Speaker Series: Susan McLennan

November 23, 2018
Speaker Series: Susan McLennan

Susan McLennan, President, Reimagine PR; Board Chair, OpenMedia

There’s a lot in life that you just can’t teach. The most successful, passionate people you meet – who have gone on these incredible journeys and ended up in the best destinations – they probably got there by accident. That is at the core of all that I took away from Susan McLennan’s lecture in Goodes Hall this week: when you stumble onto your purpose, you gotta run with it, even if you trip and fall flat on your face. 

Technically, everyone in the room was there to learn more about social impact, and what it meant to this very important woman who has been able to work with the likes of Steve Jobs and the guys from Zoboomafoo. I don’t think any of us realized that behind all of that lied the absolute sweetest woman you could ever meet. 

Ms McLennan’s speech started off with a story reminding us all that you need to wear two pieces if you’re going to be presenting. That’s when I realized what’s so different about a person who wants to make money and a person who wants to make change – one of them takes themselves much too seriously, and the other one will gladly tell you about when she ended up having to pry a mic pack off her underwear in the middle of a hallway.

Moving away from wardrobe malfunctions, the day was really about two things: why social impact matters, and how we protect it from corporations who don’t reallycare too much about it. But beyond that, it was a lot like listening to your mom. A cool mom, of course – think Amy Poehler in Mean Girls. But still a mom; this lady who wants you to do so well in your life, and is willing to share what hasn’t gone so well in her’s. 

Let’s start with the main points, which you must be sick of hearing of by now, which you kind of need to hear over and over again so it really registers:

  1. Social impact is essential for any business that wants to grow their market. This goes for charities and for-profit corporations alike, and it goes for camp counselors and investment bankers. The people are rising, and they are demanding change, and you can’t avoid this heartwarming ton of bricks. 
  2. You can’t sell to a dead planet. For the last century, corporations have been putting short-term objectives above all else, and very quickly some of the smart ones are starting to realize that they need to correct these detrimental mistakes.
  3. Millennials are not the lazy, industry-destroying, apathetic individuals that we are made out to be in the tabloids and The New York Times and at thanksgiving. We care. A lot. 87% of us would spend more of the little money we have if it meant we were giving to a brand with a purpose, and 64% of us wouldn’t take an amazing job if it meant we were working for an organisation without one.

You know all that. So, what can you do? After finding something you care about – which Ms McLennan feels that you’ll probably end up finding without having to look very hard – how do you rally people to get behind you? How do you find your team? 

Well, it’s hard. You’ll hear a lot of rejections. You’ll make a lot of enemies. No matter how far we have come as a society that gives back, you will find that there will be people who won’t be as into your “goody goody shtick” as you would like them to be. It may seem impossible, and no one will be able to take the exact same steps as anyone else, but Ms McLennan offered up these valuable tips:

  1. Dream bigger. As big as you possibly can. There will always be the realists and the people who will tell you that you have to choose one cause over another, but social impact is rooted in hope and optimism. Be the optimist, and when people poke away at your heart: hold onto your vision.
  2. Be authendacious. This is a combination of authentic and audacious, and if you have gone through the process of signing up for this Certificate and finding this blog post, it is likely that you are already both of these things. Be passionate and genuine. That’s what resonates with people.
  3. Tell better stories. You can hit people with facts and statistics all day long, but what really gets people on board is a good old sob story, or a funny anecdote, or really anything that paints a vivid image of what you would like to do.

Ms McLennan could have boasted a multitude of startups and causes that she helped launch into space. She could have told us all the connections she has made and all the amazing things she has contributed to the world. She could have stood there for an hour and told us about everything that went right, but she didn’t. Instead, most of our time together was spent hearing about when her business almost went bankrupt, when she sublet her apartment to junkies that sold all her furniture, and when she met the love of her life trying to option a script for a show that couldn’t even pay for it anymore. 

Your journey will be built on mistakes. You will find yourself doubting every part of who you are, and you will feel like a fraud. This will happen a lot. But you will not feel that way forever. Sharing a piece of advice that came from her mother, we were all told that when you are on top of the world, remember these moments. Remember you will be back there drowning in self-doubt and angst, and remember you will get through it.

We greatly appreciate Susan McLennan coming in and sharing her story. Start writing yours. Keeping in mind that you will fret and you will fail – go find your cause. Throw yourself out there into the world, your trueself, and don’t be afraid to crash and burn doing something meaningful.

Written by Aysha Tabassum, COMM'22