CORPORATE CASE STUDY: Diebold keeps its comms units well connected

While most companies tout convergence of communications, Diebold actually lives it, taking a holistic approach. And it works because everyone embraces the idea, from the top down.

While most companies tout convergence of communications, Diebold actually lives it, taking a holistic approach. And it works because everyone embraces the idea, from the top down.

While many companies may brag about how integrated their communications departments are, very few go beyond talk. Diebold is one of those rare exceptions that not only walks the talk, it's been walking the road less traveled for the past 12 years. "It's rarely a true statement when a company says its communications team reflects communications convergence," says Chas Withers, senior MD at Dix & Eaton, Diebold's AOR. "At most companies, it's intuitive to say you have communications convergence. But you still find silos, fiefdoms, political infighting, turf wars, and very little in the way of cross-pollination of information." The man behind this communications rarity is Don Eagon, VP of global communications and IR. Eagon joined the North Canton, OH company in 1990, and had his integrated communications structure in place within two years. "There are a couple of ways to go as a corporate communications team, and it depends on the structure," says Eagon. "You can converge all the communications under one roof, or you can silo them. And not that [the latter] is bad, but when your various communications functions are in silos, it takes a stronger effort to make sure those [functions] are talking to each other. In a fully converged group, you talk to each other all the time. It's easier to meet your strategies and goals." Eagon considers his team "the hub of the corporation," a global company with more than 13,000 employees who design, build, market, and sell "self-service devices," including ATMs, security equipment, and voting equipment. The overall communications team includes IR, media relations, internal communications, analyst relations, advertising, and other communications functions. And while each member of the 19-person team has their own responsibilities, it's not rare to find someone in media relations helping with an internal communications project, or someone from the IR team helping with analyst relations. "It's a total and complete global communications program," asserts John Kristoff, director of global communications and IR. "We don't just look at an ad campaign or a PR project. We look at it holistically. Nothing gets left out. We get different perspectives. We could see something as an IR campaign, and an internal communications person could say, 'Wait, many of our employees are shareholders. We need to do something internally as well.'" Changing the mindset But it's a concept that's tough for many people to wrap their heads around. And for them, well, that's what other companies' PR departments are for. "People had to change their mindset," says Eagon, who arrived at Diebold to find its corporate communications infrastructure in shambles, with facets of the department scattered and isolated. "The staff had its own little world, and what I presented was an unbelievable challenge. Some people just rejected it, and they left. There were some really good people who didn't like the teaming idea." For manager of media relations Tiffini Bloniarz, it was culture shock when she arrived eight years ago, particularly having people from different communications disciplines sitting together. The department sits wide open, much like a newsroom, making collaboration and consistency more than mantras, but a way of life. "This way, it's so much easier to maintain a consistent message," says Bloniarz. "We have to make sure we are telling our different audiences the same thing. So whether it's a product launch or something for IR, we are always bouncing ideas off each other." "Everyone's in one area, and while there are teams, there's a table in the center where they can quickly meet to discuss something," explains Eagon. "I've seen companies where PR is one department and IR is another. And that can be a problem, because one part of the communications team doesn't know what the other parts are doing. That's the beauty of integration. How you word and express your message will vary with each audience. But the underlying theme has to be the same." What separates those who talk about convergence and those who live it is the fine line between responsibility and accountability. Employees want responsibility, says Kristoff, but accountability is another thing. In an integrated setting, everyone is held accountable. "The team members really must buy into this for it to work," says Kristoff. "It's hard the first time you are given that kind of accountability. There are people who are not managers, but have management responsibilities. In a team-based environment, more people are responsible for the development of budgets. When we interview people, the whole team is involved. And if someone isn't pulling their weight, it's everyone's responsibility to pull that person aside. It doesn't work for everyone, but we get so much more diversity of thought." Commitment from above Buy-in from all team members is important, but buy-in from the top is vital. Eagon says [former CEO and chairman] Bob Mahoney wanted to be able to pick up the phone and ask about a press release or a letter to employees without having to call different teams. "I could never have been successful, nor could my staff have been, without that strength or support at the top. They really have to support this thing for it to work." The company recently flew 200 executives and managers to Orlando, FL to unveil Diebold's new slogan, "We Won't Rest," which Withers says speaks to the company's service, technology development, and security business. "The communications staff just did a phenomenal job," adds Withers. "The PR, internal communications, IR program, branding, and advertising were all built around this new identity. And they couldn't have pulled it off had it been done piecemeal." "We had six weeks to put everything together," recalls Eagon. "We had a lot of people doing tasks outside their job responsibilities. It would've been very hard to do if the communications team was siloed. In terms of cost and process efficiency, you can't beat it." Not only will integrated communications not work unless all members buy into it, says Kristoff, the communications they develop won't succeed unless they reach all stakeholders. "There's no way you can have a solid brand if everyone isn't living it," adds Kristoff. "You can have great ads or great articles, but when employees show up in front of customers and don't embody what you are saying, it all falls apart. They have to live it. They have to carry the brand. They are the main contact, and communications supports and reinforces that. So with only two internal communications people on staff, everyone got involved to make sure internal communications was a vital part of the new branding program." But Eagon admits that even if other companies wanted to embrace this model, not everyone could, simply because of the size of their communications teams. With 19 people, it's manageable. But at a company like General Motors, which has nearly 500 communications staffers worldwide, or FedEx, with 140, it would be a daunting task. Yet despite all the lingo about "convergence," "integration" and "silos," making this work is more about a state of mind than the location and arrangement of desks. "True convergence has to do with teamwork," asserts Eagon. "You need top-notch people who enjoy working as a team. They won't lose their individuality. But they have to enjoy close working relationships to get that singular message. You want to see people go through and learn all the disciplines. The whole idea is that there is never any slack. There's always someone who can jump in and help. You have people who are thinking, 'Is this good for Wall Street?' and, 'Is this good for employees?' at the same time." ----- PR contacts VP of global communications and investor relations Don Eagon Investor Relations Director John Kristoff Michelle Griggy Media Relations (PR), corporate and industry PR Team leader Tiffini Bloniarz Joe Richardson Internal Communications Team leader Mike Jacobsen Anita Wright Advertising/Marketing Communications Team leader Mark Rechner John Williams, Jennifer Bako Bob Ball Strategic Design & Brand Integrity Team leader Paul Magee Dave Barker, Don Nelson Documentation Services Team leader Debbie Arney Brian Smith, Vickie Liggett Jenny Brown

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