By Nicole Zahn
What do you think of when you hear the words “Corporate World”? Most of us would think of a dull, grey cubicle, imagining ourselves doing nothing but the same task each day with the only excitement being casual Fridays. It wasn’t until I had my experience at the 2017 PRSSA National Conference in Boston that I held this same perception.
After attending the “Taking the ‘Corporate’ out of Corporate Communications” session with General Motors Global Advanced Technology Communications Coordinator Chris Bonelli, I realized that the corporate worlds’ bland perception is false.
Casual dress attire? Engaging work environments with no cubicles? Executives working alongside you? Are you sure you’re working in corporate, Chris Bonelli?
Bonelli described many aspects of corporate life that spiked my interest and has made me think differently about my future career choices. For starters, having an engaging work environment is one of the first things I seek in an office culture. I want to work somewhere where we collaborate as a team and bounce ideas off one another; not resort to cubicle seclusion and communicate solely through email.
Throughout this session, Bonelli broke down what exactly Corporate Communications is. I thought this was an excellent topic that needed to be addressed due to the negative corporate perceptions, and because many external audiences have no idea that a business would be nothing without its communications team. Where else do you think you receive company news and information from? The Great Oz of General Motors?
Corporate Communications is a multi-functional approach with open engagement among different departments to create more effective work. This approach includes communications with the different departments such as sales, marketing, advertising, investor relations, finance, legal, etc. These different departments are what make up one entire corporation and its successes.
One point Bonelli made that struck my interest, is that while communications stems from collaboration among the different departments, it stems solely from culture. The CEO and Chairman of General Motors, Mary Barbara, is the first female CEO of a major automotive company. Because GE has been around for nearly 110 years, having a female at the top of the company is a major cultural advancement that we can expect to see more of.
After attending this session about corporate communications, I have a better understanding of how different departments and team members can engage and work as a team to accomplish goals. I also understand that the perceptions of corporate life are not what they seem to be. As a final reminder when job hunting, find a company that fits your needs, wants, and lifestyle because there’s no such thing as a bland cubicle job in the communications world.
By Audra Gormley
“Companies that prioritize purpose (corporate responsibility), have an edge on revenue with a 10 percent growth.”
Carol Cone, the CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, is a master of cause branding, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability. She has worked with brands like Avon, Reebok, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, PNC and more. The main focus for her firm is to use purpose branding. Carol Cone has the expertise to turn feelings into a call to action with her branding strategy. Cone always advises her clients to wrap their brand with a cause.
Cone believes that there is long term value for shareholders by bringing corporate responsibility to society. Values and purpose have become an essential part of business strategy. It is no longer about whether or not to use purpose branding, it is now a necessity. It’s an essential part of turning consumers into advocates for your organization.
Studies, according to Project Return on Investment (ROI), show that 92% of consumers want to shop with brands that align with their values. That is a big percentage to ignore. On top of that, 72% of millennials say that they will boycott a brand solely on their values or purpose. With that being said, it is truly valuable to an organization to utilize purpose and cause branding in their business model.
Cone described that we all have a voice. You have advocacy power, you have buying power and you have community power. So use your power! Boycotts are becoming more common. People are empowered to vote with their dollar. It is important to advocate for the organizations that you do support.
Cone continued by saying, “The food industry is really getting it.” Big time names like Panera Bread are changing the landscape for transparency and social responsibility. Panera vouched not to market to soft spots, like children, making their business promise transparent and honest. They are working towards sourcing ingredients from sustainable sources. They plan to change their entire menu to GMO free by the end of the year. Cone used this example, to show that people care about the effects of their food, and this will later expand (and already is expanding) into other facets.
Some tips to take away from Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, are wrap your brand in cause branding, profit comes from accepting CSR into your organization and use your own advocacy to shape the landscape of the consumer market.
By Katelin Pavlic
Heather Abbott – Survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing
T.K. Skenderian – Communications team of the Boston Athletic Association
Moderator: Tim Sullivan – Spokesman of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center
Heather had just left the Red Sox game and was cheering on runners near the finish. This ritual was nothing new - she did this, every Patriots Day in Boston. However, the finish of the 2013 Boston marathon would change her life forever.
Heather was carried to safety and was soon faced with a life changing decision. She could either live a life of pain or amputate her leg. Heather decided to amputate her leg and now values things that others take for granted.
This day was not only a nightmare to those who were injured, it was a chaotic experience for the Boston Marathon communications team as well.
The bomb went off around 2:49pm and T.K. Skenderian had been trying to send a tweet from inside a building near the finish. When he came outside he witnessed chaos. A police officer told him that he needed to get out of the area. Skenderian was apart of the Boston Athletic Association(BAA), the sports association that organizes the Boston Marathon.
When Skenderian found some of his team, he had to explain what he saw – meanwhile the media was also listening to him and trying to get any information that they could. Skenderian’s team knew they needed to communicate with the public, so they then sent out a tweet to buy them some time. This allowed them to later send out a longer form of a tweet and send information to runners and the media.
The Boston Marathon bombing was unlike any other event in history and was handled well by the BAA. Sullivan and his team needed to send information to multiple different sources. When sending out information to multiple groups of people, it’s important to tailor your message, but also stay consistent and ensure you only share facts. Statements are public and you don’t want conflicting reports. In crisis situations, the media is stressed and wants to get information to the public as soon as possible. It is important to stop and breathe. Figure out what you’re going say and send the information to those groups.
The BAA sent out information to the media and to runners. Both messages included almost the exact same information. “We said what we said then we shut up for awhile,” said Skenderian.
Meanwhile, Heather was in a hospital making some tough life-changing decisions. At one point, she was asked to take part in a press conference with her surgeon. She recalled how packed the room was and photographers on the ground taking pictures of her. The experience was very overwhelming for Heather during a critical time in her life.
Heather’s bad experience with the media reminds us that you are an advocate for the survivors in any crisis situation. Maintain communication with the survivors and prepare them for things like press conferences so they aren’t as overwhelmed.
Heather also recalled the many interviews she did for the media. “Some of the people who came to interview me were genuine. I remember others where you could tell they were just trying to get a story,” she said. The media is constantly trying to get a story. Tim Sullivan was the spokesman at the rehabilitation center for the survivors. While taking a 30-minute phone call, Sullivan had 27 voicemails. The media interest was constant and he did not get a day off for 7 months.
The survivors also received a ton of interests and support from the community. This interest was so large that a Community Response Team was created. Their job was to ensure that groups who reached out to the survivors were indeed who they said they were. Some people who reached out to the survivors included celebrities. While some celebrities wanted to help, others wanted to be seen helping.
With such a large outreach, the BAA created the “One Fund.” If anyone wanted to send money, this is where they could send it. This fund helped everything stay organized. Organization is key… the fund collected over 81 million dollars.
Soon the term “Boston Strong” was placed on t-shirts and used to show support for the city. “We all felt it and we rallied around it,” said Skenderian. He believes that it’s in human nature to feel this element of resolve and that Heather is still the embodiment of Boston Strong.
Skenderian expressed how important it is to stay calm. At times of stress and chaos, you’re looked to for guidance. You might not have the answers, but fake it and show a level of comfort and tranquility. Staying calm under stress can go a long way. It’s important to “know that you’ve got it.”
Though this race was traumatic for Heather, she has gone back to the race each year to cheer on runners. Heather wanted the audience to know that you can make a difference in the life of others no matter what your age.
By Alexandra Seibt
60 minutes is not nearly enough time for Morgan Spurlock to talk about his storytelling achievements. “What does it take to make a difference?” he asked. “The answer is courage. Nerve.You have to be ready and willing to take criticism.”
As Public Relations majors, we are creators. In order to succeed in a Public Relations career, we must keep our minds out of the box, and not only create, but find new and inventive ways to attract attention. We must be storytellers.
The mastermind behind the hit documentary Supersize Me didn’t have it easy when it came to filming and producing documentaries with almost no budget. In fact, when he was filming his second documentary, Greatest Movie Ever Sold, he was denied by advertisers and product placement agencies countless times for almost an entire year.
“Don’t be afraid to do things that are crazy”
Spurlock was intrigued by the advertising industry, which is where he got the inspiration for Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It is a documentary about the advertising, branding and product placement. AND get this, it was completely funded by advertisers and product placement agencies.
“Everyone wants to be first to be second. No one wants to take a risk,” Spurlock said regarding his experience with advertisers when he was filming Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Once he finally had a brand interested in being the first sponsor of his film, other advertisers came pouring in.
“Now is the time to take risks,” he said. “The more risks you take, the less risks things inherently become.”
“The Power of Storytelling: Evoke Emotion in a Short Amount of Time”
As storytellers, our goal is for people to not only listen to what we have to say, but to find value and relate to the message. Today, anyone can tell a story. Anyone can market to an audience, or push a coupon or promotion, but the challenge is adding value to these messages. “If you can make someone laugh, you can make someone listen,” Spurlock said, “Finding a good story is just the beginning.”
Spurlock provided the audience with his experience with General Electric and the YouTube video series they did. All of these videos tug on the heartstrings as you watch doctors from the Texas Heart Institute replace a dying man’s heart, or step into the shoes of a high school sophomore who revolutionized pancreatic cancer testing.
Leaving Spurlock's session, I felt motivated. Anyone can be a storyteller, you just have to find the right stories to tell.
Sticking to the Brand
By Brittney Prather
Stick it! As Panera Bread Vice President of Public Relations Jonathan Yohannan commented, “Brands change and shift, but what does that shift look like?”
In the Sticking to the Brand session, it discussed how Panera strives to give customers the best and healthiest product, be transparent about who they are and what they sell and to make sure that the policies it makes align with the brand name and image.
Community involvement is such a large part of Panera's culture. Each day, Panera makes it a point to donate baked goods everyday. The company donates over 100 million products in addition to setting up a handful of stores in which people can pay whatever they want for a product. Panera does this so that if you want to pay more for a product, it helps pay for someone who may not be able to afford purchasing food items otherwise. This shows that Panera is a community involved company and that they want the best for others. “If you do right by guest and associates, you will be rewarded,” said Yohannan.
Transparency is another key component to the wide success of Panera and its brand image. Yohannan described how Panera completely changed its menu to incorporate healthier ingredients, removed preservatives and GMOs; launched the “No No List” that incorporated the ingredients that would no longer be in Panera’s products; carried out its Kids Meal Promise that does not tailor food and toys to kids, but rather focuses on the product that is being served instead. In doing this, Panera has been rewarded for its transparency through customers knowing what they are getting with the product and the brand.
Although community and transparency is important, in the end, it is about having a dialogue, talking about the issues that matter and addressing it in a way that is both truthful and beneficial to customers.