Michael Kaye is the Associate Director of Global Communications at OkCupid, one of the world's largest dating apps, where he leads PR programming in the United States and for countries across Europe and the Middle East. He was previously a Product Communications Manager at LinkedIn and before that, spent more than two years at OkCupid managing public relations around the world. Michael is also an adjunct professor teaching practical public relations at New York University, and is on the PR Daily Editorial Advisory Board.
Congratulations on your new-ish role at OkCupid! Talk us through your decision to join LinkedIn last summer, and then boomerang back to the dating app OkCupid.
It’s incredible to think that in my few years within the technology industry I went from one of the biggest dating apps in the world to the largest professional social networking site.
Last summer The Great Reshuffle was all around us. Every day my LinkedIn Feed was filled with people announcing new positions at new companies — and I'll be honest, it gave me the itch! After more than two years at OkCupid I started to wonder if it was time for a change, but I knew I wanted to stay within the technology space because of the impact these companies have on our daily lives.
I started putting a couple of feelers out at a couple of bigger technology companies, and landed a role at LinkedIn pretty quickly. I was immediately attracted to the company culture and every employee I met. For nearly a decade, LinkedIn has actually been my favorite networking site, and I attribute much of my career success to that platform. So when I was offered the position, I accepted!
After about 8 months at the company, I didn't feel as if I was really making an impact in the same way I was at OkCupid. So when the opportunity arose for me to boomerang back to the company, I enthusiastically said yes. Autonomy, creativity, growth and impact are components I look for in a role. And those are words I would use to sum up my experience at OkCupid where I lead public relations programming for the brand in the United States and in key markets across Europe and the Middle East, while supporting our regional teams in South Asia. It's the role in my career where I have grown and learned the most.
Follow up, looking back at your first time at OkCupid, did you have a personal inflection point of growth?
My entire journey at OkCupid has been a growth period. For me, this is the company and role that I will look back at in 5, 10, 20 years from now and say “I learned a lot in that position.” And I'll likely attribute my career trajectory afterwards to my success in that role — despite it being my first in-house and global role. The brand launched 15 years before I joined, but under my tenure OkCupid received more press per year than any other year in its history — and had a larger share of voice and power of voice than multiple leading competitors, across several markets. In-house was where I gained the confidence I have today. It’s where I took everything I learned at the various agencies I worked at to an elevated level.
There are a lot of dating apps available to singles right now. Why do you recommend people use OkCupid over one of your competitors? And how do you break-through the noise of the other brands?
OkCupid has been around for almost two decades, and there’s a reason we are not only still around, but also expanding to new markets each year. We are the only dating app that matches people on what matters to them through thousands of in-app questions about everything from how you feel about coffee dates to if you believe climate change is real or support marriage equality.
If you’re looking for a long-term, meaningful relationship, OkCupid is the dating app you want to be on. We have really robust profiles that go beyond your location and a few photos, and even include a Match Percentage that tells you how compatible you are with another user based on what you both are looking for and how you have answered our matching questions.
And we’re really the leader in data storytelling. There's been almost 200 million responses to our matching questions this year , and over 9 billion responses since we launched. Leveraging these insights have helped me as the brand’s storyteller. In 2020, I increased press placements by 195% and increased press impressions by 510% in the United States compared to 2019. That same year I was able to grow OkCupid’s share of voice in the United States to larger than multiple leading competitors — a trend that continued across other markets including Israel and Germany.
Any predictions for the future into 2022? Where do you see the industry going?
This is going to be an exciting year for communicators and storytellers as we navigate through a semi-post-pandemic world. Over the past two years we have seen budgets cut or reduced, limiting and transitioning what we were able to execute from a marketing perspective, but there’s a ton of opportunity that lays ahead for us.
We’ve also seen a change in how engaged consumers are in cultural, political and social issues. On OkCupid, more than 7 in 10 daters said they think about climate change daily, weekly or monthly. And almost 80% of singles on our platform said it’s important to them that their date fights for racial justice. And consumers are not only becoming more vocal, they are choosing to support brands who share similar beliefs and values, while also pressuring brands to act. Corporate statements without action no longer suffice. At OkCupid, we rolled out a #BlackLivesMatter profile badge in over a dozen countries in the summer of 2020. But we also donated $1 million in advertising space on OkCupid to Black civil rights organizations, and made direct donations to the ACLU, Black Girls CODE, Fair Fight Action and the NAACP. There was action behind our words, and that’s what resonated with our daters. That’s what we’ll see a lot more of in 2022. Brands reacting and acting.
What does mentorship mean to you? And how has it impacted you personally?
Mentorship is a mutually beneficial relationship between two professionals, and these connections can be key to strengthening your career. Mentors have played such an important role throughout my career — advising on career growth, broadening my professional network, helping reach goals, and providing different perspectives. As a first-generation college graduate and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am appreciative of all those who have mentored me over the years — Maryam Aromlou at Ruder Finn, Cynthia Negron at Edelman, Melissa Hobley and Sonia Oblitey at OkCupid — and it’s why I dedicate much of my time outside of the office to supporting the next generation of communicators, through education as a college professor and mentorship as an industry professional.
One piece of advice that you would give your younger self?
Ignore any inner voice that says you don’t belong. There’s been several times that I have been involved in panels or roundtables with C-suite and other senior executives where I thought “Why am I here?” Everyone had at least a decade more experience than me, and I felt what they had to say held more weight. As an openly gay man within the technology industry who rarely saw myself reflected in leadership positions at my companies, I always felt less than. It’s a struggle many queer people experience. When I joined OkCupid without any in-house experience or previous clients within the technology space I questioned how I would perform in the role. Less than two years later, Business Insider named me one of the top technology PR professionals in the country, and I have since been recognized by PR News, PRovoke Media, PRSA-NY, PRWeek and the Stevie Awards. It’s a constant journey, but today I understand that I belong in the room at the table. And it’s my responsibility to make my voice heard and pave a path for the next generation of LGBTQ+ communicators and leaders.
Where can we find you? Please list your socials!
Years in the biz: Over 8 years!
What do you do outside of work: I teach a practical public relations course at New York University, and am on the editorial advisory board for PR Daily. For my mental health, every week I run in Central Park and take classes at SoulCycle. I also love to read and finished 43 books in 2021!
When I’m in the airport the magazine I will pick up is: Architectural Digest, Cosmopolitan, GQ, People, TIME, WIRED or VOGUE.
Up and coming brands I’m following: There are so many LGBTQ+ owned businesses I am loving right now. Kirrin Finch is a Brooklyn-based company founded by Kelly and Laura Moffat that offers menswear-inspired apparel designed to fit a range of female and non-binary bodies. They created fashionable masks with their iconic patterns that helped keep me safe (and warm!) during the pandemic. And Preston Konrad Home has the best candles! My favorite scents are “Highrise” and “Upstate.” Not a brand, but I’m also closely following Mischief, an advertising agency born during the pandemic that’s already worked with today's leading brands, from OkCupid and Tinder to Kraft Mac and Cheese, Netflix, Pfizer and Shutterfly.
Favorite branding of the moment: Netflix, Starbucks, StreetEasy and Wendy’s! For everything from OOH advertisements to social media content.
The site that’s always in my browser history: If I am being honest, Seamless. I do not cook, but highly recommend finding a partner that does! (My boyfriend makes better vodka sauce than any Italian restaurant I have been to yet.)
Podcast I’m listening to: “Crime Junkie” for my true crime fix, “The Daily” by The New York Times to stay informed on what’s happening around the world, “Dates & Mates” with Damona Hoffman for the best dating advice, and “How I Built This” with Guy Raz to stay inspired.
Worst trend I’ve followed: Dying my hair during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A cause that’s important to me: Ensuring that all LGBTQ+ people, especially people of color and transgender people, are treated as complete and equal citizens.
I’m betting on: Myself!
Most valuable lesson: It’s cliché, but believe in yourself. My parents have always been the most encouraging support system, and it’s helped me become my own biggest cheerleader. That’s not to say I don’t deal with anxiety, imposter syndrome or moments where I am extremely self-conscious, but overall I do believe I can achieve anything I put my mind to if I work hard enough. Also, stay focused on your end game. I always think about what I want to achieve in this life, and then I figure out what I need to do to accomplish those goals.