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Elizabeth Banks’ Surprising New Project: Business Interviews

Elizabeth Banks has long had a fondness for Dunkin’ Donuts.  When the director and actress was growing up in Massachusetts, the guy who played the harried “Dunkin’ Donuts” employee who had to get up each morning to make the baked delights in a long running ad campaign was the grand marshal in a local parade.

Now she’s interviewing executives at the company.

The exchange won’t be part of a new movie role or TV show part. Instead, Banks is conducting interviews with executives from companies like Boston Beer Co. and New York Times Co. for a series of business-oriented podcasts and videos from financial-services company State Street Global Advisors.  One interview takes place while she’s riding a roller coaster and soaring in a wind tunnel.

“I don’t feel like I’m shilling a product,” says Banks, in an interview while taking a quick break from preparing the new “Charlie’s Angels” movie she is directing overseas. “I love the idea of being able to sit down with CEOs, CFOs and managing directors of big American businesses and, really, these are companies you use every day. You don’t really think about them the same way as you do Apple or Google, and they really run our lives.”

State Street thinks the interviews  – four are planned at this time – can do a lot more for its business than a more standard set of commercials, and so too do many other advertisers. Rather than buying print ads or TV ads in magazines or cable TV, these marketers are increasingly making their own programming or content in the hopes it will prove more interesting to potential customers than the usual set of pitches.

“We are creating content, but we are also creating some entertainment, “ says Stephen Tisdalle, chief marketing officer of State Street Global Advisors, who notes he is wary of “a sea of sameness” from companies trying to sell exchange-traded funds. Interpublic Group’s McCann New York helped craft the effort.

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A continuing series about branded entertainment

The simple act of posting videos and podcasts won’t guarantee audience. State Street’s Tisdalle says he doesn’t need to reach a crowd on par with the one that watches the Super Bowl; he just needs to get in touch with “350,000 financial advisers in the United States – talk about a real small number – and a few thousand institutional investors.” The company is using social and digital media to get the word out to them about the interviews.

The company said the first video in the series notched 78,000 views on LinkedIn, with a view rate that is 12% higher than average for the site, and that Banks’ has generated 72,900 views between her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

State Street has tested nontraditional avenues in the recent past. The company was behind the “Fearless Girl” statue placed in New York City’s financial district in hopes of spurring more companies to place women on their boards of directors. The company believes in “taking a different strategic approach to communicating,” Tisdalle says.

Others are trying their hand at similar ventures. In May, for example, HBO let loose a commercial on podcasts from Vox Media that featured journalist Kara Swisher interviewing a fictional character from HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” Listeners who came for the Vox content – Swisher is a founder of the company’s Recode – may not have felt like they were being taken away from what attracted them in the first place.

In a different era, State Street would likely have trod a path similar to others. In 2018, however, the rise of digital and social media allows Madison Avenue to gain traction by aiming small rather than trying to break big. State Street is eager to talk to fund advisers and institutional investors, in this case about its MDY ETF. ”A lot of times, financial advisers are looking for content they can share with the end investor. A lot of times, when they are taking a position in funds, there are a lot of ticker symbols in the middle of the investment, but they are not sure what they are buying,” explains Tisdalle. “This is a nice piece of content to pass along.”

State Street was eager to make the interviews inviting, sending Banks to find out “the secret sauce” that has made each company successful, rather than not series of humdrum exchanges with stiff white-collar chiefs who ruminate over cash flow and earnings estimates. “This stuff can be pretty dry,” acknowledges Tisdalle. The company felt Banks “could do almost an entertaining reportage on these and bring them to life.”

Banks says she was given freedom to conduct the interviews in a way that made her feel comfortable and kept her interested. “I really got to be improvisational and creative when it came to interviewing everyone,” she says, noting that State Street and McCann executives gave her “broad-stroke ideas of areas to cover.” In two videos currently posted, she tracks down some rather extraordinary third-party sources, including one person whose great-great-grandmother recently received a New York Times obituary. “My mom thought I should be Diane Sawyer,” she says.

State Street’s interviews aren’t likely to get people to stop watching Fox Business Network or CNBC, but those two outlets would no doubt enjoy getting the access to corporate executives that Banks has scored.

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