Osmo’s Head Of Communications Creates A Legacy

By Cheryl Robinson

Storytelling in communications is imperative for a brand’s existence and longevity. It’s not just about sharing a company’s origins but bringing different brand elements to life through specific narrative tools. Good storytelling drives conversions and ROI. It’s been reported that if people love a brand story, 55% are more likely to buy the product in the future, and 15% will buy the product immediately. As new markets emerge and companies launch, the stories they share separate them from their competitors.

Shawn Smith, global head of communications at Osmo, an award-winning STEAM brand in edtech, is leading the company’s communications strategy and narrative messaging across all aspects of the business platforms. Her extensive experience leading multimillion-dollar campaigns for global entertainment brands and franchises has helped her move the needle in diversity and inclusion. She was named to PRWeek’s 40 Under 40 list for her brand storytelling techniques.

“Stories tell people who you are,” Smith states. “We know that people today, especially parents today, there’s been tons of research that have been done that says people want to feel good about the companies that they’re engaging with and are buying from. So the brand story is where you’re doing that work, where you’re communicating to a parent or family what you stand for and what you represent. … You need that before you get to selling someone.”

Smith’s career began behind a news desk as a writer and editor for a Los Angeles publication. One day, she covered the Pan African Film Festival for the newspaper and met Pat Tobin, a publicist who frequently sent press releases to the media outlet. As Smith spoke with her about the industry, she quickly realized that she’d thrive in the public relations environment.

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Tobin told Smith to give her a call when she was ready to transition in her career. Shortly after, Smith launched her communications career at the multicultural public relations agency. Here she learned the difference between sharing a company’s story versus the art of storytelling from a brand’s perspective. From there, she pivoted to different sized agencies, gaining as much experience as possible before landing a role at the Walt Disney Company. During her nine-year stint, Smith advanced from senior manager of communications of consumer goods to managing diversity, equity and inclusion communications across the entire enterprise.

She eventually left the conglomerate to serve as head of communications for one of the largest global privately-owned toy companies, MGA Entertainment. She oversaw, managed and executed all press, partnership and live brand activation efforts for the company. After a year, she was presented with an opportunity to work for WarnerMedia, heading up publicity and communications under Pam Lifford’s leadership.

After her tenure at the entertainment studio, she joined the Osmo team. The Osmo brand products are used in over 2.5 million homes and 50,000 classrooms. In her new role, one of the biggest challenges is alignment. She’s restrategizing the company’s story to capture the diversity amongst the team and how the brand is breaking barriers within the edtech sector. They raised $18 million in a Series B round of funding.

“Coming from Disney and Warner, they are the best at building brands that families love; brands that people recognize,” Smith expresses. “It’s interesting because a DC character campaign is different than when I was working on a Looney Tunes campaign. They’re amazing at really drilling down to the DNA of that particular character or that particular franchise. So it gave me that level of strategic thinking, bringing that into Osmo. … It’s not just about wanting to talk about this new product that we’re launching, and we want people to buy it, of course, we do as a company, but I think about the long term. How do we build Osmo a brand? What is that foundational narrative that I need to feel to create right now so that 50 years from now, people just automatically know what Osmo represents and what the brand stands for?”

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Additionally, she’s now a board member of Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment, co-leading the DEI committee. “We’re looking at ways where we can impact the industry and have more diversity with brands that do licensing and entertainment,” she explains. “We want to feature more women of color in all of the WIT programs, which I think we’re doing a really great job at highlighting them as inventors, businesswomen and entrepreneurs. … The piece about adding more diversity, just across the industry is really hard to do. Everybody wants that to happen, but how do you make that happen? So we’re talking about strategies where we can have more influence over that.”

As Smith pivoted in her career, she focused on the following essential steps:

  • Build your tribe of supporters. The journey can seem overwhelming at times, or you may want to quit. Have people in your corner who will encourage you to keep going.
  • Understand the reasoning behind the career transition. Are you running away from or running towards something? Those are two significantly different types of motivators.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek out a mentor. Develop relationships with people who have done what you want and are willing to guide you; learn from their mistakes and build your own path.

“As you mature in your life and career, you become clearer about what’s important and a priority,” Smith concludes. “I’m a calm-natured person, and that helps when you’re in PR because there’s always a lot happening. There are always high-energy people, people who worry about certain things. So you have to be the voice of reason and prioritize what’s urgent and what can wait.”

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