OP-ED: Dell's approach to comms provides valuable lesson

In the course of my 20-year PR career, I have had the privilege of working with many of the leading companies in the world.

In the course of my 20-year PR career, I have had the privilege of working with many of the leading companies in the world.

I've learned from every client, large and small, in every corner of the globe. Over the past four years, GCI has served as the agency of record for Dell, named America's Most Admired Company this year by Fortune. Working intimately with Dell's communications pros has been personally rewarding, but more importantly, our entire agency has benefited from the discipline, focus, and talent these individuals display every day.

I'm often asked what specifically makes Dell successful. The company's business success is obvious, but it is worthwhile to pause and reflect on what it takes to make Dell's communications efforts as uniformly excellent as they are. Normally, consultants like me provide clients advice and counsel, but I'd like to share some thoughts on what this client has taught us.

Focus. Dell begins each year with a clear definition of priorities. Once agreed upon, Dell's staff applies an intense focus on executing and achieving objectives. Time isn't wasted on ideas or efforts that deviate from Dell's overall strategies. As a firm, this means our counsel and creative ideas must be very relevant.

Accountability. Dell has a culture of accountability that empowers employees to succeed and ensures that fixes can be made when necessary. Dell employees have clear ownership of their projects and responsibilities, with corresponding metrics to constantly measure success. This culture of measurement extends to Dell's partners and suppliers.

Efficiency. At a company that pioneered ultra-efficient supply-chain management and manufacturing, Dell's people also exhibit this quality. All resources - time, money, staff, and equipment - are managed tightly in order to produce maximum value. Dell's partners on every level need to learn to be as efficient as it is. In the four years that GCI has worked with Dell, we have applied similar strategies and principles in order to function at a higher level.

Directness. Dell feels the most efficient path to its customers is through a direct relationship, with no intermediaries to add confusion or cost. This model is the foundation of Dell's business and its success. The same goes for Dell's working relationships among people. Direct, consistent feedback and candor ensure that lines of communication are always open, with no surprises. From day-to-day conversations to formal report cards and stewardship reviews, we know where we stand with Dell.

Speed and agility. Once Dell decides on an initiative, it acts quickly. From business decisions, such as entering a new product category, to communications decisions like granting a reporter an executive interview, resources are marshaled quickly and effectively. But for such a large organization, Dell is also uniquely able to switch directions and adjust to changing circumstances. As a global, diversified information-technology supplier and partner, Dell must anticipate and swiftly react to business and political conditions worldwide.

Connection to the business. One of the guiding principles of successful PR is relevance to overall business goals. Media impressions mean little unless metrics such as increased sales, profitability, or market share can be linked to PR efforts. Dell lives this notion. All communications activities are based on strategic initiatives, and all efforts are tied specifically to business results.

Passion. Dell employees are passionate about the company, its success, and their craft. Michael Dell says he learns something new every day. There is a pride that comes with working at Dell and a pride that comes in partnering with Dell. Many of GCI's employees have moved to Texas from other areas of the country to be a part of our Dell business.

Upon reflection, the qualities I've described might seem like the basics required in any business setting, communications effort, or client engagement. This is more or less true. But what sets Dell apart is laser-like, almost maniacal consistency in each of these areas. Dell's communications professionals have a clear understanding of expectations, objectives, and the path to consistent success. This is a reflection of Dell's overall approach, reinforced by the company's leaders in all segments of the business. It is a strategy that has fueled Dell's accomplishments and one that we and other companies can continue to learn from.

  • Jeff Hunt is president and CEO of GCI Read-Poland.

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