GE's CCO and CMO dish on their secrets to successful integration

The two division heads shared with an audience how they navigate the sometimes thorny relationship between comms and marketing and nurture a culture of teamwork.

L-R: Barrett, Boff, Latour
L-R: Barrett, Boff, Latour

NEW YORK: GE’s CMO Linda Boff and CCO Deirdre Latour divulged their secrets to successful integration within the ultra-conglomerate at the 2016 PRWeek Conference in New York on Thursday.

Part of Boff and Latour’s success stems from their long-standing relationship as friends and colleagues over the course of a decade, having served under the leadership of GE’s vice chair Beth Comstock, they explained.

Communication between the division heads is key to the health of the relationship, as is what they call "constructive conflict," which helps ensure a free exchange of ideas. Critical, too, are everyday chores such as operating mechanisms and scheduling team meetings to make sure their people are aligned, they said.

Each division has a clearly defined area of expertise, and overcoming the urge to "always have an answer" is necessary to finding the correct solution to a problem, Latour said.

"Sometimes it’s just about learning when to listen," Boff added. "What was it Clinton said to Trump during the debate? It’s the same thing with Deirdre: she can have my two minutes."

When The Boston Globe unexpectedly broke the news that GE would be moving its headquarters to Boston from Fairfield, Connecticut a day before the company wanted to unveil its plans, Latour and her team had to execute their strategy immediately.

At the time, CEO Jeffrey Immelt was in the middle of a physical.

"It was the longest physical in the history of a physical -- I don’t know if it was some weird presidential physical or something," Latour remembered. "I got him out and told him, ‘We have to go now. It’s not fair to the employees, all the stakeholders.’"

When asked what advice they would give when it comes to experimenting with new platforms such as SnapChat, Boff said that experimenting as communicators or marketers is who GE is as a company.

"We think of being first as a competitive advantage," she said. "You don’t get learnings if you’re not on the playing field. We’ve made it part of our strategy to experiment. The risk of not being on platforms is much higher."

Asked if leadership plays a role in integrating properly, Latour said, "It’s everything. We’re not Coca-Cola, so from a spend perspective, we shout louder than we spend. The great thing is having a CEO that says to me: ‘Don’t listen to HR too much, never listen to legal, and only listen to me.’" 

GE’s comms and marketing teams are moving to 285 Madison from 30 Rock in New York, giving them the opportunity to build a space from the ground-up.

"We empowered our teams entirely," Boff said. "They came up with recommendations on how to sit, driving culture, and to that end, our teams will be scrambled."

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