FOCUS: The in-house A-list

Within corporate America, an array of communications professionals are changing minds, guarding reputations, and influencing the C-Suite. Melanie Shortman and Jeff Frankovic profile a score who make the score.

Within corporate America, an array of communications professionals are changing minds, guarding reputations, and influencing the C-Suite. Melanie Shortman and Jeff Frankovic profile a score who make the score.

Name: Ken Ferber Company: WellPoint Title: VP, corporate communications Who do you report to? Investor relations/CFO. What is your greatest source of pride? While losing a case before the United States Supreme Court may seem like an unlikely source of pride, our communications team was able to secure a victory in the court of public opinion. In 2002, WellPoint argued a case before the Supreme Court, a case inherited from a company we recently acquired. Although it was a 5-4 decision against, the company's reputation was untarnished. By restructuring WellPoint's appeal to the Supreme Court as a matter of legal clarity between two opposite decisions in US circuit courts, rather than on the particulars of the case, we virtually eliminated any references to WellPoint in the news media. How have you altered the view of PR at your organization? In a post-Enron world, the goal of the enemy is to shake public confidence in your leaders and their management ability. We now partner with critical corporate functions to help protect and grow the WellPoint brand. Our sphere of influence has grown from marketing and advertising to direct day-to-day involvement with the general counsel and corporate legal team, investor relations, the CFO's executive team, federal and state government relations executives, and the leaders of all WellPoint business units. ----- Name: Tom Mattia Company: EDS Title: VP, EDS global communications Who do you report to? CEO and chairman Mike Jordan. What is your greatest source of pride? After my family, it's the fact that an Italian kid from Newark, NJ, whose parents never graduated from high school, could work his way to the top communications job in a Fortune 100 company. How have you altered the view of PR at your organization? In the past several years, PR has earned a strong voice at the senior management table. I've always believed a good communicator has to have a clear, concise point of view. If you're dealing with your management team or the outside world, you need to have a voice - or else you're lost in the discussion. You might not always win, but you can affect the outcome of the discussion. As a senior communications executive in an organization, it's your duty to bring an opinion to the table to impact decisions. ----- Name: Rhonda Bentz Company: Visa USA Title: Director, public affairs Who do you report to? VP, issues management. What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? First, maintaining a favorable company image in the face of major litigation and industry challenges to Visa's business model and practices. Second, keeping industry negatives from impacting the company image and brand. And third, demonstrating to the media and the general public the educational and real-life value of Visa payment products. What makes your position unique? The ability to use a hybrid PR solution that combines political strategy and campaign tactics to accomplish Visa's issues management and public affairs objectives. ----- Name: Peggy Carter Company: Sara Lee Corp., branded apparel line of business Title: VP, corporate affairs Who do you report to? SVP of HR. What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? Redefining the corporate affairs function to fit an organization that had grown dramatically while corporate affairs had not; managing the company's role in a community that has absorbed the impact of several major announcements in recent years; and ending a 16-year relationship with an established, national golf program on a highly positive note. ----- Name: Mark Scott Company: HomeBanc Mortgage Corp. Title: VP, marketing/public relations Who do you report to? The CMO, with a dotted reporting line to our chairman and CEO. How have you altered the view of PR at your organization? Among many of the execs, I have been able to alter the view that media coverage just happens. I have a seat at the table with the CEO, our CMO, and many other executives from the very beginning on initiatives that they would like to see the media cover. However, this is a constant struggle as the company grows and executives change. ----- Name: Jeff Joseph Company: The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Title: VP for communications and strategic relationships Who do you report to? Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA, and the CEA communications committee, which comprises senior communications staff from our member companies. What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? The biggest challenge I consistently face is anticipating and responding to the needs of a diverse membership in an ever-changing environment. Our members have widely different needs - for example, our larger members look to us to create and implement promotional programs that advance the industry as a whole while synching with their general corporate messaging. Second, our department enjoys a volunteer leadership and executive staff who believe in PR's value. This is both a blessing and a curse. While we are rewarded with resources that let us be creative and expand our reach, we have a responsibility to continually demonstrate the value of the investment. My third main challenge comes down to how to capture, leverage, and reflect the energy, excitement, and innovation of the industry we represent. With technology, there is always the expectation of innovation, the "wow" factor, which is a huge positive when you're dealing with the media, but it can also be a handicap. Maintaining this interest over time, finding the next hot new thing, explaining highly complicated concepts, and showing the relevance of categories of products to our lives - these are all challenges we embrace every day. ----- Name: Linda Haneborg Company: Express Services Title: SVP, marketing/communications How have you altered the view of PR in your organization? From the beginning, I have worked to broaden the public's view of personnel firms, from being viewed as temp agencies to being realized as the full-service staffing firms they are. I emphasize the importance of taking a proactive stance with PR and the media, whether it be reporting good, or addressing bad news. I worked to implement the crisis management program, in which Express franchisees are counseled on how to handle any crisis in their area. What makes your position unique? My position is unique because our audiences are so vast. Express must simultaneously address and communicate with Express Personnel headquarters' employees, Express franchisees and their staff, Express Personnel temporary associates, and clients of Express Personnel. With so many different internal and external audiences, many avenues of communication must be utilized, and it is a constant balancing act. ----- Name: James Finn Company: Oracle Corp. Title: VP, worldwide corporate communications Who do you report to? Office of the chairman and CEO. What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? Reestablishing trust and credibility in the post-dot-com and post-Enron era, when skepticism toward high-profile tech companies in general was at an all-time high. Also, managing communications for a high-profile, celebrity CEO - who also happens to be the founder and largest stockholder - presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges that few PR pros ever experience. Finally, directing communications for the largest hostile takeover in the history of the software industry has been one of the most fascinating experiences of my career. What's your relationship like with the media that cover your industry? The relationship is improving. When it works best, it is a two-way street where everyone understands that they have rights in the relationship and there is professional respect for one another and accountability. We are not afraid to have tough conversations if we feel our rights have been violated. ----- Name: Lisa Davis Company: AARP Title: Director of communications Who do you report to? Executive director and CEO What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? The biggest is helping to reposition AARP from an organization known largely for its advocacy efforts to one that has a greater mission of improving the lives of the 50-plus demographic. This repositioning has required a continuity of goals, objectives, and messages from a national organization through to all of its 53 state and territory offices. Second, providing relevance to 35 million diverse members. At the end of each day, AARP is only as strong as its members. As such, all of our activities (and the communications efforts that surround them) must resonate with, and have relevance to, each of our members. And third, changing the perception of aging. From a communications standpoint, we must overcome aging stereotypes to demonstrate the face of today's AARP, which includes members from age 50 and up, many still working, with individual priorities that differ sharply. ----- Name: Chris Chiames Company: US Airways Title: SVP, corporate affairs Who do you report to? Dual report to the CEO and the EVP/general counsel. What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? Keeping our employees, customers, the media, and public officials informed on the bankruptcy process; providing communications support to help in the ratification of two rounds of labor concessions; and maintaining some balance between work and family life, since the folks waiting for me at home are important stakeholders, too. What is your greatest source of pride? In the spring of 2002, many analysts were predicting that US Airways would be liquidated by year's end. Instead, we completed the fastest successful bankruptcy reorganization of its kind, and we did it relatively smoothly. It's not supposed to be a fun process, and it wasn't. But from a communications standpoint, we had a plan and a message, and we were able to go out and do our job. And with the exception of some valuable outside help at the beginning, we did most of it in-house, which was a great source of pride for our team. ----- Name: Andrew Arulanandam Company: National Rifle Association Title: Director of public affairs Who do you report to? CEO/EVP Wayne LaPierre. What is one of the biggest challenges you've faced? The DC sniper. We received more than 4,000 requests over a three-week period. These were perilous times for all in the area, yet the media, fighting coverage fatigue, tried to politicize a deadly violent spree by baiting the NRA into the coverage. We exercised great discipline, granting only four interviews. These played a vital role in educating the public on this issue, thereby halting numerous legislative proposals in Congress and across the country. What makes your position unique? Most reporters have never been on a hunt, shot at a target, or even touched a gun. Even if the opportunity presented itself, I suspect few would want to. This is the universe of people I have to win over every day. ----- Name: Bill Margaritis Company: FedEx Corp. Title: SVP, worldwide communications and investor relations Who do you report to? EVP of FedEx Corp., who's in charge of all customer-facing functions. How have you altered the view of PR at your organization? By instituting a strategic reputation-management program that is fully aligned with business priorities. This allows us to take a highly disciplined approach to clearly focus our resources and time on the most high-value activities that influence our reputation and support our business agenda. As a result, senior management has embraced this philosophy and has supported us at every step of the way, from the chairman on down. We have not only altered the view of communications/PR, but elevated it as a vital business function across the global enterprise and harnessed it as a competitive advantage. What makes your position unique? Corporate communications is embedded in our business to an unprecedented degree - from the C-Suite to front-line operations. It is highly valued by our executive committee. We've asserted leadership by becoming the guardians of our corporate reputation. It is a point of professional pride within our department that we have institutionalized reputation as a way of life and a sustainable competitive advantage. ----- Name: Andrew Lark Company: Sun Microsystems Title: VP, global communications and marketing Who do you report to? Mark Tolliver, chief marketing and strategy officer. What is your greatest source of pride? Winning the inaugural World-Class New Zealander award in 2003. The New Zealand government gives this award to one New Zealander each year who has made a contribution to New Zealand's growth and success. How have you altered the view of PR at your organization? I think we're seen as more strategic and focused. We've added terrific strength to the team. We're delivering messaging that resonates and that is supported with deeper evidence. And we're demonstrating success through a balanced scorecard measurement methodology. Frankly, it's less important to me that we've altered the view of PR and more important that we've made progress in altering misperceptions of Sun and reinforcing perceptions that matter. ----- Name: Al Maag Company: Avnet Title: Chief communications officer How have you altered your view of PR at your organization? PR was not in the marketing mix at all before I joined the company. Today, our management team believes that PR is our strength and communications is key to our success. Everyone who is authorized to talk to the press is professionally trained to master the media. What makes your position unique? I get to work with, mentor, and educate 60 marcom pros and key management from around the world. One unique program I started is the Avnet Marketing and Communications Awards a few years ago. Our marcom personnel from around the world can submit their work in 20 categories; it is judged by three outside professionals, and the winners feel like they are winning Oscars. ----- Name: Michael Lewellen Company: Black Entertainment Television (BET) Title: VP - corporate communications What is your greatest source of pride? Compared to television networks and most of our Viacom siblings, BET's corporate communications team is small (eight people) with, unfortunately, an equally limited budget. But we deliver at comparable levels to larger PR teams in terms of visibility for our network, executives, shows, and on-air talent. It's a real tribute to the rock-solid team I work with internally and our two boutique agencies - the Mastermind Group in New York and Bobbi Marcus PR & Events in Los Angeles. How have you altered the view of PR at your organization? Corporate communications is now both an asset and a weapon for BET in managing and, in some cases, defending our reputation with viewers, cable operators, advertisers, supporters, and critics. Perhaps in the past we were more of an informational conduit. But now, we're definitely more of a strategic element in BET's overall marketing and external positioning. ----- Name: Philippe Krakowsky Company: The Interpublic Group Title: SVP, director of corporate communications Who do you report to? CEO David Bell. What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced? Directing all of the branding and communications activities involved in Young & Rubicam's successful transition to a public company after 75 years as a privately held firm. Also, helping Interpublic weather its recent difficulties and begin to articulate a turnaround. How have you altered the view of PR at your organization? I've lent a greater appreciation of what PR and corporate communications can bring to the table strategically. This is a challenge for all of us, regardless of the client, but particularly so with providers of complex professional services. ----- Name: Elizabeth Allen Company: Dell Title: VP, corporate communications Who do you report to? Tom Green, SVP and secretary, law and administration What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? The decline of the IT industry; a decrease in knowledgeable reporters and publications covering the IT industry; and the rapid globalization of business. ----- Name: Steve Winston Company: Comforce Position: Director of public relations Who do you report to? The chairman of the board. What are the three biggest challenges you've faced? Establishing a renewed presence in the media after several years of relative inactivity on the PR side before I came; educating our offices around the country as to how corporate - and their own - communicate efforts can help their business; and educating the media as to how our expertise in a number of areas can be very useful to their readers. ----- Name: Sharon Gamsin Company: MasterCard International Title: VP, global communications What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your position? In today's increasingly litigious society, MasterCard - like so many other large, visible companies - has become the target of numerous legal and regulatory challenges. I've had to manage communications for issues ranging from a Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit that resulted in what one antitrust attorney called the trial of the century, to a multibillion-dollar settlement in one of the largest class-action lawsuits in US history. By establishing MasterCard as an open, accessible, and balanced source of information about these lawsuits for the media, I believe that we have achieved fair coverage, and protected the MasterCard brand. What makes your position unique? I'm not sure it's unique, but it is challenging. MasterCard is one of the most visible, successful brands in the world. Our "Priceless" advertising campaign is viewed as an almost unprecedented success, and now appears in almost 100 markets around the world, in scores of languages. But that success has also made us a target of a seemingly endless stream of legal and regulatory challenges. Trying to break through that noise, and keep people from forgetting the enormous, positive impact that the payments industry has had on the global economy is, in many ways, a unique challenge. ----- Name: Ellen Slaby Company: Centra Software Title: Director of public relations Who do you report to? VP of worldwide marketing. What is your greatest source of pride? We helped evolve our company positioning from start-up to publicly traded company. The events leading up to our IPO were exciting and challenging. I viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our motto when dealing with the press is to always be truthful and deliver on our commitments. What makes your position unique? I have a small team and do not use an outside agency. This is unique for a fast-growing, publicly traded company. Our success can largely be attributed to our customers. We have cultivated relationships with them at all levels. They trust us and are willing to let us help them tell their stories.

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