Episode 296

Chuck Tanowitz: Seasoned strategic communications pro


March 5th, 2024

13 mins 28 secs

Your Host

About this Episode

Chuck Tanowitz is a seasoned professional in strategic communications, with a history of building strong programs that drive media and brand growth.

His experience spans more than 15 years—he has played key roles in shaping the marketing and communication strategies for various brands, including Paytronix Systems, Greentown Labs, the N-Squared Innovation District, TenMarks, and a long list of others.

Chuck is back on Confessions of Marketer for the second time—having joined us in 2017 in the very early days of this podcast.


Mark Reed-Edwards: Welcome to this special episode of Confessions of a Marketer. I'm Mark Reed Edwards. We're back with this mini series of shows I've dubbed the Talent Showcase. These episodes focus on people in marketing, communications, PR, and allied fields who are looking for their next opportunity.

My guests share their stories, successes, and how they can help their next employer or client. Today, I'm joined by Chuck Tanowitz. Chuck is a seasoned professional in strategic communications with a history of building strong programs that drive media and brand growth. His experience spans more than 15 years.

He's played a key roles in shaping the marketing and communication strategies for various brands, including Paytronix Systems, Greentown Labs, the N Squared Innovation District, 10 Marks, and a long list of others.

Chuck Tanowitz is back on Confessions of a Marketer for the second time, having joined us in 2017, the very early days of this podcast.

Chuck, welcome back.

Chuck Tanowitz: Thank you. I I really appreciate you having me on.

Mark: It's great to chat. So can you tell me more about yourself beyond what I just shared, you know, your background and career path?

Chuck: You know, it's interesting. I was reading an article recently that talked about developing a career portfolio as opposed to a career path, and I feel like that's actually a little bit of what I've done. Yes, the core of my career has been in PR and marketing and brand, but I've also taken on these other roles outside.

That's how I ended up, for example, at the N squared Innovation District, which was really more of an economic development effort, as much it was a marketing effort. So it's given me this broad base of very interesting kind of pieces that I've done.

You know, when I look at the work I did at Paytronix, which was very much traditional marketing and PR and brand, which was: drive leads and drive interest in this company.
But then you look at something like N-Squared, where it was: "How do I develop a community? How do I bring in art into the project and develop placemaking? How do I connect with local colleges and universities?"

And then something like Greentown Labs, where it was: "How do you build something from zero and get it known where you're trying to not necessarily build leads, but certainly build brand around a name and what it means and giving it some brand equity?"

And then also creating my own PR from, which I had done a few years ago. And then also being a local advocate and sit on the Economic Development Commission. And then most recently, I spent three days in Vermont learning how to bake croissants. So it's, you know, how do I put all those things together and begin to say, "What do they all mean and how do you move forward?"

Mark: Boy, there are some analogies one can make to baking related to our profession. You know, being patient, right? And letting things rise.

Chuck: Yeah, sometimes I am not nearly patient enough in my rise. But yes, that is a big part of baking. In fact, I said to my wife the other day, "What I need to do when I bake is plan out a series of bakes along the way, so that while one thing is sitting and rising, I'm working on the next thing." You're right, it does align with where you are in PR, where you're kind of, yes, you might be working on a press release over here, but that's not going out, you know, for two months, three months, six weeks, whatever it is.

I also need to be doing the short- term pieces that's going to be driving things forward. But that's actually, I think, where, you know, if you want to kind of bring that analogy back out, where a lot of companies are missing the boat on PR. I know when I was doing my own agency, people would say to me, "Well, how will I know PR is working in the leads that I get?"
And I heard it described recently as: demand generation is my sales in this month and next month. PR and brand are my sales in six months to a year. Looking at that over the long term is very difficult to kind of parse out how much is PR and brand doing for you and how much is demand gen doing for you.

Those things have to work together, but you're right, there is a lot of patience involved in that PR and brand strategy because they are long term. You're not going to flip a switch and people are just going to know about you It's going to take some time.

Mark: And croissants are layered, and it's very fine layers, so maybe there's another analogy we could make there.

Chuck: I don't know if you've ever made croissants, but I was learning how to lock in butter which is a whole different thing. But yes, they are layered. There's a very careful folding process you need to do to get the right layers. You need to be patient. I was so proud of myself the other day when I made these croissants and I bit into it and I could see the honeycomb layer within it was like, Oh yes, I hit all those layers just right.

But again, you don't know until you're done, right? When I bake a bread, it really takes 24 hours for sourdough to mature and come to life.

And you put it in the oven and at that very last step, you could burn it. You could put it in too early, too late. And suddenly all this work you've done for the last 24 hours, is shot. And that's it. Right?

So there's a lot of businesses that operate like that, but PR is definitely the end of that process.

You can't rely on a single launch to make or break a company. You have to do it over time because there's too many factors that could get in the way that are often outside of your control. I mean, how many of us were working on a launch and the week before something major happens in the world and it completely changes what you're trying to do, right?

Happens to Hollywood all the time. How many times have you heard a movie getting delayed or moving around because another one was coming out? Or some major event happens in the world-- a news event, a death, something tragic-- and it's like, "Well, we can't release a movie into that environment."

So there's a lot of places that operate like that. Businesses need to be aware that they exist in that market and they can't plan these things out and say, "We have to hit that date, otherwise we're going to die."

That's not a good way to run that company. You have to think long term and having a whole host of things moving throughout the year. It's a long growth process.

Mark: It's kind of interesting. I don't want to get bogged down in this subject, but ESG and DEI have cropped up in the last several years for good reason. Prior to that, it's almost like companies existed in a different world. Most of them didn't want to get involved in what was going on in the greater society.

Chuck: We dealt a little bit with that at my last position. During the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter, before the federal government declared Juneteenth a holiday, my CEO had decided: we are going to close the office on Juneteenth. And we are going to encourage our employees to do public service, to take some time to read and to think.
And we put out, you know, internally, a bunch of reading suggestions and so on. I was on the DEI committee, so I was part of that decision. And we sent an email off to our customers to let them know that we were going to be closed that day. And our customers were nationwide. Many of them were convenience stores in the Midwest and South.
And we had a very mixed response back. Some people were very supportive: "Well, this makes a lot of sense." Some people felt that we were politicizing the business world. And to my CEO's credit, he said, "This is what we're doing." We didn't lose any business over it. None of that happened.

And a year later, the federal government made Juneteenth a holiday regardless.

So clearly, we were heading in the correct direction, but you know, he had to look at that response to say, "That's okay. I'm going to take that." And businesses do need to do that. They do need to realize that they live in a greater world and what they stand for matters.

I'm seeing that shift a little bit from where it was even a year or two ago, where people are getting a little less comfortable being out there. But I do think it's important and I do think people are making purchasing decisions, at least on the consumer side, in part by what your business stands for.

Mark: So this is about you, Chuck. So let's turn the focus back to you. And can you share one of your most important career accomplishments?

Chuck: It's interesting that there's actually a lot of things I can pull from that. Let me start recently and go backwards a little bit in time. I was very proud of the work that I did at Paytronix in launching the brand.

Getting the opportunity to launch a brand of that magnitude where it was not just, "Hey, let's just change a few aspects of how our logo looks." But this was a complete change in what we looked like, what we sounded like, who we were, how we talked about ourselves-- across the board, the tool sets, the graphic tool sets, the conversations.
To have that opportunity to build that and to say, "How do I bring that out internally? How do I bring that out externally?" That was really interesting. I learned a tremendous amount from that project. I was proud of the work that I did there. I was proud of what it did for the company. There was an, you know, some immediate jumps in, you know, that, that brand awareness that happened.

You don't often see that, but you know, it was nice to see those Google searches go through the roof. So you certainly saw that impact right away. Then I was sitting in a sales meeting a few months later and the chief revenue officer stood up there and said, "this is one of the things that's really working in our company. Our brand is making our sales process move faster."

There's some direct result. I can see that.

I was also equally proud of some of the work I did with Greentown Labs, spending a couple of years launching them into the market and getting them going from a place of sitting empty, really, to something that became very much part of the fabric of the clean tech landscape, certainly in Boston and began to emerge as we were wrapping up that work emerged around the country.

They're now in Houston. And a lot of the branding and the concepts that we laid out for them, they still use today. You know, one of the things I remember we talked about early on was we were debating how do we talk about their tenants, right? Because they were charging rent. How do they talk about tenants?
And we were like, "Well, if we call them member companies and we give them a badge, that's going to help our SEO." And they still talk about member companies and alumni companies and that sort of thing as part of their language. I was very proud of that work. It seems so small and minor, but it changes the nature of the way that you think about yourself.

It changed nature of the way companies think about themselves within it. And then the work I did at N Squared was spectacular. Not only did we see the results and the people coming in, but one of my favorite projects was the Greenway Arts Project. We had this greenway that was really underutilized and we were looking at how do we drive awareness for the N Squared Innovation District and engage with the local community.

And I synced up with Studios Without Walls to bring in sculpture. We had looked at a lot of different directions about how to do this. And we brought in this for two years, we brought in this the sculpture exhibit and not only did it get the neighborhood excited, but it completely changed the way the neighborhood looked at the center of its being where it had been looking at other areas.

This was a neighborhood that didn't really have a good center of downtown. They began to look at that greenway as their center, which they hadn't before. And considering that there's a major development happening on the other side of that greenway, the fact that they changed the center of their site to that location will change long term, the way that that whole neighborhood sees itself.

Mark: I think anybody who has listened to this podcast would know the answer to this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. What do you think you can offer your next employer or client?

Chuck: I certainly bring a breadth of understanding of how people think. Right? And be able to get into that conversation in a very interesting way. You know, there's the tactical: writing skills, etc., down the line.

But there's certainly then the broad sweep of: "Who are we? How do we get that to market? How do we encourage people to know about us? How do we raise our awareness?"
So I bring that kind of skill set. At the same time you know, I have a pretty solid track record of training people, so there's not only the ability to bring that out, but also build a team underneath me that can help execute on that and help grow that team and encourage that team and keep them engaged in storytelling.

One of the things that I do take great pride in is the ability to tell that story and the ability to kind of turn that story outward. At Paytronix, I changed some things around to create what I called story- driven marketing, where we went and dug into the customer stories, figured out where those stories were, how those matched with our brand message and then move those into the various content components, the eBooks, the webinars, etc., blog posts, case studies, and pushed those out through our own marketing that we needed to get out for demand gen, but that also then fed the PR.

So being able to create these systems that can run and can help build for the future is where my skill set is. And then, you need to build the infrastructure underneath it to maintain those long term. But certainly it's about: "How do you create a process that's going to continually benefit across multiple touch points?"

So that's a lot of what I try to bring to the table.

Mark: Well, Chuck, it was great chatting again. Always enjoy it. And I really hope this podcast helps you find your next great gig.

Chuck: I appreciate it. I appreciate the time.

Mark: I'm Mark Reed Edwards. Join me on the next Confessions of a Marketer.