Crown Castle, the nation’s largest wireless and fiber infrastructure provider, has always provided a crucial service—connectivity. It’s easy to take that for granted when your cell phone just “works,” your internet is reliable, and innovations like 5G and smart cities seem to push forward at a rapid pace. But connectivity is ever-more meaningful as we continue to work from home, video chat with loved ones, and access vital care through telehealth.

Partner and Executive Director of Strategy Nancy Schulman spoke with Lesley Pacheco about how Crown Castle’s brand and marketing strategies have helped build toward this moment of heightened visibility for their value proposition.

The interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Nancy: Lesley, can you share a little bit about your role and your focus with your team right now?

Lesley: I’m a Director of Marketing at Crown Castle. I lead a team of digital marketing folks who are specialized in individual areas of marketing: social media, demand gen, content creation, and ABM.

We focus on two areas. The first is demand and lead generation, and the other area is helping smooth the path to infrastructure deployment in communities. We educate communities around why infrastructure is critical, and what’s interesting, is that the message is being lived out currently in COVID-life.

Nancy: Some communities continue to resist erecting cell towers or undergoing road construction to expand fiber capacity. Now that everyone is experiencing the need for connectivity, are you getting an uptick in demand as people and businesses understand the importance of what you’re doing?

Lesley: I would say community members who have been somewhat neutral, or on the fence, now have a much more positive outlook. They are seeing a critical need for our infrastructure, and it’s linking us to what matters most in a time of social distancing.

Nancy: I love this, especially the part about marketing to the “movable middle.” This makes a lot of sense and is a great opportunity for your company.

Lesley: How are we all connecting to our loved ones? Through our mobile devices. We Facetime my son Luca’s grandparents every day—even if it’s only for 5 minutes. That critical connection gives us the human interaction that we’re missing. Community residents really value this now.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the need for world broadband. It’s becoming a bi-partisan issue, and you can’t go a day without seeing news around the need for connectivity and what this pandemic has ushered in. We’ve been having conversations about remote learning, telemedicine, AR/VR as all of these applications are needed now.

On the flip side, it’s bringing the realization around the need for new technologies and innovations, especially for our enterprise customers. One of the most interesting things we’re hearing from our customers is that there was trepidation around if we could support this volume of data. This crisis has shown that we can in a lot of places, and we have to work harder in others. So now, out of a really tough situation, we’re seeing that innovation is being pushed forward faster than we thought it would be for our customers, which is very cool.

Nancy: I am curious if this is causing you to change your market messaging? Several of our clients say that they are really focused on shifting messaging right now. Are you? 

Lesley: I don’t think we’re evolving our sales and marketing messages. We’re just amplifying them and telling that story with greater confidence. 

We’re continuing to educate communities and seeing reasons to stay focused on our story around the essential need for connectivity that we’ve been telling for almost five years now. Research we’ve conducted in this COVID environment confirmed that reliable connectivity, for people, businesses, and communities, are bubbling up as key issues. We’re also now able to explain the economic benefit of connectivity more easily to communities, whereas before, the economic benefit story was harder to tell.

On the B2B sales and marketing side, we’re not shifting messaging because one of the things that Sullivan—a testament to how amazing Sullivan has been for us—helped us land on a few years ago was a benefits story. And now, we’re working to build out more content and technology around personalization so we have the ability to tailor content. 
Consumers and businesses want transparency and want to understand how we’re supporting communities. They want you to speak directly to them—they have less mindshare to weave through a lot of messages. For us, that means more personalization and better account-based marketing. We’re already focused on that today, but we’re doing it more quickly and on a bigger, more-in depth scale.

Feedback from the sales team has reiterated that lack of mindshare. They used to be able to get in a room with a customer for 3 hours. Now, it’s a Webex with probably half an hour of undivided attention. So fitting that 3 hours in half an hour means we need to get to the user benefit quickly.

Nancy: We’re finally in a moment where your audience can really process your message because they are experiencing the need directly. What was amorphous before is very tangible. As you’re telling the story, they get it, versus a hypothetical “what if you need this kind of service?”

Lesley:  Exactly. We’ve also been doing more community outreach. We’ve been donating laptops and other things to school districts; we’ve done some connectivity for hospitals at no cost. And we’re trying to think of how to offer that crucial connectivity to people on the front lines.

Nancy: Are there any companies in your field who you think are doing an amazing job of sharing their message, reaching out, or having a presence right now?

Lesley: I’m finding inspiration in what all companies, big and small, are doing to come together. Whether it’s fashion [brands] making critical PPE, or Intel working on AI-based hospital robots. The big tech companies who were the first to move to remote work and provide ongoing pay for workers inspired me too. Crown Castle was also at the forefront of moving workers to remote. It seems like a broad answer, but I’m inspired by the innovation and coming together from everyone. And brands finding a way to help in this crisis is really magical.

I think another thing I’ve been seeing on LinkedIn—because we’ve been doing a lot of work around LinkedIn—is people starting to use social media for selling. It’s a totally different world for traditional sales folks: understanding, listening, and nurturing before you get to the “sell.” What I’ve seen is many companies are actually starting to get there now. Instead of a hard sell, they’re providing value through thought leadership that drives customer interest and content that’s meaningful or relevant. A lot of tech companies are doing a great job with that.

Nancy: You’ve talked about Jay (Crown Castle CEO) being proud of your swift move to remote working. What else are you doing in terms of internal communications? And with culture being such a huge part of your company, is there anything different that you’re doing right now?

Lesley: The communication with our teams has been really strong; there are two areas that the executive leaders have been focused on: caring for teammates and delivering for customers.

On caring for teammates, there’s a lot more communication (and videoconferencing). Jay is actually doing a video broadcast once a week from his truck. When he introduced the first broadcast, he said “all of our employees can relate to this—trying to find a quiet place to have a conversation is hard with a family, so I’m coming to you live from my truck and will share with you each week how we’re thinking about the employee experience, how our customers are doing, and what our customers are seeing.” It’s been really powerful and meaningful.

The other piece, delivering for customers, has meant we’re communicating a lot about how to push forward. There’s a lot of coaching going on with our sales leadership to help them work through what to do when customers’ buying behavior has changed. 

We’ve created two task forces—one around the customer experience, buying behavior changes, and remote selling, and the other around how we’ll go back to work because it will be a new world when we do. There will be innovation driven by this, and there will be changes we have to make, whether that’s changing office spaces, evolving business models, changing how our employees interact, or rethinking our hiring practices.

Nancy: Okay, so now the big close—what are you looking forward to the most when it’s over? I know my answer is a haircut.

Lesley: I will say, having my hair done is on the top of my list, but so is having a delicious meal at a delicious restaurant. Just the experience of being in a restaurant—I miss that. I miss the hustle and bustle, having a drink at a bar and meeting the people next to you, sitting at the table and ordering “all the things.”