Reese Witherspoon On Moving Markets, Asking Questions, & Telling Women’s Stories

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Reese Witherspoon took the stage at INBOUND 2023 and emphasized, “Women’s stories are valuable, lucrative, and meaningful.”

When Hillary Clinton said, “Women’s rights are human rights,” it sparked both a controversy and a global call to action. Witherspoon channels Clinton’s gravitas as the founder of Hello Sunshine, a media platform with women at the center.

You’d think investors would be lining up to partner with the A-lister (plus all the data on how empowering women fuels economic growth). Not the case—initially. After being turned down by investors, Witherspoon used her own money and launched Hello Sunshine to change the narrative for women.

Now the numbers speak for themselves.

In 2021, Hello Sunshine sold for over $900 million to a Blackstone-owned media company. When you see yourself in the characters you watch on screen, it makes you feel less alone. Anything that makes someone feel less alone is something you can take to the bank.

In Zinhle Essamuah’s interview with Witherspoon at HubSpot’s annual conference in Boston, the NBC News co-anchor asked the business questions we wanted to hear. In addition to being an elite marketing event, I’ve made some of my favorite memories at INBOUND, including my co-founder’s creativity talk. If you’ve never experienced it, get on the list for next year.

Here are some of my favorite moments from Witherspoon’s session:

“The consumer is powerful. Conscious consuming moves markets.”

As a consumer, when you hit that play button, that’s powerful. Consumption often comes from emotion.

You reach for that old cookie in the conference room because you haven’t eaten all day. You doom-scroll on TikTok because you’re avoiding your inbox. When you press play on Hello Sunshine’s Daisy Jones & the Six, you want to escape into a story. And in that instant, you’re voting with your views.

It begs the question, who is producing some of your favorite shows? Are they aligned with your values?

“Prioritize making people feel seen and heard.”

Good leaders do this consistently. It fosters empathy and creates space for collaboration and trust.

The counterpart is speaking up and using your voice. One of my favorite moments was when “business boundaries” entered the chat. Is anyone else working on setting better boundaries? It’s a game-changer, but if you’re a recovering people pleaser… I see you. It’s a process but so worth it. It feels like you’re taking your life back. #BusinessBoundaries

The hallmark of a good story is a “unique POV.”

When Essamuah and Witherspoon discussed what makes a good story, the founder underscored a “unique POV” as the most important element. At Social Fresh, we help clients define their “Bold View,” to attract their ideal audience while repelling the wrong one. In a sea of sameness or fear of ruffling feathers, this is what makes you relevant. Don’t be afraid to be controversial. Lean into what makes you unique. Be memorable or be forgotten.

Still not convinced? One of our Social Fresh Conference speakers tells her team to “just create chaos” on TikTok.

“Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business.”

In social media, the general rule is to accept constructive feedback, but block trolls. The founder advocates saying to yourself, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, I’m going to do my work anyway.”

Adding, “As soon as you release other people’s opinions of you, you’re free.” What would you create if you removed any fear of judgment? Maybe that’s the exact thing your audience needs.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, can you explain that to me?”

First, if you’re reading this in the voice of Elle Woods, you’re not alone. It takes a certain degree of confidence and a sense of safety to feel like you CAN ask a question in a work setting. Witherspoon went through a learning curve, as a new entrepreneur, and started to pause and sit down with a member of her team when she needed a more in-depth download.

If teams don’t feel comfortable asking questions, it costs time and money in the form of mistakes.

Hello Sunshine continues to find unique angles for storytelling. The magic lies in that, the stories are familiar to many of us, it’s just the first time we’re seeing ourselves on screen. That’s a powerful imprint.

My personal favorites include Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, Surface, and my #1… The Morning Show. I’m still searching for that velvet couch from the moody-luxe townhouse in Surface. But don’t sleep on Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s “Sophia.”

Witherspoon is helping women tell their own stories, and the markets are moving our way.


Nicole D’Alonzo is Co-founder of Social Fresh. Find her on LinkedIn, Substack, and Instagram.

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