PEP TALK with Ernie Anastos and Patricia StarkApril 16, 2023
Evolving with GratitudeApril 30, 2023
A marketing tool for high schoolers
As seen April 14, 2023 in the Westchester & Fairfield County Business Journal By
Stacey Ross Cohen said she is “a born entrepreneur.” When she was just 14 years old, she and a friend started their own business. Fed up with paltry sums earned as babysitters, the pair figured they could make more money as waitresses for at-home parties. They bought some cheap nurses’ uniforms and advertised in the PennySaver, under the headline “We Set, Serve and Clean Up.”
The business made 200% more than she earned as a babysitter.
Today, Cohen is founding CEO of Co-Communications, a 25-year-old public relations, marketing and design agency with headquarters in White Plains and satellite offices in Hartford, Connecticut, and Manhattan. Its clients have ranged from the American Heart Association to Manhattanville College, Morgan Stanley and 3M. Now Cohen wants to do for high-school students what she has done for many professionals – help them present their best selves to the world. Her new book, “Brand Up” (Post Hill Press, 191 pages, $16.99) is subtitled “The Ultimate Playbook for College & Career Success in the Digital World.” Barbara Corcoran, a founding investor on the ABC entrepreneurial series “Shark Tank,” called it a “don’t miss.”
But do high-school kids and even middle schoolers really need a brand? Statistics bear out that they do, Cohen said over coffee at The Nordstrom Café at The Westchester in White Plains.
“In the world of college admissions officials, 75% look at social media,” she noted, adding that the number is 85% for job recruiters. “My mantra is use this to your advantage. I say to all kids: ‘Google is the new résumé.’ Kids need to be on LinkedIn by the time they’re 16.” (See sidebar.)
Written with Jason Shaffer, an Innovation Institute instructor at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida, where he teaches entrepreneurship to middle schoolers; and Alan Katzman, a pioneer in creating techniques for students to use social media for academic and career success, “Brand Up” takes the student through exercises designed to explore effective application letters, college interview tips, follow-up emails and high school entrepreneurship ideas.
“It’s geared to… how to stand out in a cluttered, competitive world. It’s about goal-setting, networking, empathy and life skills,” said Cohen, herself personable and always enthusiastic.
The book is also about avoiding the pitfalls of social media. In 2017, Cohen said, the particularly choosy Harvard University revoked the acceptance letters of 10 students for the class of 2021 because of sexually explicit messages and memes in a private Facebook chat that also targeted minorities. “The book starts with creating social awareness.”
The irony is not lost on Cohen that student branding comes at a time when the humanities – English, history, philosophy, the very subjects that teach the critical thinking skills that CEOs always tell you they want in new hires – are being diminished or ditched at colleges and universities nationwide. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/03/06/the-end-of-the-english-major In February, trustees at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, voted to eliminate its liberal arts curriculum – ancient historian Bret C. Devereaux wrote in an April 2 guest essay for The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/02/opinion/humanities-liberal-arts-policy-higher-education.html while noting that “history majors had a lower unemployment rate than economics, business management or communications majors, and their salaries barely lag behind in those fields, according to a recent study. Art history majors do just fine, too, with strong projected job growth in the next decade. And despite the sneers, those with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy have an average salary around $76,000, according to PayScale.” (Studies have shown that an average annual salary of $75,000 is the point at which happiness peaks.)
Given the decline in the humanities and the rise of A.I. programs that can write for you, how can you market yourself to colleges and companies if the foundations for how to express yourself are being rocked in schools?
Cohen would say all the more reason for books like “Brand Up,” which is not about boasting but about how to convey true humility – knowing your strengths.
“It’s not about me, me, me,” she added. “But what is your superpower? What is your value to the world? Why choose you?”
These are questions Cohen has been thinking about her entire life. As the older (by three minutes) of fraternal twin girls who were born in Brooklyn and raised in New City, she said, “I had to fight to create my own identity.” She’d go on to hone that identity with a Bachelor of Science degree in human development at Syracuse University and an MBA in marketing from Fordham University in the Bronx. (She also recently received a certificate in media, entertainment and technology from NYU Leonard Stern School of Business.)
Cohen began her career at Marsteller Inc. (a division of Young & Rubicam, now VMLY&R), where she was responsible for expanding the corporate communications program for advertising executives. She then held senior positions in both public relations and marketing over a six-year period at CBS/Fox Video, then the world’s largest home video company, before striking out on her own.
Cohen and her husband, real estate attorney Bruce Cohen, raised their two daughters in Chappaqua, whose public school system is among the national standouts. (The couple now live in White Plains with their Shih Tzu, Willy. They also have a home in the Hamptons.)