Taco Bell

Matt Prince, Head of Brand Communications and Public Relations

From local government to Disneyland, Matt Prince’s diverse career experience underscores his belief that adaptability is a key trait for success in any industry. That tracks, as shown by his decade-long tenure running brand communications and PR for Taco Bell. Emphasizing the evolving role of storytelling and the need to adapt to changing trends, especially with Gen Z's shifting media consumption habits, Matt provides a unique perspective on his career evolution, strategies for measuring campaign success and the essential role of mentorship in the PR industry.  

Tell us about your career before joining Taco Bell.

My career started off in local government working in the mayor’s office for the City of Anaheim, California. Specifically, I supported events and communications during their 150th anniversary. From there I moved to Orange County’s Chamber of Commerce, where I really benefited from being the young millennial in a conservative environment during the rise of social media. I used that as a springboard to land a role with the Walt Disney Company working in Parks & Resorts, where I led executive communications for the president of Disneyland and executives based in Southern California, and had the opportunity to write for everyone from Bob Iger to Mickey Mouse (really). Eventually I branched out into digital marketing, still with Disney, where I was lucky enough to lead the company’s first social media monitoring and engagement program. After a total of five years at Disney, I traded Tinkerbelle for tacos and joined Taco Bell to grow their PR and brand communications team where I’ve been for the past decade.

What does your current role as Head of Brand Communications and Public Relations entail?

One of the things I love most about Taco Bell, and the communications industry, is that the answer shifts every year based on different factors. Right now, my team builds the storytelling strategies behind our biggest food innovations, collaborations and experiences with a goal of keeping the brand top of mind – not just within the food industry, but within culture and lifestyle. We’re also building a new way of working as the PR and news industries continue to shift for younger generations. Earned media has gone through a dramatic revolution, and creating strategies that support how social media is changing how news is covered and consumed is a top priority. I also taste tested a lot of Taco Bell. 

How do you approach measuring the success of your campaigns at Taco Bell, and are there specific KPIs that you find particularly valuable in evaluating the effectiveness of your strategies?

KPIs look different for different initiatives. Many times, the goal is sales, while other times it’s brand storytelling and positioning within culture and building relevance. Sometimes it’s both. I think historically, PR has been a laggard in relevant and broadly understood measurement, but we’re looking at everything from numbers of stories placed to message pull through rates to specific story readership metrics. We’re also seeing those KPIs more integrated with social year-over-year based on the shift in earned media. We’ve also built a proprietary scale that balances and benchmarks the work to better inform our leadership teams, manage expectations and evaluate the work. 

Given your extensive experience in handling strategic communications for major companies like Taco Bell and Disney, how do you see the role of storytelling evolving in brand communication, and what advice do you have for marketers looking to create compelling narratives that resonate with diverse audiences in today's digital landscape? 

I truly think the communications industry, and specifically PR, will undergo more change in the next three years than in the past 30 combined. If you look at how Gen Z specifically is getting their news, and where they’re getting their news, it should dramatically shift how you think about brand storytelling and who is doing the brand storytelling. Two driving forces: trust in businesses is down with trust in individuals being up, and younger generations aren’t going to the news – the news is coming to them. That’s a big reason why we work with influencers and creators to give them the same access and information as traditional journalists. It’s not a substitute for traditional PR, but it’s supplemental and will continue to grow. 

As an adjunct professor at Chapman University, you teach on influencer and social media marketing. How do you see the landscape evolving, and what advice do you have for students and young professionals entering the PR and marketing industries? 

I feel a little guilty because I learn so much more from the students than they learn from me. Every class I have a focus group of 80 Gen Z students. It’s so valuable to see how they talk, what they’re wearing, what’s relevant. It makes me a better marketer when I understand who we’re actually marketing to. For them, my goal is to ensure they feel prepared going into their career journey, no matter where their path may take them. In some ways that’s trying to hit a moving target, but my curriculum is based on real life examples happening in the moment; what’s showing up on their feeds and not off a textbook that’s out of date the moment it’s published. It’s that adaptability I think is the most important trait for young professionals to have in an industry that continues to shift and grow so quickly. I want to build confidence in students to embrace that volatility and use it to drive change for themselves, and for their futures. 

With experience in both corporate and educational settings, how do you balance the demands of your role at Taco Bell with your commitment to mentoring and education through initiatives like For You Path?

Everything’s connected. When you can build and support a passion beyond your day-to-day work, it fosters creativity and gives back to something larger than yourself. And I absolutely love it. I built For You Path during the pandemic to better support students and young professionals during a time that was increasingly difficult to find connection and guidance. Ideally, building a community of mentors, opportunities and resources for young professionals will make our industry stronger and create a cycle of leadership. Those who are mentored are more likely to mentor. It’s symbiotic and compounded at the same time – and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Are there any exciting brand launches or campaigns coming up?

We just wrapped our Live Más Live event where we unveiled our entire year of innovation and marketing during an Apple-like keynote. It was an entirely different strategy for us as we talk about what’s coming and how to drive headlines, but it was important for us to push the envelope and do things differently to match the shifting culture. We’ll continue to see the results roll out over time, but so far, it’s been an amazing success!

Can you speak to the importance of mentorship in the PR industry and any advice you have for aspiring professionals looking to make a positive impact in their communities?

Mentorship has always played a special role for me and the impetus behind my passion for teaching and career development. In an industry that places such an importance on relationships and brand management, we forget about the most important brand of our careers: ourselves. Building a strong network and personal brand will last longer than any one role you will have over the course of your career. 

Digitally, we are more connected now than ever. With that comes great opportunity, but so often I see young professionals paralyzed with that access and not knowing where to start. A little guidance goes a long way, and that’s not just limited to those early in their careers. The most successful people I see are the ones who are continuously hungry for growth no matter where they are in their journeys.  

What advice would you impart on someone looking to excel in a career in marcomms today?

Over index on the unteachables. To me, the three most important things in an individual are a strong work ethic, a positive attitude and an ability to stay humble/give back. They won't show up on a job description, they won't be part of the training manual, but they will undoubtedly be the driving force of a successful life professionally and personally. 


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