Cbeyond heightens its community role

Company's volunteer and networking initiative benefits both employees and the community.

VOIP technology and community activism may not always go hand-in-hand. But for alternative telephone and data-service provider Cbeyond, they're equal parts of the company culture.

Based in Atlanta, Cbeyond provides managed VoIP-based communications applications for 33,000 small businesses throughout the US. But connecting with customers beyond their T-1 lines has been a priority for the 8-year-old company from its very beginning, says Michelle Tank, Cbeyond's director of public relations.

Cbeyond Recently took that commitment to the next level. Assisted by AOR the Arketi Group, last year the company launched Cbeyond Community Connections, its first formal community relations, volunteerism, and networking program.

Community Connections "really came as a passion and belief from [CEO
Jim Geiger] that it was important to be actively involved in the communities we live in," says Tank, who spearheaded the company's initiative.

The program has two primary principles, Tank says: To engage Cbeyond's 1,100-plus employees in community service and to encourage them to participate in local networking opportunities.

Intended to positively impact both their own lives and the lives of those around them, Cbeyond staff members participate in six annual half-day charitable projects, Tank says. This year, community events have ranged from beach clean-ups in San Diego to the "adoption" of 30 Big Brothers, Big Sisters children in Dallas.

To coordinate the projects, the company partners with Atlanta-based Hands On Network, a national organization that works with nonprofit groups throughout the country to promote and organize community engagement efforts.

Cbeyond also allows every employee up to eight hours of annual paid time-off to volunteer with a charitable organization of his or her choice, Tank says. Rather than feeling forced to participate, she notes, staff members have embraced the opportunity to take part in community service activities.

"A lot of times, the case was people just did not know how to get involved," Tank says. "Once we expose our employees to service work ... there's this huge sense of pride."
The program complements Cbeyond's business strategy, as well.

Getting employees out in the community "helps people understand that we're a good company; we're good people to work with," Tank explains.

In addition to endorsing community volunteerism, the program encourages Cbeyond employees to broaden their definition of "network" beyond the IT realm.

Employees with the company for more than 90 days are expected to join local business organizations, and to attend (and report back on) at least one activity each month.

This involvement allows Cbeyond employees to "really get to know [a community's] companies and people," Tank says, leading them to develop valuable relationships and glean meaningful business insights.

As an added bonus, the benefits of Community Connections are measurable.

"People are always looking for ROI," Tank says. "We can clearly measure the people participating in networking, those actively involved on boards, [and] the amount of leads [and press] we get."

Some departments have also found the program to be an asset from a team-building standpoint, Tank says. And from a moral standpoint, too: On May 22, 2007, President Bush honored Cbeyond with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

Now that Community Connections has an official brand identity and messaging, Tank says, the program and company are "really unified." A recently launched intranet site and e-newsletter allow employees to share their community service stories - and tell colleagues how to become more involved.

The Arketi Group is working to tell the Community Connections story to the media, investors, and other external audiences, adds agency consultant Brian Boudreaux.

Most noticeable, perhaps, have been employees' new T-shirts: As of this year, all Cbeyond staffers have branded Community Connections shirts "to wear when out planting a community garden or repainting a school," Boudreaux says.

The agency also crafted educational collateral for staff-recruitment purposes.

"More and more, we're seeing an emphasis on corporate social responsibility," Boudreaux says. "People love ... that they can work for a company that gives back."


At a glance

Company: Cbeyond

Chairman and CEO: James Geiger

Headquarters: Atlanta

Revenues and latest earnings: Total '06 revenue, $214m; Q3 '07 revenue, $72.4m, up 31.9% over Q3 last year

Competitors: ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers) and integrated communications providers (Covad Communications Group, XO Communications, NuVox Communications, Eschelon Telecom, etc.)

Key trade titles: VON Magazine, Telecommunications, Business Communications Review

Marketing team: CMO, Brooks Robinson; VP of marketing, Mary Ford; Director of marcomms, Styne Solberg; Director of PR and community affairs, Michelle Tank

Marketing services agencies: PR: Arketi Group, Atlanta; Advertising: Denmark, Atlanta; Web PixelMedia, Portsmouth, NH

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