Getting women like Brittney Oliver, Catherine Seeds, Kelley Griggs and Nicole Delger in the same room is a rarity. Even more unusual is getting an inside look in a conversation they have around storytelling. That’s why we knew we had to record the panel discussion of our Nashville launch event, “From the Frontlines: Storytelling Tips From Nashville to Austin.”
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Kirsty Goodlett: I want to start with Brittney. I am curious to hear from you. Why is storytelling important?
Brittney Oliver: Storytelling is so important, especially to me because I feel like it gives everyone an opportunity to share their truth, right? We all have our own, all our story that deserves to be shared. And I see the impact impacted needs, especially for under represented communities, right? So if you’re a minority business owner, having your stories old can do understory. For example, I have a colleague whose book came out this week. When she received her book deal her publishing house was kind of nervous because she didn’t have a large social media following. They really want to make sure that she could sell this book and the book, it’s called, The Memo, and it’s about women of color and workplace. It’s a great topic but it’s always hard to pitch opportunities or stories around people of color, right? It really is. So her publisher’s feedback really meant some of these are hurting. So I wrote about her for Fast Company. Once that article went live, her publisher gave her a date for her book to be released. That’s how much a story being published can make an impact to someone’s life.
Kirsty Goodlett: So I want to jump off of that point and pass it over to Nicole. Nicole, I’m curious to hear from you how you see storytelling being important to businesses. Because Brittney’s example is such a great example of like someone who’s clearly making money from writing, but we also have sometimes a harder time telling stories about companies. So why is story telling important for businesses?
Nicole Delger: Storytelling gives people to talk about your company and you know, share pride in the things they find. There are so many different things that we can invest in or bring into our lives and it’s harder to be discerning some times as a consumer. So when I think about storytelling, I always put my consumer hat on. What are the brands that I like, what are the stories that I rally around? How are they interesting? And I think it’s important for companies down on what their story is so that people will talk about them. I love your example, Brittney. I just saw another one in the news yesterday in the Shelbyville Times about Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. Have you seen this one? I thought that was so beautiful and it is inspired by a slave that taught Jack Daniels how to distill whiskey. And they are saying, this is the Godfather ofTennessee whiskey. And I think that is really exciting for people who are entrepreneurial, who are wanting to make something meaningful, wanting to create a brand that’s meaningful to go out and find these stories and be inspired by these stories to create something new. So I think it’s made from an entrepreneurial perspective. And so typing into your own story or the story that you want to tell it from a creative business.
Kirsty Goodlett: So, what do you do then if you don’t have that? So, like how does storytelling money vary then between business to business or business to consumer? And what do you do from a toolkit perspective to think differently about those different types of companies or services?
Nicole Delger: Yeah, I mean not to immediately pitch hiring someone. I think it’s not necessarily about hiring communications. company to tell your story. It’s about having conversations with people and starting to look outside yourself, get outside your business, get perspective on what might be interesting. For a story, you might not recognize these really interesting people. I remember Catherine talking about that person that you work with…
Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah, that’s great. That’s a great leeway. Right. Catherine, can you speak to this example or maybe some others that you’ve seen when it comes to finding ways to tell stories about businesses?
Catherine Seeds: Sure. I think with our clients, we work with B2B technology companies, so we’re always looking into why we’d be interested in stories about the products and the services that our clients are providing. And that’s what their marketing is for, of course, but we want to dig deeper. All of us here are storytellers in some way. So you want to take deeper. And what I love to do, what we love doing for our clients is figuring out what has inspired the executive and founder of the company to start that company. In my experience, a lot of CEOs and founders don’t give themselves enough credit for the inspiration for their own companies. One of our clients, we sat down with the CEO and founder to get the backstory. He is from Germany. He went through his story about how when he was 16, he worked in the salt mines and how he remembered the sweat coming down his face, working in the mines, the salt mines. He remembered how his superiors would check on him to make sure that he was okay. And he remembered that and he carried that with him. When he started his own company he decided he was always going to treat everyone the same, no matter what level and that was because of his background in the salt mines. So we put together a pitch to the media and we’ve got some interest in that, which is great because CEO stories are always interesting to tell. You want to tell those stories about the products and services and how they’re affecting end users but we want to go further, we want to dig deeper into telling more interesting, more human inspired stories for our clients.
Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. So that leads me to a good question for Kelley. When we were preparing for this panel we were talking about, how do you identify interesting stories? Kelley you had some interesting things to say about that. You remarked that when you consider stories, you say, is this interesting to me? So can you speak to that a little bit?
Kelley Griggs: So that’s sort of the question I would ask. I would ask, hey, we are seeking stories about startups. We happen to be seeking stories about startups in the south. That’s like a pretty specific topic. And one of the reasons why we were doing that was because we were looking for the types of things that other people might relate to, both in business and in life. So, I think that one really, really important part of telling your story is just asking yourself, is this an interesting and would it be interesting to somebody else if they were to read it? And what is really the, the hook of the story? If you think about the hook of your story or you know, the reason why you love it so much and emphasize that hook, I think that others are more likely to grab on to whatever you’re talking about. They have to work on, you have to work on that hook. So that’s really, you know, that’s really subjective. Everybody would think a little bit differently and your story is not for everyone. So, I do think though, as a journalist that something I would always think about if someone was pitching me a story is, you know, is this interesting to my audience? And that went back to my topic about startups in the south.
Kirsty Goodlett: That’s a good point. So as a journalist who chooses which stories to write about, can you speak to tips about someone may pitch you to get written about.
Kelley Griggs: Sure and I think, I think Brittney and I will have different perspectives because when you’re, when you’re pitching to me, I have my topic, I have startups in the south and that’s what I’m really looking for. And those stories are very, very interesting to me because I’m telling you a human story, I’m telling the story that a lot of people around here might relate to. I’m telling a very different story than stories in Silicon Valley. So my stories might have more grittiness to them. They might have more culture in the way that we might understand it in our area of the country. They might not be so much about scale and getting investment from, you know, getting millions and millions of dollars. They’re not going to be the story of Silicon Valley. They’re gonna be the story of what I’m used to. But, but my blog is about a beginner, you know, a founder who’s just started a company, who is in the area of maybe Nashville or Atlanta or Raleigh or global or Memphis. And I might be your first person that you’ve reached out to. I think I’m way more likely to be the first or second or third person you reach out to and say, Hey, I think I’m writing to pitch somebody a story. So, people are out there starting businesses. I’d love to hear from you.
Kirsty Goodlett: And what do they say to you?
Kelley Griggs: They usually say something like, Hey, uh, I just started a company. This is what it’s called. Here’s the website. I think my story’s really interesting. I wouldlove to talk to you about it. And that’s how we start a conversation. You know, there are little things, like details like time and getting our schedules right. Then usually I am willing to speak with most people as long as it’s in my topic area; most people who reach out to me as long as they’re legitimate.
Kirsty Goodlett: Brittney, would you say that that’s true for you? Like what does it take for you to get pitched and to write about it?
Brittney Oliver: So I just want to let you know some of the outlets that I contribute to. So I work where I contribute to the career money, entrepreneurial segments for Fast Company, Essence, Nashville lifestyles, and other one line publications. So I have a national reach, so I’m not limited to a region. But to what you’re speaking, you need to pitch it within someone’s vertical, right? So if your topic is on business or entrepreneurial endeavors or innovation at your company, you want to target that specific staff writer or contributor for that particular vertical in your immunity. You want to target the beauty writer, right? So those are some of the tips that you would need when you’re pitching yourself. Also, people don’t realize that you’re so much more than your bio. You’re so much more than your bio. Really dig deep to different angles to pitch yourself. You’ll never know when your experience, your life experience will intrigue somebody. So for example, if you run a company, a cheese company, right? But you have this really interesting background and how you grew up and somehow it impacted the way you run your business. That’s something that made it yourself. Is your company 50% minority? That’s something that’s interesting because right now DNI topics are important and trending. So also think about trending topics in your industry as well. What’s trending? What is some leading data around your industry that you could leave with when you’re pitching publicists? I mean, when you’re pitching publications, those are things that are interesting. Lead with numbers, the data doesn’t lie. It really backs up your story.
Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. So that leads to a great comment I think from Catherine. So, Catherine, we have done a number of stories where we use data as a way to pitch B2B, which sometimes has difficulty finding a human element. So as Brittney said, that could be another way in. So I’d love for you to share some more insight about how data can be used to help provide pickup.
Catherine Seeds: Right. The clients that we’re working with, we’re always looking for data, whether that’s data with your own customer base or if you’ve gone out and done some consumer surveys or research studies. You know, folks like Brittney and other trade or business media are gonna be interested in that as well as a good customer story. We have an interesting use case about how we were able to use data very successfully in Kirsty you can keep me honest on this one since you were on the team. We have a company in Austin, they’re an ad tech company. We worked in collaboration with them to put together a consumer study around Amazon Prime Day. We were looking at things like, you know, from a consumer standpoint, you know, what are they shopping for during Amazon Prime Day? Have they shopped before? What are they going to be shopping for this year? So we kind of looked at that. It was focused all on Amazon Prime Day. We got really lucky because we have really great data. We also had really great luck from a timing standpoint because the day that we released our was the day that Amazon had announced the date of their official Prime Day. So we have all this amazing data out there. And what we found in that data was that Amazon Prime Day is like the next big holiday shopping event, like back-to-school or any other sort of micro-holiday. So, we have some really great data, but we also had really great timing and our team had been pitching top tier and trade media, up until that day. So the stars aligned in PR world that doesn’t happen very often. And so we’re really glad that it did and we were able to get some awesome media coverage: Bloomberg, Market Watch, Ad Week, and all the trade and ad tech trades. Am I missing anything, Kirsty?
Kirsty Goodlett: No, that’s good.
Catherine Seeds: Okay good. So from a success standpoint, it was a good day for us at Ketner Group when that happened and the client, obviously was very happy. And I know that the team is still being able to use some of that data moving forward.
Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. The other thing that I’ll add to that, which is interesting from a story perspective is the one thing that was like the hook for the media was Amazon Prime Day is the new back to school holiday, right? Like that’s an interesting hook. But additionally Adlucent is an ad tech company, so we were able to say, okay, it’s the new holiday and what are you doing about it? Right? Like, are you making sure that your advertising is prepared in order to meet this holiday? So that’s another example of how the data is great for getting and securing that trade or that top tier pickup. But then from a business perspective, you want to consider, okay, the data’s going to get me in and then what do I do once I’m in, right? What’s my story after that? So in terms of that logistics stuff, Nicole, I’m curious to hear from you regarding what things you need to consider about stories that you might not expect. One thing with you in particular, and knowing your background, how do you take a story and integrate a brand identity. How do you take that and translate it into different platforms.
Nicole Delger: Yeah, so I do marketing and communications, but my main client right now is a pencil factory, a hundred year old pencil factory. And I’m now all about pencils. I have a bunch in my bag if you want one from Musgrave Pencil factory there in Shelbyville. So I mentioned that because if you don’t know about the pencil industry, they’re notoriously secretive. So when they came on and wanted to rebrand, they were a hundred year old company and nobody knew anything about them. So it was of like, oh my gosh, I have this like chest of things to just uncover. And I think the thing that’s surprising is they have such a great story. They have so many vintage things. I didn’t have to tell it all at once. It didn’t have to just go out there with this really long piece of coverage. I can find a vintage advertising pencil and take an awesome photo of it and find a business that it was advertising 50 years ago and tag them and tell a little story. So especially if you have a company where you feel like there’s so much to tell and share, it’s okay in your storytelling to tell little nuggets, and little Easter eggs along the way and know that over time you’re building that brand identity, you’re building that larger narrative. It doesn’t all have to happen at once. And starting to know when you’re talking to people, what details you can leave out just as much as what details should you put in for whatever that exchange might be. And so I think you can find one story on Instagram through a visual platform. Or another story if you’re doing the longer piece of media, what you might talk about regarding your CEO, and you don’t have to get into that, all that other stuff. And so really thinking, matching the media, matching the story with it.
Nicole Delger: So something else that we were discussing earlier that was something that came up that we wouldn’t expect so much was that Brittney talked about thinking about SEO and what stories people want to hear. So can you speak to your experience, Brittney, regarding from the publication side. What are publications thinking about that would be surprising to companies?
Brittney Oliver: So everything is about clicks, right? A lot of people blame Buzzfeed for the way the media is, but it’s true. It’s about clicks. Let’s, it’s click-baity, right? How are we going to drive traffic? Everyone wants that traffic. And so when you’re thinking about telling your story, think about things that are trending, right? For example, I feel like this is the month of Serena Williams. And the reason why I say that is, one, it’s tennis month, right? Today’s the US Open. So anything tennis relating related is going to pick up some traffic, right? Then she’s someone who advocates equal pay. And that’s been a big topic this month, women’s equality day is today actually. So she is someone who’s trending, circulating. If you have a story idea in those little pockets you’re going to drive SEO. So tell that story, if it is sports, or you know, Serena Williams related, you can tie her in somehow. Any of those things. Think about those holidays that are coming up, the holidays that you were talking about. Those things attract SEO. So when you’re pitching, really think about that because that’s what media companies are looking for.
Kirsty Goodlett: The other thing that I found surprising when we were meeting earlier was that companies aren’t always ready to tell their stories. So, Nicole and Brittney, you were both talking about what to do as you keep telling stories. Kelly, I’m curious to hear from you, when do you know that you have a story to tell in the first place?
Kelley Griggs: So some of you might be wondering like, Hey, I am just getting started. I don’t have any customers yet or I don’t have, you know, my business is less than a year old or the things that I want to share with the world just happened. And obviously it depends on your personal preferences and circumstances, but, I will say you wouldn’t believe how many pitches I get that are pre-revenue, like barely have a put together a pitch deck, they just want to reach out to me and like get on my radar. I don’t want to give advice because I don’t know if bloggers find that annoying or if they if they like it. I don’t really know. I only know how I feel and I’m just naturally curious and I like stories. So if you were to send me the pitch deck, even if I were to to turn you away. Or even if I said like, hey, this isn’t ready yet or I would really like to see, you know, some other things. Come back to me again. You should still send them to me because odds are I’m interested because I’m interested in startups because I truly like starting businesses and I like talking about it and I thoroughly enjoy that world.
Kirsty Goodlett: What do you put in the pitch deck?
Kelley Griggs: So if you have a deck…something that should be included in the deck is your information, what your business is, where your website is, what it does, you know, the 32nd elevator pitch of who your competitors are. What is your revenue plan, if you haven’t made money yet, ..if you do have customers, I would like to know that you have customers. But remember, you have to be careful with what you share with me because I am a writer and I will want to write about things. So if there’s something that you just don’t want to share, you don’t have to share it even if I ask for it. So just always remember, remember that.
Kirsty Goodlett: Is it a PowerPoint typically or a pdf?
Kelley Griggs: It’s usually a pdf. Sometimes it’s like on a different website, but sometimes it’s just an attached pdf like in keynote or it could be PowerPoint. I get a wide range. Some of them are very well polished, they look like they’ve been in front of investors, others are like done with them in PowerPoint. And I think all this is to say that some of my favorite startup stories in Nashville are people that you may have heard of now like ** for example, like they have raised millions of dollars. Now they’re an instrument that, uh, you can put your phone into and you can play any instrument using their device. Some fans in Nashville have used the ** on stage and they’ve now gotten to the point where they’re probably written in big publications more often than I would write about them. But you know, when they just started out in Nashville, like somebody had to find them. So I wrote about them a long, long, long time ago. Another Nashville startup, there’s one that does lawn care. It’s almost like an Uber for lawn care. Um, they started very young. When they started out, they pitched me with like, I think just like maybe a one sheeter or a pitch deck or something very light. And I had to sort of go out and keep following them and dig for those stories. So I don’t know all this to say that I really like to encourage people to just get started. I’m probably a little bit more approachable. Like I don’t think that other media should or will give you feedback like I do. And I try to keep it non-biased and according to my own rules of my blog. But I will say that I would love to hear your stories in general.
Kirsty Goodlett: So now we’ve heard about about what’s happening now. Catherine, I’m curious about your perspective regarding how storytelling is evolving. Like what do you see in terms of new ways that people are telling stories like podcasts or social media? And also what are you seeing staying the same?
Catherine Seeds: So we are spending a lot more time looking at podcasts. I don’t know if there’s any podcasters in the audience but we are starting to put you guys on our media list because our clients are asking for that. It’s another new interesting medium to, for our clients to tell their stories and also to share on social media platforms inside. So we are really taking a close look at podcasting. They’re more and more popping up every day especially in Austin. There’s, there’s a ton of podcasts, a startup focused podcasts in Austin. Social media: social media has always been there for us, but we’re really, um, trying to build better relationships with the media that we work with on social media. And not in an annoying way, but you know, if they are tweeting about something, you know, or if they wrote an article about something interesting that had nothing to do with any of our clients we might want to say, oh, that’s really interesting or share that. It always goes back to developing really great relationships with the media that you’re working with. Social media is a really great, great way of doing that. And so we’ve been able to really kind of deepen our relationships with the key media and also we get, you know, first insights into people that are moving around. So someone that may be at Fast Company and has moved on to Bloomberg and this and that, so we’re able to keep tabs of what’s going on in there to help us tell better stories and tell the stories of the right people.
Brittney Oliver: I just want to say that’s, that’s the most organic way to build a relationship with someone who is a journalist, what you’re doing. And for me personally, I don’t like pitch decks or pdf. If you can’t send like a quick one paragraph blurb, then it’s probably a no go for me. But the most organic relationships that I’ve built are the people who usually get features from me. Like if you come to support me at an event and you need to spend a moment of time with me afterward. And you tell me something interesting. I keep that in mind. I’m also always listening to podcasts. If I hear someone on there and I think, oh, that was really unique. I’m going to reach out to them for an opportunity. So journalists are looking everywhere for the next story. So if you don’t have, you know, an Essence or a Fast Company, that is fine. That blog, that news letter, that podcast is another way that someone can be seen.
Catherine Seeds: I was just going to say one more thing. As far as things staying the same and we kind of touched on it a little bit, but building the relationships with the media is so important, no matter how you’re communicating. You know, with you guys building those relationships and not, you know, just coming to them when, when you need something. We found that we have better luck and I’m sure you guys, you all are communicators, you find better luck in getting things that you would want for your client or for yourself if you have that relationship. It’s a two way street. So I really encourage you all to do what you can to develop those relationships, whether it’s again, you know, talking with them on social media, going to the events that they’re going to. We go to a lot of trade shows for our clients and it’s a really great way to get face to face. But again, all of this ties back to like, how can I help our clients or my company tell a better story? And it really is ties back to developing really good relationships.
Kirsty Goodlett: Awesome. Thank you. I’m going to switch gears here. and pick up on the Austin Nashville theme for the event. So, Kelly, I’m curious to hear from you how you see storytelling supporting the growth of Nashville.
Kelley Griggs: That’s a great question. Look, we’ve been growing as a city far before I came to Nashville. So I feel as a writer, like I am an observer and I’m only telling the part of the story that I know how to tell. The part that I see in the world. Back when I moved to Nashville in 2012, that happened to coincide with the tech scene starting to grow really rapidly. Some of that was due to local and regional investments. Some of that was due to accelerators starting up. So that was due to coming off the flood and the last recession. People were getting really comfortable and some of it was due to the success and the stories that people heard from other places in the U.S. So, you know, when I think about growth and where, where we go from here, I think there’s so much opportunity. Part of the thing I get excited about when I’m telling a story is that we are all part of it. If you’re here in Nashville right now. And I will add that location really shouldn’t matter if you’re on the Internet, that you’re in the conversation, so that kind of goes against like my, my regional focus. But, in reality, you know, we all exist no matter where we are. And since, you know, people are more interested in things like remote work and longer maternity and paternity leaves and different people are interested in different benefits that might apply. And that is really exciting for people who live in places like Nashville. I think that is a very important emerging story. So for us here, you know, starting a business, I don’t know, to me it’s never been more exciting. But I would say that every year, since I’ve lived here, you know, since I moved here in 2012. And I think the most important thing that I see is that we are in charge of our own story. And that doesn’t have to be the same as other places. It can be really our own brand and it can come from our own place and it can come from our own history and our own experiences. And it should be that way because we have our own identity.
Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. So that leads to a nice pass off to Catherine from Austin. So, Catherine, I’m curious to hear from you how you’ve seen storytelling support the growth of Austin.
Catherine Seeds: Well, I mean, I’m sure you all know it’s a huge tech hub, much like Nashville is and is becoming. And it’s been that way since the 80s. I mean, um, Dell computers started there, Twitter, got its start at South by Southwest. I mean there’s a ton of really cool startup stories in Austin. And I think from a storytelling standpoint, if like when we’re talking to companies and pitching our clients, especially those that are based in Austin, that comes with a certain cache. Oh, I’m from Austin! Or that comes from Austin! Oh, that’s cool. Oh, I love Austin. Yeah, it’s the same thing with Nashville and we’re so glad to be here because I feel like there is a lot of similarities between the two cities. Because, again, you say, Oh, I’m from Nashville, I’m starting a company in Nashville.. Oh, that’s cool. I’ve heard great things about Nashville. You know, it doesn’t really change so much of like how we tell the story, but I feel like it does kind of give us a differentiation when we’re pitching for business because a lot of our clients that we’re working with are either global or across the U.S. and so for them having someone in a tech hub like Austin or Nashville is important to them.
Kirsty Goodlett: Great. So the other thing that is true about this panel is that we’re all women. So, Nicole, I would love to hear from you regarding why it’s important for us to discuss diversity and inclusion as it pertains to the future of storytelling.
Nicole Delger: Absolutely. You know, stories are how we make sense of the world. It’s how we cooperate. It’s how we work together. I don’t know if has anybody read the book Sapiens, it is a fantastic book. And you know, his whole thesis is essentially, you know, we’re an animal and the reason that we were able to be the dominant animal is our ability to work together, to cooperate and to tell stories. So when we talk about the importance of inclusivity and whether it’s women or people of color or people who have been disenfranchised, when they don’t have the ability to tell the story and to shape the narrative then they don’t have the opportunity to create the world that we all want to live in that is different than the narrative that we’ve been told for hundreds of years, thousands of years, by whoever was in charge at that given time. I think that’s really interesting. We have to make sure that a lot of voices get to shape and get to tell their stories so that we can create a better world for everybody.
Kirsty Goodlett: So then Brittney, I’m curious to hear your response to that same question. Where do you see diversity inclusion being important to the future of storytelling?
Brittney Oliver: It’s important because it’s impactful. Like I said earlier, it really makes a difference for a minority owned businesses when your story is told. And so I want to give a, a quick story about just my experience moving back to Nashville. So I lived in New York for seven years and diversity and inclusion is such a big topic in New York. It’s something that everyone’s talking about. All the companies are really trying to make changes. But when I came back home a year ago, I noticed that conversation wasn’t happening here. It wasn’t loud, people weren’t really making noise. And when I looked at the publications here, I didn’t see a lot of black owned businesses featured in the publications. I kind of made it a priority to be that vessel for those black owned businesses and for minority businesses. So for example, Ashley is here today,. She has a website called Urbanite and she really highlights a lot of the businesses that are left out in those major publications here in Nashville. And because I’m a subscriber to her newsletter, I came across Nicole, who is the owner of Clarity, which is a candle shop. And I loved her story. I pitched her to Nashville Lifestyles and she’s in the current business, women in business issue. That’s something that was important to me to see more diversity in that magazine and to see more diversity just throughout Nashville, but it’s so it will change her business being featured in that and it will change other people’s businesses. And so diversity inclusion, really being able to tell those stories is impactful. There’s a Nashville mother and daughter team, Mixtroz, well, they just moved but I featured them in Essence. I featured them in Dssence and they were really close to hitting the million dollar mark raising money. After essence, they hit that mark the next week. You know, so you can leverage those things. That’s how much your story being featured being featured in major publications as a minority can help. And so when people say no, it doesn’t matter if you have press or not, it does. It really makes an impact.
Nicole Delger: I love what you’re doing. The voice you’re bringing because we talk about how Nashville is booming and we want to make sure that it’s booming for everybody, that everybody is, you know, because there’s so much industry coming in here, like tech, and I love that you’re telling those stories and you have that forum because it’s so critical at this key time for Nashville, for everybody to get that lift.
Brittney Oliver: Yeah. Nationwide, nationwide, the numbers don’t lie. You know, we’re an all women panel, but in business and major companies, you don’t see women on the C-suite like that, right? So telling those stories are important. It really can change the game. It starts to challenge what’s happening in corporate America, right? And it starts to make people see different things about what they’re doing. And so the numbers don’t lie. You want to be impactful. We want to make change in our culture, in our communities. So definitely diversity and inclusion is a big deal.