Learn how to build a team that will improve a brand’s damaged reputation with our guest Mark Sherwood, Deputy Executive Director of Marketing at Detroit Public Schools Community. He develops and manages annual marketing and communication strategies, staff, budgets, research, competitive analysis and surveys.
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About Mark Sherwood
Mark Sherwood is a Senior Marketing Executive who brings over twenty years to the table, performed and served both B2B and B2C industries, and has been tasked with establishing in-house agency services in each role throughout his career. Mark believes every decision boils down to creating, establishing, growing, and protecting the brand. When not deep in a "how can I make it better" mindset, Mark enjoys spending time with his wife, enjoying his daughter's artwork as she pursues her degree at NYU, golfing whenever he can, and is still a closet gamer nerd.
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About your host, Jason Mudd
On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies for 2021.Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/OnTopofPR)
- Hello, and welcome to On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd. Today we're joined by Mark Sherwood. Mark is the deputy executive director of marketing at Detroit public school communities. Mark is a senior marketing executive who's gonna share a little bit about his experience working in education and in the construction fields and teaching us ways that we can adapt to different audiences and different climates. Mark is somebody I've known for many years and you're gonna enjoy getting to know him better as he shares some of his smarts and insight from his 20 plus year career. And without any further ado, let's get you On Top of PR.
- [Woman] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd presented by Review Maxer.
- Hello and welcome to On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd with Axia Public Relations. I'm joined today by Mark Sherwood, an engineer turned marketer, and thrilled to have him on the show today. Mark, Welcome to the show, glad you're here.
- Hey, it's good to see you, Jason, glad I can be here.
- Yeah, we're glad you're here too. So Mark, let me introduce you briefly and then I'll let you do a little bit of a deeper introduction. But Mark, you are the deputy executive director of marketing for Detroit public schools community. There, you develop and manage annual marketing and communication strategies, staff, budgets, research, competitive analysis, and surveys. And so you started out in engineering and then landed into the marketing corporate communications. Give us a brief summary of your transition in your process of landing where you are now.
- Yeah, so years ago, I had an opportunity to coming out of college. Most of my focus was in industrial engineering and technology. Had an opportunity in Florida to work for a small firm and develop electrical components and design them. And before long, management came to me and said, hey, we need your help with some brochure development and postcards and our trade shows. And so very quickly into my young career, I discovered I liked marketing much more than I liked engineering. And from that day on, the bug bit me and I pursued and tried to learn as much as possible from all the design tools that day and time and graphic design, layout, and copy work. But mind you, even when I was in college, I had an opportunity. I took some design courses and graphic design courses but I also wrote for the school newspaper. I went to Central Michigan, I think at the time was a top five newspaper. So I got an opportunity to learn how to write and understand. Get some early lessons even from a promotional or even a PR or a journalist site.
- Right, right. Well, that's how I got started too in the journalism side and then somebody exposed me to doing PR. I was very reluctant but discovered I had a passion for it. And loved helping people tell their stories. So I absolutely get that mark. So, yeah. So Mark, you are basically a native of Michigan. You moved to Florida, now you're back in Michigan and you've seen sounds like you have a very interesting job. So I guess kind of tell us a little bit about your mission and focus in your current role.
- Sure. Obviously, I talked the beginning of my career was much more in the private sector and B2B kind of work. But about seven years ago, I got the opportunity to transition into education and my backgrounds over the years and 20 year plus career has been in branding. So taking my work that I did initially in Florida for a school district down there and rebranding the district. The opportunity here in Detroit as a new district was kind of being reborn out of many years and under emergency management, state run, and there was corruption, you name it. Everything that could go wrong with a school district, Detroit had been dealing with for over well over a decade. So when I got the opportunity to come to Detroit and rebrand a district. I thought, well, this is probably one of the biggest challenges. It's not only, you know, raising the Titanic but it's raising the Titanic, turning it back towards New York and avoiding all the iceberg.
- [Jason] Right.
- So, as a marketer, I think, anybody telling you we're gonna give you the worst brand possible and you really have to turn it around. And if you don't think that that's a challenge that you would want to undertake then you're probably in the wrong field, so that was one of the reasons why I took this challenge. With not only that I grew up here in Michigan, kind of coming back to where my life was, and where my home is or many of my family members still kind of reside. So, coming to a district that was decimated with a new process, a new system, and a lot of new employees, and a new team, and a new kind of a new wave, was extremely intriguing and that's why I jumped at it. And I knew when I came in, in education you'll find out most school districts aren't really marketing centric. They're much more communications driven or crisis communications driven. So I've been at every role that I've gone in education. It's like you're the first marketer build a marketing team. So that was the other key challenge that I was really thrilled to be a part of coming to Detroit.
- Very nice, well, Detroit is something we have in common. As I was a kid, my mom's side of the family is all from Detroit, and so I would spend my summers in Detroit in the 80's and 90's, early 90's, at least. And I remember at some point I had a t-shirt about the same color as your shirt that said, I'm so bad I vacation in Detroit... and I would wear that proudly. So, you know, and that was a long time ago. So I know Detroit has, you know, had better days and certainly looks like hopefully it's coming out of, you know, some difficult times. So talk to me for a minute kind of, you know, your role as the school district, but overall there's an initiative to kind of change the public perception of Detroit from what I described. You know in the early 90's having that shirt to where we are today. So talk a little bit about that initiative and who all is involved and what's been the progress so far.
- Absolutely. And I think that's one of the biggest difficulties that we have in Detroit is; reputation management or brand management. Certainly, outside of the city, outside of the state of Michigan, you know the further out you go, people bring those perceptions or nuances that they've learned about the city and are immediately like, oh yeah, it's a tough city. It's certainly a blue collar, bring your pal, kind of mentality, but the city has gone through some great rate of revitalization, and not only in its downtown areas, but some in certain neighborhoods. You're starting to see the kind of growth that my parents probably experienced in the in the 50's and the 60's. At that time, you know the school district was one of the premier school districts in the country. It was kind of the model of public education school district. People from L.A and New York and Chicago will come to Detroit to kind of see how they manage it. 'Cause they certainly were at the industrial revolution earlier in the previous century. It, you know, it was at some point well over 250,000 students, so it's one of the largest in the country.
- Now, because of some of the issues that happened for many years not only in the community, in some of the blight of the community, some of the infrastructure and the investment, it certainly takes an impact on the schools. So when I had this chance to come back and work the first thing that I had to take, you know as far as to do, is build a team around myself kind of almost like an in-house agency which has taken a little bit of time, but then also come out of it, basing what our strategic plan is. And trying to take some of those key strategic plan elements and kind of start wrapping them into a new branding process. Give something that people can gravitate towards. You know, I always talk internally about brand promise and brand actions and making sure that they align and when they don't align, obviously, I don't need to train you, but brand equity goes down. So my goal has really been to establish a baseline of brand equity and then start curating a bunch of tactics on an annual basis, or not just annually, but weekly, monthly that are really aligning our strategic plan and our actions, as well as with the overall sentiment here in Detroit. And we're starting to see some growth and not only enrollment, but also change in perception. And people are starting to re-believe in the school district that it can actually serve the students and in our goal is to no longer to be looked on as at the bottom of the barrel. You know, we want to get into the to the mid range and eventually we want to be the one of the best urban school districts in the country.
- Mark, thanks for sharing that. I've got a lot of questions, but let's hold those after we take a quick break here and we'll be right back after this message
- [Woman] You are listening to On Top of PR, with your host Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axia Public Relations. A PR agency that guides news, social, and web strategies for national companies. And now, back to the show.
- Welcome back to On Top of PR, I'm your host, Jason Mudd. We're joined by Mark Sherwood. Mark, a very interesting conversation we're having here. I want to kind of, I want to better understand how measuring enrollment is an indicator of your success. In other words, what's triggering that? Are more students or parents opting to enroll their students in public school, or is it showing a sign of Detroit growing? Kind of help me understand that measure.
- Right now, what we're experiencing is, I think, like I said, I think a belief in a system that has been in place for many years. Well over a decade, like when the school district was run under emergency management. So I think they're seeing a local control by a school board. They're seeing a superintendent who is owning the work and they're seeing new systems and new curriculum that's aligned to the state standards. So I think those are some of the big polls right now, but then they also think that they're not seeing kind of a disjointed view or messaging between our schools to the parents, as well as the district to the parents. And for school districts, that's one of the issues. It's certainly a very hierarchal organization. So sometimes people look at the district much different in the same light that they look at their local school. So they tend to, you know, greater having opinion of their school a little bit higher than they do of their school district. But one of the things that we've worked hard on, is making sure that our branding and our imaging at the school level is the same as what the district. So they definitely feel like we're in sync. So we've been working hard on that for the last couple of years.
- Right, I get that. And a lot of our audiences, you know, working at large corporations and there might even be economic development professionals who are tuning into our show. And, you know, they all say that obviously, a good school system is what attracts employees and therefore attracts employers, who are looking to expand into Detroit and to other cities. And the school system is a consideration, so if a company is looking to move their headquarters or high wage jobs into a particular city. They obviously want to make sure that there's gonna be good school systems to recruit talent from. And good systems that the employees want to raise their children through. And so if they are looking at Detroit, as a possible city to expand into. They've got to make sure that the market that they're trying to attract candidates offers a good work-life balance and a good community to raise children.
- Absolutely. And in Detroit, certainly, the infrastructure of having a strong labor pool as well as good transportation is truly important. I think, to these large corporations whether they want to come here. Detroit has been very competitive on a number of large organizations and potentially bringing their headquarters here in Detroit. Probably the biggest organization is Quicken Loans and they definitely have invested in the community and are really working hard at trying to make sure that you know, having the partnerships, you know, as far as a strong labor force. So that's definitely that we're trying to make sure that we have here in Detroit. It's not only as the labor force in years past, they tend to leave Detroit just much like myself. I went to college here, didn't find a great opportunity and left and went to another state. I think they're trying to return that mentality too, that if you're growing your young career here versus thinking that you have to leave the city of Detroit to go find other opportunities. So a strong K-12 solution to the families, not only here within the city, but as well as even outside in Metro Detroit is something that I think a lot of the school districts locally are focusing on.
- Got it, got it. Thanks for sharing that, Mark. I want to get a better understanding of the collaboration that's taking place between your organization and the economic development board there and perhaps others, you know, state local type agencies and the corporate community. What does that look like?
- So, yeah, there's probably two fronts. So you certainly have a stronger emphasis on business partnerships but, you also have a stronger emphasis on government relations, both at the city, state and the federal level. Those relationships have not been strong in years past but we've seen over the last four to five years, starting to build up a greater momentum. The school district, we have some good strong ties to our local sports franchises; the Detroit tigers, the Lions, the Pistons. And we also have some strong business partnerships with organizations like Quicken loans and DTE which is our local energy provider. And they are certainly, not only them, we also, you know, there's some of the automakers; Stellantis and Ford. And those are organizations are really investing back into our school district with advanced manufacturing programs. Trying to increase the skill trade programs of our career technical education as well. So those partnerships, they understand that the relationship that they have or the programming that they have at our schools will only tend to lead to a stronger workforce. You know right here in their own backyard. So it's definitely been growing.
- That makes sense. Yeah. Well, I'm glad to hear that. I think, you know, the public-private partnerships like that are so critical to the success of, you know, any community any major city, and it's all about, you know, gaining jobs and keeping jobs and offering attractive jobs. And, you know, a lot of our clients they operate you know, remote facilities and maybe even factories. And that's one of the challenges is if you grow up in some these communities, if you don't get a job at this factory or at this one employer, there's only maybe Walmart and a couple other employers that are large employers in that marketplace. And so a lot of these parents are losing their kids to other cities because jobs are calling in those other cities. And so I think it's so important to have a stable economy with lots of growth and employment opportunities.
- Yeah. We definitely have seen the investment not only, and I did mention some of the key corporations here in Detroit. But some of our community-based partnerships, you know we certainly have a strong one with United Way here in Detroit, their skill man. So those organizations are also working on making sure that there's training, making sure that there's college readiness and career readiness and scholarship opportunities. Most of our students that they attended Detroit school for four years, they have a certain GPA and a decent college readiness score ACT or SAT. They can pretty much get their tuition paid any public university here in the state of Michigan. So many of our students and our families are taking advantage of that as well.
- That's great, yeah. What a great opportunity. No doubt about it. All right, Mark, So one thing I told you earlier, I wanted to ask you about is, you know, based on your years of experience working in the construction industry, both as an engineer and a marketer, and then transferring into education. If you were to land back in construction industry, what are some kind of lessons learned that you've picked up on and how might you do things differently? Based on your new experience and ultimately, possibly, I'm not saying that you are certainly, but if you were to return to the construction business how would you do things differently?
- Well, I mean, obviously, experience over the years has definitely helped me. Back in those days, it was very much focused on the sales cycle, the proposal process, certainly client development and business development. I mean that's their bread and butter. that's how they...
- [Jason] Right, like B2B, sure.
- You got it, absolutely. I think one of the things that I've learned over the years is really how to surround myself with key individuals that have, you know, unique talents or unique skill sets. I thought at the time that I had to be able to do everything when I was early in my career. I had to be a great writer. I had to be a good graphic designer. I had to be a trade show coordinator. I had to be a great presenter. I'd be able to prepare all the presentation. So I certainly was exposed to every different facet that you have in marketing and the construction industry. I think if I went back, I would make sure I surround myself with almost like an in-house agency perspective. A little bit different than what I did in the years past where I think I took on a lot more of the roles, whereas I think segmenting it amongst a team. And then at the same time, also partnering with the right kind of agencies or organizations for some key high level initiatives. Whether it was, if you're going into a new marketplace or you're really trying to capture a sector, let's say it was in government or if it was in a pharmaceutical or something. I definitely think there's bonuses to partnering with the right kind of firm that can help bring that thought leadership or that outside, kind of, an unbiased viewpoint of how you could have your best success. And I think at times within an organization we tend to, you know, we have our own biases on what we think is gonna work.
- [Jason] Right.
- And we forget to ask ourselves on a daily basis, like, is there somebody on the outside that could help me get there better, faster, quicker, more efficient? And do I have the funding to be able to do that? So I think in the construction industry, the funding is there, if obviously, if the company is doing successful. So you gotta know when to pull the in agency support or key thought partner in at times. I think I would do that a little bit more on the construction side as well.
- Yeah. You reminded me of you know, Bill Gates says, "Do what you do best and outsource the rest".
- And that's, I think what I'm kind of hearing you describe. So Mark, you know, in closing here, out here. It's three years from today, you and I are having a conversation and you're really happy with your progress, both personally and professionally. What has happened in those three years to make you so happy, Mark?
- I would probably say, well, first of all in the current role; professional role, I am the brand has really taken hold. It seemed, you know, double digit growth in terms of how the confidence that we have. We've seen enrollment growth here in Detroit and it's matching kind of the revitalization that's going on. And I don't want to say it's a Renaissance, but some people call it a Renaissance here in Detroit much like in some of the other urban cities around the country. So, but three years from now, I always I kind of judged myself on my previous brands and I always kind of look back and think, Are they still in place? Are they growing? Are they successful? and with the same brand that I own now, I want to see it in a successful place. When I, If and when I decided to go onto to a different brand opportunity. I've been thankful all throughout my career that almost every brand that I've had a chance to create is still being in play almost pretty much in line with what I created at that time. So I take pride in that. And again, I think three years from now, if the brand is still operating and growing and other people are utilizing the tool sets that I have given them. then I think my job is done here and who knows where I'll be in the next phase of my career.
- Mark, that's awesome, I love that your thought process is very long-term and you're thinking legacy even this early in your career and even in the earlier. You know, roles that you've had at a different organization. So I'm sure those companies are very well much benefiting from the work you did then. And even benefiting on that work now, so that's great. Mark, I want to thank you for being on the show today. This was a great episode, thrilled to have you, thank you for sharing your smarts and your experience with our audience. And with that, that's another episode of On Top of PR. And if you're interested in connecting with Mark, we'll put his contact information in the show notes so you can get ahold of him. I'm sure he's active on LinkedIn as well. And again, Mark, thank you for joining us on the show today. This has been another episode of On Top of PR, where we're talking the latest topics, tips and trends in the public relations profession to help you and your company thrive and survive in the most interesting times. So again, thank you for your listening or watching this episode. And if it was helpful to you, I hope you'll share it with a colleague. And they'll be thanking you for sharing it, as am I. Be well.
- [Woman] This has been On Top of PR, with Jason Mudd presented by Review Maxer. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode and check out past shows at on OnTopOfPR.com.