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40 Stories: Cooper Munroe of The Motherhood

When Cooper Munroe started her “mom blog” in 2004, she didn’t realize that her efforts would later turn into one of the first influencer marketing agencies: The Motherhood.

The Tech Council’s Jonathan Kersting recently spoke with Munroe about her pioneering work in the influencer realm, the value of online communities and her predictions on the future of marketing:

JK: The idea of influencer marketing is something that has really taken over, and you were one of the first companies in the world to harness that. Tell us about it!

Copoper Munroe, The MotherhoodMUNROE: In the early 2000s, I started a blog. At the time, it was clear that something monumental was happening; people were creating content and building community. Blogging was picking up traction and people were building audiences.

There weren't many women bloggers at the time, but there was this burgeoning community of women — especially women with small children — finding the support that they really needed. These were real conversations and connections. I felt like it was revolutionary. It felt like everything was about to change, because we could connect among ourselves at any moment. If we had something in our lives that the neighbor down the street couldn’t help us with, somebody else could. We suddenly expanded our support systems. The Motherhood is a play on the word neighborhood, and I saw it as that — people being good neighbors.

A crystallizing moment was during Hurricane Katrina. I wrote a blog post that basically said, “We have all this stuff sitting in our closets, but everybody on the Gulf Coast lost everything in an instant. Let's figure out how to get what we have to the Gulf Coast.”

At the time, I didn't even have a dedicated URL; it was a TypePad blog. But the comments section grew to tens of thousands of comments. Through this blog post, we were able to generate thousands of in-kind donations in just a moment.

Think about it. This was 2005! I think that we take this kind of communication for granted now. But in that moment, there was just a rudimentary blog post with a comment section and people just showing up. The technology was basic, but showed potential when it was used for good.

JK: So, The Motherhood was built from this.

MUNROE: It started out as a community to help each other solve problems, from natural disasters like Katrina to, “I've got this chicken breast in my refrigerator, and I don't know what to do with it tonight.”

So, we built this platform around this idea of being a neighborhood. Then Facebook and Twitter started. Big corporations were sinking tons of money into all these different community platforms. We were a bootstrapped organization and needed to keep the lights on and figure out a business model.

I'd come out of 25 years in corporate PR, and had worked in New York and Washington, DC before coming back to Pittsburgh. I thought, “Okay, wait a second. There are people talking about these brands, organizations and causes already. They've also got huge audiences; if you put 10 mom bloggers in a room, they've got more readers than the New York Times.” So, I went to one of the big PR firms and said, “You have these corporate clients, and I have this network. Maybe they should meet.” It's like the peanut butter and jelly came together…All of a sudden, these big multinationals decided to test the waters.

It made sense: if you're this big multinational, or even a midsize company, and you're going to sink all this money into a TV ad, why not test it out in a comment section of a social post first and for a fraction of the cost?

That was 15 years ago. Now we are seeing companies and organizations that are leading with a social-first marketing strategy. They are using influencer marketing as their heart, the place where these ideas and messages can be tested, where you can start to build relationships and where you can converse with your customers, supporters, and ambassadors.

Social is also increasingly becoming a search engine, so you're creating this searchable content. Building out what people are going to find when they search for you is critical.

JK: I feel like so many companies are trying to get a little social and “influence-y” and I think that's awesome. But if you're dead serious about doing it, talk to Cooper and The Motherhood.

MUNROE: We’re helping more and more with social strategy. You don’t necessarily have to implement a big influencer campaign, but you do need to look at your social strategy holistically, because it's an integrated piece. For years, social media was a one-off tactic. People were testing it, like, “Oh, maybe we'll just hire a bunch of influencers and see what sticks to the wall.”

It has to be integrated, it has to be the heart, and it has to have meaning and connection to the rest of your efforts. Your consumers and customers want a consistent journey.

JK: Pittsburgh is a center of innovation, not just in tech, but marketing as well. How are you seeing the future playing out? Are there some technologies out there or on the marketing side of things that have you interested? I feel like we're due for a new platform to disrupt some stuff. What do you think?

MUNROE: What I do know is that [social media] is increasingly it. Because think about Gen Z and those who are younger: this is the only way that they're marketed to. It's the only world they know. So, what happens when they are our age? Where are they going to be seeking out information? It's increasingly social, but we have no idea what it's going to look like. I agree with you that there's going to be a new platform, and we need to buckle in.

JK: Why did you join the Pittsburgh Technology Council?

MUNROE: I would say it's the people, like you and Audrey [Russo]. The fact that you care so deeply about organizations like mine and hype me up — that makes such a huge difference. It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur or business owner, and it's a lonely place sometimes.

Connect with Cooper and The Motherhood





40 Stories is a special series celebrating the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 40th anniversary through the diverse stories of our members, old and new. It is sponsored with the genrous support of DQE, UPMC Health Plan and Faros Properties!