There are a lot of awesome things about going to work for yourself. You make your own schedule, you get to work from anywhere, you can decide who you work with and what projects you take on, you get to create a culture that is in line with your core beliefs and most importantly you get to put something in the world that is a product of you.

There are a lot of things that no one warns you about before people take the leap to be an entrepreneur. Like how most of us wrap ourselves so deeply in our work and let it define us; how we throw ourselves so head first into the fire, we don't think about getting burned; how our relationships, emotions, and exhaustion come second to our employees, our clients, and our investors; and how the money coming in is a product of everything we put out and everything we put out is a product of us. I have a lot of conversations with entrepreneurs, want-rapreuners and those who are in full-time positions with large companies looking to leave and start their own initiative, and everyone is pretty much asking each other the same questions.

Before they jump, I like tell people a few things that I have learned and am constantly learning every day. While I try to do everything on this list, there are still days where I forget to eat until 3 p.m. and have to call a "lifeline" for advice and support. But these are the most valuable lessons I've learned so far:

1. Take some time to just think about what you want for your life. I don't mean your 800 new awesome business ideas, I mean your life. What does your ideal life look like? What are your priorities? What is important to you? How much money do you need to make in order to make that happen? While it's great to have mentors and guidance, it's useless if you don't have a foundation to be anchored to. If you don't know what you want for yourself, then I don't think you should be putting anything out there in the world until you do. The world of entrepreneurship is becoming an integral part of our economy, it is not a science experiment. Don't just create because you like the idea of something. Find a need in the world, match your gift to it and then create.

2. Find a wellness-related, consistent hobby in your life that is not work-related. Meditate, surf, Soul Cycle, walk outside, do yoga -- whatever you want, but make sure you are doing something that is connecting you to “you” and to your body. I love to work and had to find a time in my day to do something for me. It is not healthy to always be on. As an entrepreneur, you are always grinding, always on. You are doing interviews, pitches, advising, consulting, having to be a good boss, close rounds, create business plans, and oh yeah, also have a life "outside of work." When you are your work and your work is your life, if you don't have a sacred moment for just you, you will lose yourself.

3. Create a trusted network of people to go to when you need advice. Once you decide what you want to create in the world and have taken the time for yourself, choose a handful of people whom you can call in case you feel like your world is crumbling and no one can possibly understand what you're going through. These individuals should not all be on the same level as you successfully. They do not have to be people on your advisory board. They are lifelines. Choose people who are either on the same page as you success-wise, one step ahead or 20 years ahead, do not turn to people for advice that have not started a successful company. Anyone can be an entrepreneur, but not everyone is a successful entrepreneur. Surround yourself with people who know what you're going through because they have overcome it themselves.

4. Stop talking about work. When I'm out at an event, a date, a situation that is not work-related, people ask me what I do and I tell them in 5 sentences or fewer, then I change the subject. I am so passionate about what I do, I could talk about it for 5 hours, but instead, I take down the person's information and set up a time to meet with them to talk about work. As an entrepreneur, you make your own schedule which means if you wanted to you could always be on. Separate the “you” as a person with the “you” as a boss. It is totally OK to be a human being.

5. Don't look down, but hire people whose job it is to be on the ground always. Entrepreneurs don't have time to think of failing. They keep working day in and day out and keep grinding to make sure they can pay their employees and continue to grow as a company.  Sometimes it feels like they live on another planet. They start speaking in a language of world take domination, but they forget to go to the dentist. Hire people you trust to remind you of the menial tasks and minute details that are necessary for any business or personal life to be sustainable.

6. Breathe. Don't ever lose sight of why you are doing what you're doing. And if you don't love it, figure out what you do love and change paths. You may not realize that you can hire someone to run a company you created that you may not love, and work for a company you do. Don't sit on someone else's dream by staying in a job you hate. Even if you created that job in the first place if you aren't happy its OK to figure out ways to change your role and figure out what will make you happy.

7. Surround yourself with people you love and respect. Do not let people who can hurt you too close. You have to be at your best, your clearest mind to be able to do your job as an entrepreneur, which is to be you and create something beautiful in the world. If you're busy stalking someone on Facebook and fighting with friends who don't get it, separate. You are your biggest commodity.

8. Recognize that sometimes your reality doesn't align with others' realities. We all talk to each other, but in a business where people whose self-worth is wrapped in their work, it is hard for us to really hear each other. We have our own understanding of our reality, of our story and easily get defensive, and emotional because we are our work. When someone insults you or says something you think is wrong, listen to them. Take time to ask them questions of why they feel that way and realize they may be right, and if they're wrong they may need someone to help them sort through their problem.

9. Communicate as much as your clients and to your employees. I don't mean on interviews and press mentions, save those for when you do something that has earned this right. I mean to the people you are doing business with and the people you love. Be clear of what you're asking, pick up the phone and call people, make time for those whom you need to make time for, those who have made sacrifices to work for you and with you. Be clear and prioritize who these people are: your coworkers, your family, your board of directors. Be clear and concise with your plan of action, deliverables, production and always make time to see your grandma.

10. Last but not least, love yourself, know yourself, put in the time for yourself. You will be defending yourself to many, selling yourself to even more, and you better be sure of why you are doing what you're doing and who you are because not everyone is going to agree with you all of the time. Most of the time, you will have to pitch yourself in less than a minute, before someone gets a text. You will tell people things that frustrated you with work, only to hear it come back to you as gossip. If you don't love yourself and invest in yourself, don't think anyone else will want to either.

How to Transform Your Culture to Increase Engagement

In a society that values strength, independence and self-reliance above all else, why express yourself? Why go out on a limb to reveal anything other than the highlight reel you post on social media in any situation, let alone in the setting where it could cost you the most: at work? 

As it turns out, it could pay off in a big way.

Corporate robots are a dying breed.

In today's professional landscape, people want to bring their whole selves to work, even if doing so would break from the norms of "professionalism." Millennials want work-life integration, not just work-life balance, meaning they're not going to leave their emotions at home and send a cold, feeling-less, in-control-at-all-times automaton to the office in their place.

The insane precedent we've set for employees to remove so much of themselves from their professional lives is not only unhealthy for individuals; it's also costing their employers in huge ways, even cutting enormous chunks out of corporate bottom lines.

By creating a workplace that does not allow people to share who they are, employers are essentially ensuring widespread workforce disengagement and high turnover.

I have a (somewhat) radical recommendation to overcome this massive issue: Cry at work.

So, you want my employees to be crying -- in the office?

Yes and no. In a perfect world, your employees would be perfectly balanced in their workloads and satisfied in their roles. They would never feel overwhelmed or dejected, and the need for showing negative emotions in the office wouldn't exist.

We all know that's not the world we live in. With the insanely fast pace of business these days, it's likely that your team is going to feel frustration, anger, sadness and a whole host of other unpleasant emotions in the office.

I firmly believe that allowing, and even encouraging them to process these feelings outwardly is essential to having a successful business.

Here's a personal example so you can see that it's not as scary as it seems.

One experience during last year's holiday "break" led me to the brink of exhaustion. My team and I thought most people would be offline, but instead, our clients were in need of assistance, and I ended up picking up a heavy load because we hadn't planned accordingly. I was working until the late hours every night during a week I had planned to spend with my family, and I was frustrated. This was directly impacting my health, and I was putting my professional success in front of my own personal and physical wellbeing. 

After the holiday, during our weekly check-in, I expressed this frustration with the entire team. I cried during this call, explaining that I had felt really alone and like I could not really depend on anyone. I empathized that I knew everyone worked so unbelievably hard and that we all needed this break, but ultimately we hadn't set ourselves up for success. We had to work harder and smarter so that we could truly take a well-deserved break and be present with our loved ones and ourselves.

The team responded immediately, and not only understood my perspective, but jumped into shape to do the work. In the end, we were able to satisfy our clients' needs and set aside a time of rest for all of us, including myself.

Sometimes tears are the most productive solution because, not only do they show your humanity and rally your colleagues to support you, but they encourage authentic communication.

OK, I get the picture; now what do I do?

There are so many strategies you can try to create an expressive, engaged workplace in which everyone can show how they really feel, but the ones I recommend starting with are:

1. Encourage expression.

Create an environment where people can openly share their emotions, whether that's an all-team happy hour when a new client is won or encouraging employees to vent their frustration on a tough day. Sometimes, this even means making employees feel safe enough to cry in the office.

A 2001 study by Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steve B Wolff found that teams who score high on tests for emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient, EQ) perform markedly better than those who score poorly. "Our research shows that, just like individuals, the most effective teams are emotionally intelligent ones."

And they aren't the only ones preaching the EQ gospel. Their findings have been replicated by hundreds of workplace and emotional researchers and published in dozens of peer-reviewed journals.

One of the most effective strategies that my company, CatalystCreativ, has used to help businesses create a more empathetic and expressive culture is teaching ways to foster traditionally "feminine" traits above more "masculine" ones. By valuing and expressing traits such as receptivity, surrender, vulnerability, and tenderness, employees of all genders show higher rates of engagement and job satisfaction, and companies themselves perform better.

Think your male managers won't go for it? That would objectively be a bad choice. A 2011 study conducted at Stanford examined feminine and masculine traits in male and female employees and compared these traits to their rates of promotion compared to their peers. The results were surprising: Men who showed what the study referred to as “feminine" traits got two times the promotions of their traditionally “masculine” peers. 

Those workers able to blend feminine and masculine traits in the workplace tend to excel beyond their peers, and companies that encourage this expression among all employees will reap the financial rewards. 

2. Reduce stress.

Although all workplaces today are somewhat stress-inducing, those that discourage emotional expression are particularly problematic.

By not crying or sharing emotions, employees are bottling in stress. I could site literally thousands of sources explaining that stress is horrible for health, and most people are now aware of its awful effects, which extend to harming work productivity.

Professor Roger Baker, a clinical psychologist, and professor at Bournemouth University in the U.K. claims that "crying is the transformation of distress into something tangible, and that the process itself helps to reduce the feeling of trauma." And he's not the only one who feels this way.

William Frey, a biochemist at St Paul-Ramsey Medical Center, found that tears contain the stress hormones prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, meaning that crying literally flushes stress-causing chemicals out of the body.

If you're still unconvinced about allowing, and even encouraging, your employees to cry in the workplace, consider this: Stress costs U.S. companies $300 billion per year, due to health care and missed work days alone. And while eliminating all stress is impossible, allowing employees to process and express it is the only way to reduce its negative effects on your business. 

So, if you're reading this as an employee, go big. I encourage you to show up to work as your whole self every day. If you're an organizational leader, I hope you recognize the absolute necessity of creating a more open workplace for your employees. One in which they can celebrate, laugh, talk about their real selves and yes, even cry.


Interested in bringing these ideas to your company?

Contact us for next steps on how to create an engaging workplace.

Brand Strategy for the New Generation Z


Figuring out a brand strategy for the new generation begins with understanding who the new generation is. When I was a first grade and middle school teacher, I was blown away by “Generation Z.” Generation Z is 19 and under, and makes up 25.9% of the economy. My two favorite moments of teaching provide insight into how brands must target the new generation of Z’ers and learn to speak their language.

These moments occurred with my middle school students, who are now 22 years old. In order to get closer to them and make them feel like I wasn’t just some old, antiquated teacher, (i.e. the same situation many brands are in right now), I had to listen carefully to them. They were used to sharing who they were, and being able to create their own conversations through content. They introduced me to a book series none of my friends had heard of called “Twilight” and told me about this new kid they saw perform at the mall named Justin Bieber.

I consider Generation Z the “insider trading” of what’s trending. They create the trends. They create the movements. They care about what’s going on in the world, and they believe that they can make that difference.

Here are three key lessons from Generation Z that brands can learn from.

Born in the Digital Age.

Generation Z’ers (and Millennials) know more than we do about technology and innovation. They were born using iPads instead of pacifiers. They know how to navigate YouTube as if they built it. While this is a generalization, they use technology to connect with each other and the world, rather than using it as an escape from the world. When talking with them, brands ought to recognize that they can learn from this generation, rather than telling them what it is cool.

Holistic Connections.

They want to be immersed in experiences that take them outside of what is comfortable. They aren’t looking at their future as a perfect shiny opportunity to become a doctor or lawyer and have great healthcare, they are looking across the world at their peers they connect with on Snapchat and Whatsapp and want to figure out ways to have deeper, globalized connections. They see different cultures, foods, stories, experiences and want to become a part of all of it. They would rather spend money on traveling and sharing Instagram photos of the new meal they tried rather than be paid big bucks to sit in a cubicle.

Building a Community.

They want to be heard and want to actively participate in what’s happening in the world. They don’t just want to tweet, they want to lead. They want to act, they want to share their stories and learn from each other. They want to show the world that they don’t need to be stuck in this existence the past generations have created for them, they have the ability to shape our future and they don’t want to listen to those before them who messed it all up.

All in all, I’ve learned immensely from my time teaching Generation Z - starting when my first graders told me to move over so they could show me how to use the smart board, to when my middle schoolers were showing me what was cool years before it was cool. I learned to listen to them. I learned that they know more than adults do, that they are tapped in, in an entirely different way. They get it. They do not want to be sold, they want to be a part of the process, and they want to feel like what they are purchasing, choosing, or being a part of is created by them.


The 5 Marketing Lessons We’ve Learned in 5 Years


Five years ago, CatalystCreativ set out on a journey to help the people and brands we admire tell their stories. We’ve learned so much in that time, all thanks to the experiences we’ve had with you.

We thought we’d pass along the five biggest lessons we’ve learned along the way, and hope that they can be as meaningful to you as they have been for us!


  1. Brands are the best teachers in the world, they just need the right curriculum to teach their consumers about what they value.

    We learned this in our partnership with Life is Beautiful festival, the largest inner-city music festival in the nation. Each year, CatalystCreativ curates a speaker series that engages thousands of fans to learn from headliners such as Bill Nye, Stacy London and Rupaul. Learn more about our work with Life is Beautiful here.
  2. Without exception, the greatest resource of every organization is their team.

    We love helping teams to optimize their internal resources and create alignment so they can do their most powerful work. Learn about our strategy and internal brand acupuncture workshops with organizations such as Juran Consulting, a 75 year old consulting firm that wanted a brand refresh.
  3. Although creating impeccable work is of vital importance, the true magic happens when teams go above and beyond on a personal level.

    CatalystCreativ is thrilled to serve as the transition team for the Raiders as they move to Las Vegas. We have developed meaningful relationships with the entire Vegas Community who has come together to support the Raiders, and we can’t wait to see their continued growth. Learn more about our Raiders events here.
  4. Creative strategy should first and foremost be true to the DNA of the organization.

    No creative output will be effective if it isn’t rooted in the authentic ethos of the brand. Our recent #2000Reasons campaign with Biossance resulted in over 2,000 people sharing their reasons for taking better care of their bodies on Facebook and Instagram, all because it was a values-based ask.
  5. When organizations activate from within, they create movements that can catalyze world change.

    We are honored to work with some of the leading nonprofits that are actively contributing to a better world. Most recently, we have partnered with WildAid to connect marine professionals all over the globe to join together in protecting our marine life. Learn more about their revolutionary digital tool here.


Above all else, the biggest lesson we have learned is that we could never have come this far without the support of clients and partners like you. Thank you for all of your support, and for helping to shape who CatalystCreativ is today.

In celebration of our fifth birthday, we’ve applied all the insights that we’ve gained to our own brand, and are thrilled to share our new visual identity and ethos that represents how far we’ve come.


Here’s to the next 5 years!