Category Archives: Corporate Communication

Telling Your Brand Story: NCR’s Innovative Approach

 

 

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“People don’t have relationships with products, they are loyal to brands.”

So says Scott Goodson in his September 2012 Forbes Marketshare post, “Why Brand-building is Important.” 

My client, NCR, gets this — on Oct. 10, this Duluth-based leader in consumer transaction technologies launched its new brand — Everyday Made Easier™ through a companywide “Live the Brand Awards” webcast that showcased some of the company’s best brand moments. The company’s storytellers have adopted the new engaging voice of the brand in all their internal and external communications.

“The NCR brand reflects a new look, feel and voice that clearly communicates who we are and the difference NCR is making in people’s lives all over the world,” says Caroline Rose, integrated marketing partner in NCR Travel Marketing. “NCR technology empowers 450 million consumer transactions everyday, many of them in the travel space, whether checking in for a flight, navigating your way through an airport, picking up a rental car or buying something at duty free. Our goal within NCR Travel is really to build upon that story by conveying to our customers and prospects how NCR is making everyday travel easier for their customers as well.”

(To get a feel for how the Travel marketing folks are using the new brand language, check out their engaging animation video).

But, well before the official brand launch, NCR’s Corporate Communications team was promoting the brand internally.  As anyone who has gone through a corporate rebranding effort will tell you, getting employees on board with telling your company’s brand story is critical to success. For one, if your employees don’t buy into your brand, why should customers?

Employees can be your biggest asset as brand ambassadors, notes Michael Brito, senior VP for social business strategy at global PR firm, Edelman. In his August 2013 Edelman Conversations’ blog post,  “Employees and Brand Journalism,” Brito emphasized how your brand must empower employees to become storytellers.

Citing his firm’s 2013 Trust Barometer report that measures the level of trust people have in institutions, industries and leaders, respondents were very clear about who they find most credible when seeking information about a brand or company:  half of those surveyed found a regular employee in the company as credible.

NCR fully embraces this idea — sharing helpful resources such as its new brand voice guide with employees, and engaging in a cross-cutting communications campaign to get staff excited and engaged well before the brand debuted publicly.

Beginning in early September, NCR began running a series of intranet features (including fun facts, CE Feature Graphicemployee interviews and videos) designed to showcase how its customer-facing Services employees “live the brand’ every day.

The largest division, NCR Services, includes the company’s global team of service support professionals. NCR Services’ goal is to deliver innovative customer service while ensuring on-time installation and maintenance of consumer transaction technology worldwide.

“Our brand is all about making every day easier,” notes Nancy Berry, senior communications manager for NCR Services. “We wanted to celebrate the members of our services team who directly represent the NCR brand to customers in their daily work. In the process of telling these Services stories, we sought to convey how are Services team members are trusted, innovative, vibrant and agile – key attributes of our brand.”

The campaign ran during September on the company’s intranet, and began by focusing on the work of NCR service technicians, who are known as Customer Engineers or CEs. The feature included a flash video that provided a glimpse into the CE’s daily work, photos of some of the unusual locations CEs visit to service equipment (e.g., an ATM in the visitor center atop Europe’s highest mountain), and an interactive video where viewers could test their equipment troubleshooting skills. Another spotlight focused on the Services Parts team and included a photo montage depicting a part’s journey from order receipt to delivery in the field as well as interviews with Parts team members about the importance of representing the brand. Each intranet feature included compelling graphics and little-known facts about the featured group.

“The features served two purposes,” says Nancy. “We wanted to make sure our employees in the field were well-represented in our brand launch celebrations, and at the same time, we wanted to educate the rest of NCR about the great work these team members are doing to support our customers on a 7x24x365 basis.”

“Representing the NCR brand well is indeed something I think about in my daily work,” says Heather Dunham, who was featured in a story about the Parts team. “When it comes to customer service, parts availability is a top priority. My goal is to have service parts readily available when they are needed.”

To learn more about NCR’s brand launch, visit http://www.ncr.com/about-ncr/everydaymadeeasier or read the company’s recent blog post about living the brand.

 

 

 

iPads, Marching Band and College Football: OSU PR Guru Brings it All Together

Ohio State University's Marching Band.

Ohio State University’s Marching Band.

When it comes to pitching stories that media love, fellow Dayton, Ohio, native Patricia (Patty) Allen is one of the best PR people I’ve had the privilege to call both a colleague and a friend.

As Ohio State University Fisher College of Business’s associate director of Communications, Patty FisherLogo10is responsible for cultivating media relationships for Fisher, and for supporting the social media and institutional communications at this top 25 business school. A multi-talented storyteller, Patty was instrumental in helping me understand Fisher’s environment when I wrote two Fisher annual reports, one of which received a PRism Award from the Columbus chapter of PRSA. Her support laid the foundation for me to secure writing work from other Executive Education clients nationally.

Today, as part of my month-long celebration of my clients’ storytelling journeys, I talk to this accomplished media storyteller and Ohio University journalism alumnus about her approach to media pitching, the state of journalism and the PR field,  and how her experience as a journalist has helped her be successful.

Q. Why do former journalists make the best media relations people?

I was hired by NCR when it was owned in the 1990s by AT&T, which had a reputation for hiring news reporters. So I was lucky to get in at NCR as they were following AT&T’s lead in hiring. As a former reporter, obviously I knew what other reporters looked for in stories and what their editors look for in stories.

Q. How has your newspaper reporting equipped you to do PR – authentically?

I was able to look at press announcements and story pitches before I executed them and understand what would sell to reporters and editors because I had been in their shoes. Also, inside of the corporation I was able to use my news hound skills to find the stories that would resonate with people in my former field.

Q. Traditionally there has been tension between PR and media folks – do you think that’s changing?

Yes, it has definitely changed. I’m a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). I remember after I had become a PR person and made the switch, I felt like both a traitor and an outsider when I attended national conferences. As the years went on and as newspapers were in decline, both journalists from print and broadcast were losing their jobs and finding it more difficult to obtain jobs in the field. So by the early 2000s and on, I remember attending the NABJ national conferences and instead of feeling like a traitor or an outsider, people sought me out trying to learn from me how I made the transition.

Q. What are the most common mistake media relations folks make that alienate them from journalists?

Forgetting that it is not just the reporter you have to pitch the story to, but it is the editor who ultimately makes the decision of what ends up in print or on the air. Sometimes it is giving them way too much information from the organizations side they represent and not recognizing the need to be concise and, most importantly, relevant to both audiences of the news organizations. As much as telling the story from our organization’s standpoint and providing that information, an important part of the practice is looking on the outside of the organization you represent and finding the bigger trends and answering the question why should the public care about a certain topic or issue being pitched.

Q. So much of what we all do is story tell – how do you tell stories that the media will want to cover/ write about?

I develop the story from the audience perspective as well as from my organization’s perspective.

For instance, my recent successful pitch to Bloomberg Businessweek Online was about the use of the iPad by the marching band. While Businessweek was looking for stories about tailgating traditions or ways to use tailgating to attract b-school alumni, I took another approach in pitching a story about football season and talked about the Ohio State half-time show. Ohio State had a business student in the Marching Band who had convinced university administrators to adopt iPads to reduce paper waste for printing music and halftime show choreography for the band. The student was able to use lessons he learned in his business class to draw up a business proposal. So instead of being lumped into a story about football season at business schools, I was able to present a story to Businessweek that illustrated a talented business student using b-school curriculum to improve efficiency in his extra curricular activity. So we achieved a separate story, which received prominence from the rest of the business schools who were lumped into a bigger story about college football season.

Ryan Barta, during the media blitz surrounding the iPad initiative. Photo courtesy of OSU/Fisher.

Ryan Barta, during the media blitz surrounding the iPad initiative. Photo courtesy of OSU/Fisher.

Q. How do you leverage social media to reach / influence media?

While producing the iPad story for our internal use, we also developed great visuals utilizing our video team. So we had other great assets that we used on our YouTube channel and Facebook page that we made available to reporters as links to enhance their story. There was a mutual benefit for both the media and for Ohio State. We were able to provide video of our story that they could use on their website. The fact that the video appeared on The Chronicle of Higher Education website drove new audiences to Ohio State’s social media vehicles.

Q. What’s the best compliment you ever received from a journalist?

It’s a great compliment any time a reporter says, “Thank you — you gave me everything I need so quickly.”

 In this age of fast-paced online journalism, where news staffs are lean, speed and responsiveness are critical. Reporters atmost news organizations, even the national media, have scaled back so much, they don’t have the resources to spend on hiring photographers or videographers (especially if the story is not in their backyard) to allow them to capture visuals. Already having those assets available to them makes putting their story together much easier. So, I’m often complimented on the fact that I provide them with every aspect and asset of their story — not just people to interview, but also the images that are readily available to help them do their best job in telling a story.

About Patty Allen

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Patty has worked in the communications and public relations field for nearly three decades. After beginning her career in corporate communications at NCR and AT&T, the last 15 years, she has served in higher education communications first at New York University, then Princeton University before her current position at The Ohio State University. A cum laude graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, she worked for more than five years as a newspaper reporter in Massachusetts and Ohio, including at the Cape Cod Times and The Dayton Daily News. Follow her on Twitter @PattyAtFisherPR.

Social Storytelling: Cbeyond’s 31 Days of Yammer

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Rashida Powell and Amy MacKinnon led Cbeyond’s employee engagement campaign on Yammer.

I’m marking 14 years as a storyteller to organizations by celebrating  my clients’ storytelling journeys. Today, I turn to Cbeyond, a leading business technology ally, to learn about its innovative use of enterprise social networking. 

Cbeyond’s character and culture have long embraced engaging employees, through the example of Cbeyond’s Founder Jim Geiger, who talked about his company’s character-driven culture and the role of communication at a September 2011 IABC Atlanta meeting. Jim founded Cbeyond in 1999 out of a desire to change the dynamic for small and mid-sized businesses under-served by other communications providers.

It’s not surprising that Cbeyond became an early adopter of social enterprise networking tools to bring employees together, deploying Yammer company-wide in October 2011. Within a year, its Yammer community swelled from 400 to 1,600 members.

“Our vision for our social enterprise network is to help Cbeyonders collaborate more across functions, manage projects better and create a community. At the corporate level, we use Yammer to create a dialogue around our corporate strategy and initiatives – it’s all about being more transparent and open about what we’re doing,” says Amy MacKinnon, Cbeyond Internal Communications.

cbeyond-screenshot2For Cbeyond’s one-year anniversary on Yammer, the internal communications team  unveiled “31 Days of Yammer”, a highly engaging campaign that included a host of activities, from daily tips to weekly contests such as the “Get Your Yam on from ANYWHERE” contest, where employees were encouraged to download Yammer’s mobile app.   

The month-long celebration coincided with Cbeyond’s annual “Week of Service” held in October when employees from all 15 markets engage in volunteer activities in their communities. They were encouraged to post pictures of their volunteer efforts using the #2012WeekofService tag.

“Uploads on Yammer hit the roof that week,” recalls Rashida Powell, then-manager of the Yammer channel for Cbeyond, adding that adoption rates of Yammer have continued to grow.

yammer-logo-ps3Yammer’s own blog credits Cbeyond’s “31 Days of Yammer” campaign that it covered in 2012 as a best practice for organizations to overcome “business as usual” and continue to create buzz and grow adoption for Yammer after the initial launch.

“This effort was born when Cbeyond celebrated their month-long Yammer anniversary, and has evolved as other community managers were inspired to deliver their own and iterate on the approach,” the blog post stated, citing Manhattan Associates embarking on its own ’31 Days of Yammer’ to uncover great work, celebrate successes and coach employees on working smarter and faster.

Cbeyond has continued to build momentum through feature campaigns in 2013, with themes such as a health-and-wellness for January, celebrating Cbeyond’s Character in February, and Going Green in April to coincide with Earth Day.  

“This campaign was the launching pad for getting really focused on leveraging social enterprise networking as a strategic engagement tool,” Amy concludes.

In Celebration of Space Storytellers

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Every Thursday in October The Writing Well will celebrate the storytelling journey of my clients and partners as part of a month-long observance of my firm’s 14-year anniversary.

Rich PhillipsToday, as the UN and 60 nations mark World Space Week, I caught up with Rich Phillips, president of Austin-based Phillips & Company, one of Texas’s top 10 PR firms that recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Rich marked the occasion last week with a leadership discussion with legendary CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

Rich and I collaborated for four years on brand leadership campaigns at EMS Technologies, an Atlanta-based space and asset tracking firm that has since been acquired by Honeywell.

I continued my work in the space industry writing for Via Satellite, covering everything from U.S. space policy to R&D priorities at NASA, while Rich has expanded his client focus to include NASA, where his firm is helping roll out the agency’s vision for Deep Space.

In May 2012, as SpaceX made history becoming the world’s first privately held company to send a cargo payload to the ISS, this blog featured Michael Potter, documentary filmmaker behind “Orphans of Apollo” in the most read blog post of 2012. His film chronicled the first entrepreneurial effort to privatize space by a group of entrepreneurs inspired by the Apollo missions.

It turns out Rich and I were both born in 1969, the year that America went to the moon.

“My first memory was being told, ‘Rich, you were born the year we landed on the moon,'” he recalls. “I carried that with me through grade school. I’d write about it in essays and would discuss it with my teachers — It was part of who I was. I still have commemorative coins given to me as a child from the moon landing.”

Below, Rich talks candidly about the formative role of space on his life and his journey as a storyteller for NASA, including his agency’s award-winning work on the “Get Curious” campaign that engaged thousands of people about the landing of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover on the Red Planet in August 2012.

Rich Phillips (front left) with his Austin team with one of the Get Curious campaign "rocks."

Rich Phillips (front left) with his Austin team with one of the Get Curious campaign “rocks.”

Q. Rich, what is it about the story of space that you find so fascinating?

Number one, I’m an economist. I had an epiphany back in 2007 when I was working with EMS Technologies, which does work in space communications and asset tracking for the military.  I woke up to this realization that space is not just a destination but a platform for applications and services just like the internet.

I was in business in the 90s when the internet boom happened. It was not until the cost of bandwidth – or the cost of transport — came down – that we had this explosion of applications and services from social media to eCommerce. I see space as bigger than that but I see the parallel.  As the cost of transporting satellites and people and other cargo in space comes down, there’s going to be an explosion of applications and services.  I’m excited because I see this opportunity for a whole new ‘other world’ economy.

Number two, I believe that exploration is critical to prosperity and human progress – that human space exploration inspires us to seek knowledge through scientific discovery and to advance the understanding of our world. It’s a catalyst for a better life – and I believe it will advance American leadership and help us to fundamentally create a path to peace, diplomacy and global cooperation. Historically, exploration has been critical to ensuring we prosper and that we progress as human beings. To say we will not explore the heavens is to say we will not progress as people.

Q. What stories of space first inspired you as a young person?

My whole identity has been tied to space.  It really has defined me.  I always believed life is short TheRightStuffand in order to achieve things, you have to take risks.  I think there is a little bit of an explorer in me. There were a couple of Hollywood films that were extraordinary — that touched me – “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

Q. What can Hollywood teach the space community?

How to story tell. NASA spends most of its time convincing us of how safe they are – that they’ve ironed out all of the risk and that there is no chance that anything will go wrong. Fundamentally that’s a great engineering strategy but it’s a lousy marketing strategy because human beings actually gravitate toward stories of risk and hope. The truth is what NASA does is extraordinarily dangerous and extraordinarily risky.  To be successful at inspiring the American people, NASA and the entire space community has to be willing to say, “This is hard. This is risky.” They need to tell that dramatic story of what could go wrong — and by telling that honest story, Americans and the world will embrace it.

CuriousityQ. You put those storytelling principles to work last year on the “Get Curious” campaign with NASA JPL.  Can you tell me about it?

NASA JPL was brilliant in that they understood that in order to inspire people about the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory landing, they needed to tell the story behind the landing. This wasn’t the first time we’ve been to Mars. Spirit and Opportunity had been there before. By creating a dramatic story line about how we were landing, my firm was able to design more than 50 global landing parties and events around the world, and in the process, we were able to reach people who typically didn’t follow space but who were now glued to their televisions as if we were landing a man or woman on Mars.

At the center of NASA JPL’s campaign was creating a video called “The Seven Minutes of Terror.”    The video told the story of this dramatic descent to Mars and how risky it was – how easily we could lose or destroy the rover, or even miss the planet if we didn’t do the right things. That video went viral and we were very proud to be part of the marketing of not only that video but also the landing. By telling a true story of drama and risk, we engaged people. People for the first time shared in the experience. That’s what storytelling does.   

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Connect with Rich via Twitter @PhillipsCompany or through his website. Read more about his firm’s “Get Curious” campaign, which just received the Association for Women in Communications’ Clarion Award. The campaign previously won awards from PRDaily and Bulldog Reporter.

Celebrating Milestones as a Storyteller

Fourteen years ago this month I took a chance on being my own boss. Having worked in the corporate world as media relations and eAnneWainscott_FinalAuthorPhotomployee communications manager, and briefly in the agency world, I was eager for independence.

Like any rational person used to a weekly paycheck, the prospect of finding clients and managing a business on my own intimidated me at first. Securing a part-time consulting gig with an aerospace company made it a little less overwhelming. That company would be a key client over the next decade.

While not all clients had that kind of staying power, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Venturing out solo all those years ago turned out to be the right choice for me — giving me freedom to guide my own destiny and find what I most liked to do. In my case, that’s storytelling!  Print

In my time as a strategic storyteller to organizations, I’ve met amazing people and helped them tell their organization’s story. A few highlights include:

– Developing and launching a PR strategy for the world’s most respected U.S. high school robotics competition as it made its debut in Georgia.

– Interviewing public health’s most celebrated ‘disease detectives’ over the last 50 years.

– Communicating how leading business schools are educating the next generation of business leaders.

– Interviewing visionaries at NASA, the DoD and the private sector who are opening up the full potential of space for exploration and communications.

On a personal level, I became an author and connected with other writers and storytellers:

– Writing a memoir after losing my mother to lung cancer that paid tribute to the bond of mothers and daughters in the face of devastating illness from tobacco addiction.

– Researching and drafting an historical novel set in my hometown of Dayton during a catastrophic  flood, a project I hope to complete this year.

– Showcasing other writers and storytellers on The Writing Well, the blog I launched in October 2009.

Special Storytelling Feature in October

In celebration of my blog’s “birthday” and my company anniversary, I will feature my clients’ own storytelling journeys every Thursday in October. Those featured encompass a diverse range of industries and communication challenges. They each have redefined their own communication styles to reach and engage their audience.

Also, on Monday, The Writing Well welcomes author-blogger K.M. Weiland, who will talk about common pitfalls of story structure based on her book, Structuring Your Novel.

To conclude, I would encourage anyone who has ever dreamed of guiding their own destiny and pursuing a creative venture to do it. Make it happen.

JoeyReimanPhotoAs purpose visionary Joey Reiman told me during a blog interview last year, ” purpose drives everything…it engages, enlightens and enlarges one’s capacity to live a genuine life.”

So, above all, pursue your passion. Doing so in my life has given me so many blessings. While I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey before marriage and motherhood, being independent has allowed me to be more present in my children’s lives and to get closer to the elusive goal of work-life balance.

I leave you with the final quote from Vitaly Tennant’s  “My Time Matters Blog” post about the 15 greatest entrepreneur quotes:

“Experience. Dream. Risk. Close your eyes and jump. Enjoy the freefall. Choose exhilaration over comfort. Choose magic over predictability. Choose potential over safety. Be Bold. Be Fierce. Be Grateful. Be Wild, Crazy and Gloriously Free. Be You.”

 

My Firm Wins Two IABC Golden Flame Awards for Writing Excellence

 

 

Below is a reprint of my company news release from last night’s IABC Atlanta Golden Flames Awards.

 

 

 
 
Strategic messaging and editorial services firm Anne Wainscott, Inc. received two 2012 International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Golden Flame Awards in the writing category last night during the Atlanta chapter’s annual awards gala at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
 
Wainscott earned a Silver Flame Award for “CDC 24/7: What’s Really in a Cigarette?” that appeared in the employee intranet portal, CDC Connects, on May 23, 2012. The article took employees inside CDC’s Tobacco Lab at a time whennew tobacco legislation has increased the partnership between CDC and FDA. A condensed version of the story also appeared on CDC.gov’s 24/7 page
 
The relationship between CDC and FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products is of critical importance for advancing the efforts to reduce disease and death from tobacco product use. This article clearly highlighted this relationship and how the collaboration between these two agencies will make them both more effective in carrying out their missions,” said David Ashley, PhD, Director, Office of Science in FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.  
 
This was Wainscott’s third IABC award for writing work supporting CDC in the last two years.  She previously received a 2011 IABC Golden Flame Award and a 2010 IABC Southern Regional Silver Quill Award for feature articles on CDC Guinea worm eradication efforts and on employees living with childhood cancer. 
 
 Anne (second from left) with the Cbeyond team and their three Golden Flame Awards.
Wainscott’s client, Cbeyond, a technology ally to more than 60,000 small and mid-sized businesses, also received three awards, including a Bronze Flame Award for recurring feature articles and a Bronze Flame for the company’s “Era of Transformation” Change Management Communications efforts.
 
Wainscott was recognized for writing  weekly department spotlights for CWorld, the  employee e-newsletter — efforts that helped engage employees during a period of major change.  
 
 
Golden Flame award winner Amy MacKinnon, internal communications leader at Cbeyond, said, “We’ve received great response. The spotlights not only helped employees understand what their colleagues  do every day, but also they helped explain how they’re a part of the transformation. The stories did an excellent job of showcasing how we’re all touching the transformation in some shape or form.”
 
About IABC Atlanta’s Golden Flames Awards
IABC’s Atlanta Golden Flames are awarded annually to recognize excellence in writing, graphic design, video, live events, media relations and social media, among other categories. The awards acknowledge merit for form, function, process and creativity, and, most importantly, measured results.  Entries are judged by members of other IABC chapters across North America, and scored on their own merit.
 
About Anne Wainscott Inc.    
Anne Wainscott Inc. is a strategic messaging and editorial services firm founded in Atlanta in 1999. The company’s founder, Anne Wainscott Sargent, brings nearly two decades of experience as a journalist, author and award-winning writer. The firm offers a unique, senior-level storytelling experience to every client engagement — balanced with an understanding of clients’ big-picture positioning goals. For more information, visit: http://annewainscott.com.
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Outgoing IABC Executive Chair Talks Future of Communications Profession

 

 

Adrian Cropley, ABC. Photo: Leland Holder

Adrian Cropley, ABC, fresh from serving the past year as chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) executive board, talked trends and the future of the communication profession during a special appearance with IABC’s Atlanta chapter on Tuesday.

“The landscape is changing quite rapidly for us,” says the former food-chef-turned-communicator.
Cropley began his career in internal communications at Ericsson 20 years ago, when the CEO challenged him to improve communication with employees.

“I became hooked ever since,” says Cropley, whose career has included working with Unilever, Ernst & Young, Shell, NAB, ANZ, National Foods and Kraft, as well as various government organizations. Today, Cropley runs Cropley Communications, a global internal communications training firm based in Melbourne.

Cropley with members of IABC Atlanta’s board. Photo: Leland Holder

He observes that communications professionals are starting to take on more roles that encompass
engagement and culture – functions historically belonging to the HR organization – as well as embracing digital platforms for their communication messages. 

“In this day of communications, it’s not just about internal communications that drive engagement; it’s internal and external because the boundaries have completely blurred. We’re crossing over boundaries and we’re seeing this happen globally,” he says.

While communications is going to get bigger on the agenda, we as professionals “could face an identity crisis if we don’t clearly outline our value to the organization and continue to make ourselves relevant,” he cautions.

One area we can’t take control of is the message with citizen journalism and social media today.  He referenced Kevin Thomson’s book, Emotional Capital, which contends that organizations have two types of capital – intellectual capital that firms harness, and emotional capital, or the will of people in an organization to put their knowledge and abilities to the betterment of the organization.   
An interesting insight is that the value of both of these to the organization is “identical.”

“Today we are looking today that this blurring of the boundaries between on internal and external means we really need to focus on things like engagement no matter who the organization is – it’s all about that emotional message- how do I engage people in a very honest, open way?”

In the future, we are all about multi-disciplinary communication globally because that’s where the landscape is eventually going.”  That’s the beauty of IABC, he adds, given IABC’s multi-disciplinary focus.


Why should companies care about engagement? Communicating and connecting with employees can have a major impact on organization productivity, he says, citing the Towers-Watson Change and Communication  ROI Study Report, which found that companies that are highly effective at communicating are 1.7 times likely to outperform their peers. He also quoted a study that found engaged employees in the UK take significantly less sick leave than those who are disengaged. 

Three findings from the Towers-Watson report are that sustainable business performance depends upon:

  • Clarity – having a clear direction for everyone
  • Competence – competence in leadership and in organizations
  • Community – it’s all about giving everyone a shared experience

He cited the 2011 European Communications Monitor study that tracks the evolving role of the communications profession in Europe and where the field is headed. The report pointed to the changing perception of PR globally and whether “PR” as a title creates a negative connotation in the market. To illustrate his point, Cropley shared a press article in New Zealand that complained that the government employed too many “spin doctors.”

“We have to reposition communications to make it very clear that it is a business value to organizations: What is our scope? What is it that we deliver?” Cropley says. “We have to start to clearly brand ourselves and what we do for the organization, then we’ve got to measure the tangible of what we do.”

Cropley contends that communicators are at a key moment in their profession where they can play influential roles. What do we need to do today as communicators to thrive in the future?

  • Understand the cultural context in the global business world.
  • Understand that our audience is different and it is we who must adapt our approach based on the audience – with honesty and a desire to build a relationship with our audience.
  •  Broaden our skills as we converge – understanding the path for communications is knowing a lot of different disciplines.
  • Meet our audience where they are.
  • Don’t drop the tactics, including core skills like writing– “find the sweet spot between tactics and strategy,” he advises.

Putting the Creative into Corporate Communications

 
 
 
Communication evangelist Steve Crescenzo says it’s never been a more exciting time to be a corporate communicator. Why? Because of all the new tools available for communicators – from podcasts and blogs to videos and social networks. This new world has led to a massive shift in how organizations communicate to each and every audience – from employees to communities to the world at large.   
 
“The best thing about the new tools? They’re inexpensive to do and anybody can do them. The worst news is anybody can do it and they’re doing it wrong,” says Steve, a plain-talking Chicago native, who was the No. 1 rated speaker at IABC’s World Conference from 2008 to 2010, and is the opening keynote speaker at this week’s IABC Southern Region conference in  New Orleans.  
 
Steve and his communications partner, Cindy, recently held a one-day IABC International seminar in Atlanta that attracted communicators from across North America and Mexico.  The information-packed day included a number of planning tools to guide attendees,  and examples of corporate communications at its best and at its worst.  Here are four insights I gleaned from their presentation:
 
#1 Corporate communications is dying – including formulatic writing, jargon, buzzwords, platitudes and top-down information flow.
Says Steve: “We have to stand up to management and say the way we’ve always done it doesn’t work — the world has changed. There is a lot more information out there. The formal style, the corporate style, the stiff style, doesn’t resonate with anyone.”
 
#2 Our role has changed – we are not just “publishers” anymore; rather, we’re talent scouts, the talent itself, community organizers and conversation starters.
“We have to coach executives,” Steve says. To illustrate his point, Steve shared a story of how one CFO wanted to do a podcast in which he would restate the company’s earnings numbers. Instead, the company’s communicator convinced the executive to do a brief podcast on “Behind the numbers – what the quarterly numbers mean to you.”
 “Without the communicator’s help, this guy would have run amok,” Steve says, adding, “Without trained people, organizations will create really bad communications.
#3 Stop fighting the wrong battles – namely, the battle to make the deadline and to create something that will make it through the approval process.
“The only battle that matters is the battle for our audiences’ attention,” says Steve, adding, “The dirty secret of our profession is that we are often churning out things that no one pays attention to.”
#4 Take the corporate out of communications and replace it with “creative.”
         Instead of communicating top-down, be interactive and participatory.
         Instead of using stiff and formal language, be conversational.
         Instead of talking policies and programs, focus on people.
         Instead of “safe content,” try creative (so-called “risky”) content.
         And, instead of formulatic writing, do great storytelling.
Steve shared a local example — Tim Whitehead of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta successfully creating an employee recruitment blog titled, Are You Strong Enough to Care Enough? The site features first-person stories of staff on what makes working at Children’s special. 
 “Great web content is built on three things – interesting stories about people, interaction and multimedia,” says Steve, observing that the Children’s site features all three components. “To me, this is what communications is all about – real people telling real stories.”
To conclude, Steve emphasized that the job of communications is not to give employees what they want; instead, it is to give them what they need in order to help the organization. “It’s about aligning people with the business strategy.”
He then asked, “What is your communications manifesto?  What are you here to do? If a communication piece can’t be tied to a business goal or objective or to a communication goal, why are we doing it?”
Read more about Crescenzo Communications and check out their blogs at: http://www.crescenzocomm.com/blogs.php

 

Cbeyond — A True Character-driven Company

Jim Geiger. Photo by Leland Holder.
Companies often say that their employees are their most valued asset. But, few actually live those values.  I know of one exception, though — Cbeyond, a leading Atlanta-based IT and communications services provider to small businesses.
 
I’ve served as a freelance writer for Cbeyond for the last year, assisting with numerous internal communications writing projects. Those assignments gave me frequent access to employees, who I interviewed on topics ranging from customer retention and call center efficiency to team building and integrity.  While the story topics varied, one thing did not: how much Cbeyonders love their company. For someone who had long ago left the corporate ranks of Fortune 500 behemoths for independence from corporate politics, I found the culture at Cbeyond inspiring.
 
So, when the Atlanta chapter board of the International Association of Business Communicators was looking for candidates to present on internal brand building, I could think of no better company to present. Earlier this week our chapter had the honor to hear from Cbeyond’s founder and chief executive who spoke to a packed audience.  I knew Jim Geiger was much more than a successful entrepreneur; he was someone who lives the values of his company. I have to say, his presentation did not disappoint.
Some facts about Cbeyond:
  • In 12 years, the company has grown from less than a dozen employees to more than 2,000.
  • Cbeyond sells voice, data, mobile and cloud services as well as website hosting, and has grown into nearly a half a billion in revenues, mostly through organic growth.
  • Today, it serves 60,000 US small businesses, and one-third of customers are referred to Cbeyond by other customers.
 
“We have very deep relationships with each one of our customers,” says Geiger.

The company establishes feedback loops in various ways to ensure communication is strong with customers and employees. These include ongoing customer surveys and a commitment to world-class service for every customer.

 
 In launching the company, Geiger was guided by the idea that “what we did was as important as what we did for a living.” He told seed investors that he wanted to “work with smart people I liked.” For the last 12 years, he has focused on making the internal culture at Cbeyond driven by character and engaged employees.  
 
Geiger frequently speaks to employees in person and through videocasts. He hosts employee lunches.  In a company of 2,000 employees, there are only two assistants. Everyone works in cubicles. No one has job titles. When employees achieve their five-year anniversary, they are invited to a party – at Geiger’s home.
 
“I am dedicated and try really hard to be a good communicator to our employees,” he explains. From the beginning, Cbeyond’s entrepreneurial CEO recalled, “We had a very strong culture but it just wasn’t written anywhere.”
 
That changed a few years ago, when the company developed Cbeyond’s Character Statements. At the presentation, Cbeyond’s employee ambassadors in the audience took turns reading each character statement:
  • Care Relentlessly
  • Act Graciously
  • Lead Courageously
  • Learn Continuously
 
 
“We don’t place blame,” says Geiger, who also has found that as employees assume positive intent in every interaction, more positive behavior occurs and with it, a better working environment.  “It’s a mindset,” he says. “It’s also okay to say, ‘I don’t know.’”
 
When hiring people, Geiger assumes that candidates are smart and capable, but what he really wants to know is if they will fit inside the character of the company.  “If you are a jerk I am going to fire you,” says Geiger. That’s why employees go through several interviews before being offered a position. 
 
“We are trying to desperately understand who you are as a person,” he says.
 
During the presentation, Geiger quoted Tom Cruise, who once said, “Life feeds work and work feeds life.”  He urges employees to be themselves and to share who they are personally and professionally “because in my world I can’t separate the two.”
 
As Cbeyond has grown to 2,000 staff, Geiger has focused on developing and training employees to ensure the company has a strong base of leaders in the future given its intent to promote from within. To guide those efforts, Geiger created a leadership model – an eight-point star that encompasses values such as creating vision, achieving results, demonstrating integrity, listening and learning, and empowering and trust.
  
“Do what you are going to say you do” is part of the fabric of the company’s culture.  As evidence of his inclusive style, Geiger invited audience members to shared ideas and feedback to him directly through e-mail.
 
“I’m happy to learn from you,” he told the group.

Interviewing Tips Worth Remembering

I do a lot of interviewing these days – as a journalist and writer. Not long ago I was on the other side of the table supporting executives in interviews with key trade and business press. PR people often have an uphill battle working with executives who have trouble staying on message or even having a coherent message! 

David Frost.

The Guardian published a series of booklets in 2007 chronicling some of the greatest interviews of the 20th century.

Topping their list was David Frost’s conversations with Richard Nixon, as well as Marilyn Monroe’s last interview and Princess Diana’s confessions to Martin Bashir.

These figures would have benefitted from some media prep before they sat on the hot seat.

Here are some tried-and-true tips to better prepare your spokespeople for a media interview — where they can be credible and quotable, yet know how to navigate through tough questions while staying on message.

• Listen to the question and collect your thoughts before responding. (You don’t have to fill the silence).

• Be brief – less is more.

• Focus on three main points or ideas, and present these important points first.

       Steer the conversation toward those points if the interviewer detours you.

• You don’t have to answer every question. Bridge it back to what you want to talk about

       “Yes, and what’s also important is …”
       “No, but let me explain…”
       “Maybe, but it’s important to understand that …”

• If you only have time to make one key point, which is often the case, what would it be? That is your anchor.

         Get to your anchor quickly without beating around the bush.
         Repeat this key message during the conversation if possible.

• Use flagging.

          “The real issue here is…”
          “If you only remember one thing, remember this…”
          “I want to remind your readers/listeners/audience that…”

• Decide in advance what you are not going to say and stick to your decision.

         Do not assume that anything you say is “off the record.”
         If you don’t want to read about it in print or hear it on the air, don’t say it.

• Punctuate a point with a story or an example.
• Cite positive trends.

• Avoid negative statements. Turn the thought to a positive observation, trend or concept.

• Pace your discussion points. Give the reporter or their audience time to digest complex points.

• When participating in a media interview, it helps to restate the question in your response to give the interviewer a complete quotable sentence.

• Sound bites should be brief and punchy (eight to ten seconds). They should be attention-getting and memorable: use anecdotes, analogies and personal experiences.

• Be confident, energetic, and sincere. Relax, and have fun.