CMO Insights: Christopher Tarantino, CEO and Founder of Epicenter Media & Training

March 4, 2019

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is Christopher Tarantino, CEO and Founder of Epicenter Media and Training.

In this video, Christopher talks about:

  • Marketing for emergencies and crisis communications
  • Bridging the gap of what a communicator already knows with new communication styling
  • Educating companies on marketing approaches to use on social media during a crisis

Learn more about Christopher from his LinkedIn profile and follow Epicenter M&T on Twitter.

For more great CMO interviews like this one, please check out our other CMO Insights Videos or our YouTube channel.

Full Transcript

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hi, welcome to Revenue Marketing Television, the CMO Insights Series. I’m your host, Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. And today as our guest, we have Christopher Tarantino, who is, Hey Chris. He is Founder and CEO of Epicenter Media Training. So Chris, welcome to the show.

Christopher Tarantino:

Thanks for having me, Jeff. I’m really excited to be here. Excited to talk about all things, marketing and executive leadership.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah, me too. I I’m really fascinated with your business. So tell, tell the audience a little bit more about what you do, what you focus on and what was your inspiration for starting up?

Christopher Tarantino:

Sure. so I’m fascinated by, by our business as well, which I think is probably a good thing. I started epicenter media and training back in 2013. We deal in a unique area of marketing and communications and that we focus on emergency management and crisis communications. Um so I got my start in the emergency response world about 14 years ago or so working in emergency medical services then got involved into the fire service, hazardous materials, you name it I’ve probably been involved in it and handed the hat or helmet or vest that I’ve had to put on. And basically what I was doing at the same time that I was investing in my emergency response career. I was working in marketing for Dale Carnegie training. And what I wanted to do was combine those two worlds. So executive leadership communications, marketing methodology, and my goal there was to help emergency management government and other communicators do a better job both before and after emergencies and crises. So that’s where epicenter was born. Fast forward a little bit now to the present day. And our main focus is still on crisis communications, training consulting exercises, things of that nature.

And we have a special focus on the high tech aspect of emergency management. So social media monitoring, crisis communications stuff like that, where if you know, there’s an emergency going on, or if we’re preparing for a crisis, some sort of natural hazard or a manmade threat, that’s usually where we, where we come into play. So we have a deployment support unit that goes and does this onsite. We do training exercises beforehand, and then we also work with the technology community to help outfit our partners and outfit them with the, with the tools necessary to communicate and to work better in this environment.

Jeff Pedowitz:

It really is a fascinating area of marketing. And, you know, I know most of us, our pressure is driving demand. We have an event coming up or product launch quite quite a different thing when you’re dealing with that and emergency or a true crisis. I would imagine the focus on marketing and the importance of getting the message, right, I guess it’s even, it’s even a greater.

Christopher Tarantino:

It is. And, and there’s a lot of spillover, the emergency communications realm and in marketing I’ve written some social media coursework for FEMA and work with their programming to develop and deliver training across the country for social media is usage and communications public information, officer training and things like that around the country. And I usually make the joke at the beginning of the day where I say, look, guys, this is just a marketing class dressed up in a Fireman’s coat. You know, it’s not anything new. It’s just gotta be massage and a little bit of a different way. And you’re right. The stakes are absolutely higher as well.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So who else out there does what you do?

Christopher Tarantino:

So, there’s definitely a few, a communications firms that are out there that, that do basic you know, traditional communications, media training and things like that. That’s nothing new. I mean, we’ve had spokesperson training and crisis communications training for years and years, but the core differentiator for our business and where we focus on is, like I mentioned in the technology realm. So bridging what communicators emergency communicators already know and bridging that with new media communications styling giving them an idea of how social media works in emergencies and in crises, but also giving them a background on, you know, what that looks like in blue sky time as well. So when there’s not an emergency, so they can effectively engage better and, you know, coordinate their outreach, teach them things like campaign management, things that marketers do pretty regularly, but government hasn’t really caught on to just yet. 

So we, we try to teach them and bridge those two worlds. And then in the crisis communications realm, we teach them some pretty advanced stuff related to social media monitoring. Like I mentioned where we’ll say, okay, look, we know that we have information needs in a disaster. And we know that there are millions of people that are out there that have the information that we could use. We utilize the same social media listening and social media monitoring techniques that a standard you know, brand type marketer would, would be using except a little bit of a different perspective, a little bit of a different goal there.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah, really. So your what are your measurements then? I mean, cause it’s not nothing to do with revenue, right? So what, what, what’s a successful outcome of when you help one of your customers?

Christopher Tarantino:

So when we help our customers, we definitely know it because we can see a change in their performance in the way that they handle themselves. So I mentioned, you know, today and this week, we’re doing training and exercises at a small liberal arts college in Arkansas, and they’re getting their first taste of things like incident command system training and how communications works in the end before a disaster and what you need to do to set things up. And it’s a real paradigm shift because most human beings, not just people, but human beings are wired in such a way that we don’t even observe. We don’t even come to terms with the reality that these situations can occur. Right? So you talk to a standard or regular communications person and had one in our class yesterday, who is the standard marketing go-to spokesperson for the college? 

And they’re used to talking about how great things are and how awesome it is to be a student here and donate to us, right? Those are their metrics. Those are what they’re going for. And so when we kind of changed the vernacular a bit, and we have this big paradigm shift, and now we’re focusing on things like life safety, property preservation these are big goals and objectives that if you do everything right, you’re proving a negative, right. And that’s really, really hard from a communications perspective to get on board. The other thing that we talk about in the communications realm is understanding the metrics that are important.

I’d much rather have a Facebook post or a Twitter you know, a tweet it’s a to go through and have really deep engagement and have lots of questions and lots of comments and have people talking about it and preparing each other. Then I would have a huge reach on a blue sky time in an emergency when, you know, seconds count I’d much rather have a large reach with almost no engagement because I’d rather get all those eyeballs on that message because there’s an operational imperative to do so. So that the challenge is figuring out and knowing what your expectations are and building your communications environment to suit that

Jeff Pedowitz:

Really, really quite a different perspective on marketing and it’s, and it’s important. So how many people are on your team?

Christopher Tarantino:

So we have a really small core group less than five people in our core team, but we have a contractor base of upwards of 30 people, and we keep them on the road quite a bit doing trainings and exercises. I mentioned that we’re down in Puerto Rico with Ben down there with our deployment unit for upwards of eight months. And that’s actually a unique use case that we could talk about a little bit definitely another different breed of marketing, where we’re working with a technology company to help them interface with their government client and perform better on the ground in the midst of a disaster. And we help them both in that ability, emergency circumstances with our deployment support unit. And we help them beforehand as well with a system that we call educational marketing, where we teach emergency managers and their target markets. We teach those technology companies how to work more effectively in this environment. And we teach them how to manage their communications and their marketing and sales enablement and things like that. So that way they can better communicate the value add that they bring in or before an emergency request.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So I would imagine, I mean, you know, certainly government and schools, I could see that as being one core audience, but companies too, right in a anybody can have a PR crisis or all kinds of things can happen depending on what the business. So it’s probably good for everyone.

Christopher Tarantino:

Yeah. A hundred percent. And we tend to have a natural focus on campus based entities is the way that we describe it. So we say corporate campus, government campus, higher education healthcare, because what you end up seeing there is have their, their unique stakeholder mix. They have their own kind of bubble around them. And what’s great about working with those groups in particular is that they have the ability and the momentum to make changes, make actual material changes to the way that they communicate to how they structure their technology and kind of microcosm that they can really be influential in. Once they understand the underlying principles and foundational concepts of emergency management of crisis communications, once they get that we can work with them and they can make some really, really big changes that are dramatically different and dramatically more successful in the event that they have a crisis or an emergency.

And so we deal with the whole spectrum, right? Whether it be a reputational crisis or a life safety emergency, anything from planned events, we’ve, we’ve done work with state fairs with concerts, things like that as well. So, you know, wherever you have that bubble, we’re able to kind of go in and, and work really well. But we also do that in government where it’s a little bit harder to measure. It’s a little bit harder to see your results to see the fruit of your labor, if you will, but still very, very powerful.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So our daughter at Vanderbilt, she just got her EMR last semester. So I’m going to have to watch this this interview later, so she could sit on it. Right now, she wants to be a trauma surgeon, but you know, you never know, she could, she could go on to emergency medicine management.

Christopher Tarantino:

Yeah. You know, emergency management is such a new field. I mean, the concept has been around forever from civil defense era to, you know, you name it. I mean, we’ve, we’ve dealt with it over the years and it’s been decades long, but as a profession and as a legitimate field of work, it’s much more recent. It’s much more you know, it’s much newer than I think people realize. And so there’s a lot of growth potential there to communicate better and to jump on new trends and to understand newer or different concepts and learn from other industries and other areas of business or whatever.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So, one thing I’m curious about how many of your clients call you after, you know, the crisis has happened versus how many are forward, thinking enough to say, Hey, we need to avert risk before it even happens or be prepared in any way for, for risk management before it happens.

Christopher Tarantino:

I’ll, I’ll be generous. And I’ll say it’s about a 50 50 split. Okay.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Um, okay. You know It’s not, is it? It’s

Christopher Tarantino:

Exactly 50 50, but it’s not as much a reactive as you might think, you know, the term crisis and what people define as a crisis or an emergency, or the level of perception that they have of risk is different depending on what their circumstances are. Right. So they might avoid a major crisis. They won’t be in the news. There wasn’t an actual problem, but some administrator or some chief executive says, Whoa, that could’ve been really bad. So at the, at the face level, at the service level, that looks like they’re being proactive. When in reality, they just kind of got lucky. So why I would give it that answer? I’d say that there’s a lot of that.

There’s definitely some institutions that are just absolutely proactive and that’s who they are. And those clients are much easier to work with. Then the alternative, which is the man we had this really bad thing happened, we fired a bunch of people. Morale is down. We don’t know what our next move is. And then they call us and that’s a much harder client to work with because now they’ve already messed up. The stakes are that much higher there’s apprehension. There I’d much rather have an energized group that’s, you know, accepting of small failures and be able to change their, their approach to things incrementally than, than that scenario.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. A fast, fascinating, and a lot of ways. So tell, tell us a little bit about the tools of the trade. What systems do you use? What processes, how do you get it done?

Christopher Tarantino:

Sure. and when, when you asked that I’ll ask for some clarification, do you mean internally, how do we, how’s the sausage made, or what tools would you recommend?

Jeff Pedowitz:

Maybe both, I guess? You know, how are you doing it since you are a small firm? So you probably have to do a lot of guerrilla type of marketing yourself, I would imagine. And then, then what kind of systems are you recommending to, to your customers?

Christopher Tarantino:

Yeah, so, so we take we take an educational marketing approach. So we really do kinda follow what we preach. And so with the educational or inbound marketing approach, we tend to think content is King. We follow the, the, the mantra that we have to educate our consumer before they’re comfortable buying from us and get them to understand both their level of risk. That’s a sales process, as well as their their appetite for change. So we are constantly selling, you know, in a comfortable and in a consultative way to get that behavior change. Cause that’s really, all sales is right, is getting someone to agree with you and getting them to change their behavior or open their pocket book or whatever. We use the spin selling methodology quite a bit in our world because we want people to understand the implications of their current actions, their current trajectory, or their current level of inaction, which is usually what we experienced a lot of times.

So we follow that that’s been selling methodology and that inbound methodology to get people to better understand. And we use that those same processes to help our clients connect better. So I’ll use one client as an example, they’re a multimillion dollar company international organization that deals with imagery in emergencies and, and they do disaster assessments and they do mapping and all kinds of stuff like that. Right. And so what they had was this product that worked really well for assessments and for mapping professionals, but they knew that it could work well for public safety professionals as well. But Mark, if you go to a traditional marketing firm with a public safety product and you try to market it the exact same way that you market, you know whatever, insert a widget here, you’re probably not going to be very successful.

Christopher Tarantino:

The market that we deal with emergency managers are inherently skeptical. They are inherently kind of risk averse. I mean, by definition, they need to be risk averse. Which means that they’re usually slower to adopt change. If you look at that diffusion of innovation curve that we talk about a lot in marketing, they tend to be more so on the late adopter or laggard side just by necessity. And because a lot of the, the objections that they get are, well, what if it breaks? I don’t want to adopt this piece of technology because, well, what if the Internet’s down? What if I don’t have power? What if, what if, what if, and if you don’t educate them on say the security of your platform, or you don’t educate them on the utility or the backup procedures that you have in place, if you don’t educate them and get their objections out in front, you’re probably going to lose them really, really quickly. 

The other thing is because they are so invested in the emergency management community, they have a language all of their own. And so you we’ve had lots of clients come to us on the emergency management technology side that have hired other marketing firms and the marketing firms try to sell their wares or whatever their software, their hardware, just like they would any other SAS you know, a pro and it just doesn’t work. Right. The, the ma the model just doesn’t match up. And you’re obviously seen as an outsider by your prospect. Once that happens, you’re out. Like there is no back from that. And so we try to educate them on how to break through that process and educate, and be a valuable resource throughout that whole, whole continuum.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Well, fascinating field. Really loved learning more about it today. Thank you so much for being on the program. And, you know, and, and I guess I hope that all your clients don’t have crises.

Christopher Tarantino:

We hope that we’ll be there if they do, but we don’t hope for it for anybody.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Absolutely. Well, Hey, thanks again. Got some great lessons today on emergency management marketing, and how to market  in a crisis from Christopher Tarantino. So thank you, Chris.

Christopher Tarantino:

Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet.

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