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Over the past few years of the COVID-19 pandemic, society overall experienced a sense of divisiveness and distrust that permeated every aspect of life, which means that people are “desperate” to find sources of truth that they can trust and to which they can give their loyalty.
That’s according to Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, the co-founders and co-CEOs of theSkimm, a media company focused on the information needs of millennial women, who took to the stage virtually at the National Association of Realtors’ annual conference, NAR NXT, on Friday to kick-off the event.
Zakin and Weisberg appeared at the Orlando event remotely. They were prevented from traveling due to Tropical Storm Nicole, which battered Florida Thursday and plunged likely thousands of would-be conference attendees into uncertainty as their flights were canceled. Cindi Bulla, NAR’s Meeting and Conference Committee chair, moderated the discussion which was livestreamed.
The need for trustworthy information “has put more pressure on brands, whether that’s your individual brand or … a bigger brand, to show up with their values, to show … where they stand on things and to show … they are trustworthy and that they are real,” Zakin told attendees.
While “authenticity” is a common buzzword in marketing circles, she emphasized its role in fostering trust with audiences.
“It means that people want to know you’re human and this is your moral compass and people want to know that you’re gonna be there, they can trust you,” Zakin said.
Buying a home is one of the most stressful experiences someone can go through, she pointed out.
“I think I got gray hair for the first time buying a home,” Zakin said. “All you want to do is trust the person that is helping you and I think it’s like that urge, that need is what everybody is feeling right now.”
In media, as in real estate, earning trust is a continuous process.
“You can be the biggest platform out there, but that doesn’t mean that people are actually going to be coming back to you,” Weisberg, whose mother was a Realtor, told attendees.
“It is not only about the first house; but is there an upgrade? You want to make sure that you’re getting referrals from friends and family and growing organically. That’s really how we built our business and I think that’s why over the past decade, it has grown and grown with our audience.”
Part of building trust is knowing exactly who your audience is and what their needs are, according to Weisberg and Zakin. For theSkimm that audience is millions of millennial women for whom the company wants to provide reliable, nonpartisan information to help them live smarter and make confident decisions.
“We had a really strong understanding of who our core target customer was,” Zakin said.
“We always knew how to speak to her, a millennial woman, and part of it was, yes, we are her, but also really seeing where she wasn’t being served. Very quickly the virality of what had been created just took off, and very quickly, we developed a very rabid following, a very loyal following.”
Millennial women are unlike any previous generation in that they are out-earning their male counterparts and graduating with more degrees and earning C-suite level positions at companies, according to Zakin. But at the same time, they are up against a myriad of new challenges.
“This is the generation that is making 30 percent proportionately less than their parents did at the same life stage that she can’t afford a first home that she is delaying life milestones and having children later in life. And with that comes lots of financial and emotional burdens including fertility treatments, if needed, that she is bearing the brunt of coming out of a pandemic and … pulling a double shift, and on the side thinking, ‘hey, I probably won’t have Social Security later because there’s no money for that’, and ‘by the way, the kids I’m having later in life are going to be my dependents at the same time my parents, who are living longer but getting pushed out of work earlier, are also going to be my dependents,’ ” Zakin said.
“That’s really scary and nauseating.
“As a side note, we recommend wine a lot to our audience, and you can see why it does very well,” she joked, prompting laughter from attendees.
Millennial women are leading in many ways, “but up against obstacles and institutions that weren’t necessarily made for her or there to serve her. And that is the unique opportunity that, one, we’re going after and, two, trying to fix,” she added.
Two such efforts are the company’s campaigns in favor of paid family leave and voter registration.
TheSkimm launched #showusyourleave, which Weisberg said has now turned into a movement in which more than 30,000 people have signed a petition asking for better leave policies, and about 600 big companies have publicly posted their paid family leave policies on social media. TheSkimm also offers a leave policy database.
“So if you’re ever thinking about knowledge, just making sure that your policies are competitive, take a look at that,” Weisberg said.
“And it’s also been a way for us to hold each other accountable as organizations that want to support family leave by seeing what is the norm, what’s out there, how can I be competitive? These systems that we’ve all lived in were not meant to support women in these positions of power or working parents. Having two parents working outside of the home — that is definitely different in our generation and also necessary given the economic environment that we live in.”
Weisberg and Zakin felt that neither political party would actually move the needle on paid family leave, so they turned to the private sector.
“The conversation about paid leave is not a perk; it is a requirement,” Weisberg said, prompting applause from the audience. “It needs to be part of the fundamental package. And that should not be something that is polarized. That is just a fundamental way that we support workers, whatever that looks like, whether it is you’re working in a corporation, you are starting your own business, you’re building a brand inside of a company.”
The company is also proud of its efforts in encouraging people to register to vote, according to Weisberg.
“We have the privilege and the responsibility of educating millions of people every single day and we strongly believe that there is a responsibility then to go out and to vote,” Weisberg said.
“And the flip side of it is, we really don’t want to hear you complain if you don’t vote.” The crowd laughed and clapped.
“I also think voting for us speaks to what is the way that you make your organization and your brand bigger than just what you do on a daily basis,” she added, “giving yourself and also giving the people that you’ve worked with and work for something to connect you.”
Bulla asked the panelists what was next for theSkimm.
The company will focus on helping its audience make informed decisions in the “unsexy parts of life that each of us are trying to navigate,” according to Zakin, such as the world of finance as well as parenting.
“We’re not telling her what decision to make,” she said.
“But we want her to know that she has all of the information to have agency of her own life.”
Zakin noted that the company has been focusing on how to make purchasing decisions and suggested that the co-founders’ appearance at NAR NXT not be their last time working with the nearly 1.6 million-member trade group.
“What is a bigger purchasing decision than buying a home?” she said. “So let’s talk.”