Monday, February 24, 2014

Meet Burson-Marsteller's U.S. Chief Strategy Officer


Thomas Gensemer (CAS '99) is Burson-Marsteller's Chief Strategy Officer in the U.S. Prior to Burson, Gensemer was a Managing Partner and Chief Executive at Blue State Digital, where he worked on the past three presidential campaigns, and in 2012, managed Obama's billion dollar digital fundraising and social media marketing campaign. The It Gets Better Project is also one of Gensemer's most notable achievements, which gained traction under his management.


You’ve been involved with many different praiseworthy non-profit digital campaigns. Which non-profit campaign was your favorite to be a part of? 

It Gets Better is probably my proudest project, overall. It was so spontaneous, a truly viral thing, and I was fortunate to be working with friends from the very start.

What was it like to manage the digital and social media aspects of a presidential campaign during one of the first presidential races where social media had become a key player? And was anything learned about the use of social media in politics? 

My work in and around the past 3 presidential campaigns ('04, '08, '12) has felt like a continuum, honestly. What started with blogs, Meetups and email-based fundraising with Howard Dean's upstart campaign 10 years ago is what laid the foundation for Obama's billion dollar digital fundraising and advanced social media marketing. Although Facebook and Twitter didn't exist when we started, we used simple websites, early blogs and text messages to recruit and activate supporters in the campaign. It wasn't about the technology, per se, but about the style, tone and transparency of campaigning that was the biggest lesson.

How did social media help or affect Obama's presidential campaign when you were involved? 

Hugely helpful, but not without its challenges. Again, to the continuum of advancements that technology has brought to the campaigns, it has created a lot more work; it requires a lot more planning, and a lot more money to be engaged 24x7 for the 18-24 months that a modern campaign lasts. What started with just a few handful of people ten years ago (these people were often responsible for setting up printers and blackberries too!), is now Obama's digital team of nearly 200 strategists, community managers, videographers and data analysts).

What do you think about the future of social media? Do you think social media management as a profession is here to stay?

As a profession? No, not really, because it's not PART of so many jobs that it's not a profession on its own. Yes, more people who are savvy with social media are desperately needed by campaigns, in agencies, and within corporate marketing departments. So, as students preparing for the job market today, you need to demonstrate it on your resume, on your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, etc. But billing oneself as "social media marketer" maybe somewhat redundant in a few years, I think. You need to be equally strong with a subject matter too. So, understanding the real politics behind key issues, or having a passion for a certain industry matched with social media savvy will be the winning mix.

In your opinion, should brands approach social media as a Public Relations effort or through a marketing department? 

That is the $100 million dollar question for everyone in the agency world today! My view is that, yes, social media is more a PR function given the expectation for two-way engagement on a daily basis. Yes, there are key social media campaigns -- short bursts of activity around a launch, a milestone or event -- and that maybe best managed in conjunction with the marketing and advertising budgets. Often today, communications and public relations budgets are becoming more aligned with overall marketing investments anyways, so the silos maybe gone soon.

What is your favorite brand on social media right now? 

I'm still a huge fan of LinkedIn because of it's clear purpose. I'm not one that likes to share every moment of my life, pictures and such, so I've really not gotten too involved personally in Facebook. I also try to keep up with Twitter.

1 comment:

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