Imagine crafting a tweet for John Deere.
Not the hardy blacksmith we credit as an American entrepreneur, but the behemoth equipment company he founded in 1837 that is now worth $110 billion – with a b. Where do you even begin to spell out 280 characters that live up to the hype of one of the most iconic brands, not just in agriculture, but in American business?
Well, you could ask Jen Hartmann.
The social media maestro herself – more formally known as the Director of Strategic Public Relations and Enterprise Social Media – could give you some tips. She has been guiding the Deere & Co. public relations ship for over a year. And remember, this wasn’t any ordinary year.
Magnetic caught Jen for a quick Q&A to talk about Deere, leadership, and her (very busy) life outside of work.
Magnetic: John Deere is one of the most recognizable and valuable brands across all industries, not just agriculture. Would you say this is your dream job?
I grew up in a rural community outside of the Quad Cities – the home of Deere World Headquarters, and dreamt of working for Deere for as long as I can remember. When I got my first internship in PR, I set my sights on one day being the head of PR for the company. It wasn’t until I started working here just over 12 years ago that I realized just how iconic the brand really is, how many fervent fans there are, and just how much the brand has meant to generations of customers.
You took over your role from a 21-year John Deere communications and PR veteran literally days before the pandemic shut down the country. What was that like?
I’m genuinely not sure there are words to describe what those first several weeks and then months really felt like. It was surreal. We had factories around the world all working to keep the supply chain and production rolling – while executing all the safety protocols we could gather from health officials to ensure the well-being of our employees. We had another factory convene employees to produce face shields for health care workers. And salaried employees outside manufacturing units headed home to navigate full-time remote work and online schooling for their children.
I fielded over 300 media inquiries during those initial first weeks and felt like I never took a breath. Looking back, I’m grateful I had to hit the ground running and quickly build relationships with internal stakeholders, leaders and media outlets. As my former boss quipped, it took him 21 years to get 21 years of experience. It only took me 3 weeks.
When it comes to social media, John Deere can be known to have some witty tweets and unorthodox user-generated content (just go search #JohnDeere on TikTok). How does your team stay creative and keep a 184-year-old brand fresh?
#JohnDeere now has over 3.5 Billion views on TikTok – and we haven’t posted a single TikTok to our brand channel. Our fans, customers and employees keep the brand fresh thanks to all the incredible content they share and the real-time approach we’ve taken to our social media channels. Our brand fans and customers have us covered!
For that very reason, we’re not as concerned about posting content as we are about building communities on each platform. Engaging in meaningful ways. Sharing in celebratory moments. Connecting with families in real life. And yes, using humor and a bit of snark at times to have fun with our audience on Twitter. The last thing people want from a brand handle is brochure copy. Twitter is about engaging in real time, in real conversations.
A recent tweet of yours noted that you’re celebrating a 10-year anniversary of having a brain tumor removed. How did that change your perspective both personally and professionally?
I spent a lot of time after the surgery considering how to make the most of this incredible gift. First, I started a nonprofit, the Royal Ball Run for Autism, to celebrate incredible individuals like my daughter, Lyric, and to build a support system for local families touched by autism. Next, I decided this new lease on life meant my husband and I should absolutely continue trying to have a baby. I’d suffered several miscarriages by the time I had my surgery and we had all but given up. Proud to say our son Kade turns 8 next month.
How would you describe your leadership style and who do you look to for leadership inspiration?
I’m an idea person and tend to follow my gut vs. adopting scholarly guidance or corporate norms. My lack of process, documentation and analysis probably drives a lot of people crazy. And yet, I’m most comfortable identifying problems, inspiring a vision, and letting my team go – in whatever direction or skill sets they need to follow to get there. I had a former team member tell me she used to warn anyone new to the team that “Jen will not be holding your hand….she’ll want you to take the lead and go.”
What does Jen Hartmann like to do in her free time…assuming you can carve some out?!
My husband and I both love baseball and we’ve instilled that same love for the game in our son. There’s nothing I love more than watching him or the Cubs play ball. And of course, anything Royal Ball Run for Autism is my sweet spot. We’ve built an incredible community of family members and friends through the organization and it’s such a joy to share in the unique challenges and successes of being a special needs parent.
What’s a good book or podcast you recently devoured…and a key takeaway or ‘ah-ha’ moment from it?
Because I work so much, I tend to stay clear of business or news-related podcasts. I’m currently obsessed with the Piketown Massacre podcast series and have been listening to it every morning during my workout. It’s my escape.
Follow Jen on Twitter for great insights on PR/social media, leadership, and life at @jenalyson.