CEO Q&As

CEOs from Dell, BMC Software, and the American Heart Association discuss their communications strategy with PRWeek

CEOs from Dell, BMC Software, and the American Heart Association discuss their communications strategy with PRWeek

Michael Dell, CEO, chairman, and founder, Dell

How has your communications/public relations function helped your company over the past couple of years?

They're playing a key role in the transformation of Dell. The team aligns with and drives to our business priorities, which is critically important. Take Emerging Countries as an example – we've rapidly expanded our internal and external communications capabilities in the places where our business is growing fastest. Likewise, we have reshaped communications to focus more on listening through IdeaStorm and other social media initiatives.

Has communications contributed to your business results?

Yes. In terms of marketing, PR is still the one of the most efficient ways to drive revenue – closely followed by online search. But communications isn't just about driving revenue. It's also about driving competitiveness and productivity. Take the conversations happening in our community forums, for example. Right there on dell.com our customers can connect to other users who might have answers to their questions. This drives loyalty and reduces costs. Or look at employee communications – you can't do what we are doing without having an engaged workforce. So we're always thinking about, and often leading with, a focus on our employees around the world.

Have you noticed a discernable change in the stature of either the professionals entering into communications or in the effectiveness of your communications team and function?

Sure. We've made key hires at every level over the past year. And we ask all our employees to drive competitiveness and productivity on a daily basis. Technology will have a big impact on the productivity and impact of communicators over the next year. Think about the 19 hours battery life you can get from our new Latitude laptops. Or, applications like Twitter which change the way we have conversations with the market.

What are your expectations of your communications teams in terms of understanding financials, competitors, Wall Street, etc.?

Any CEO needs to have high expectations in this area. The reality is that Dell plays a role in just about every area our lives touch every day – from healthcare to government to energy to transportation – so our teams look out for the social, political and economic trends that are changing the technology landscape. In the environment we live in today, it's pretty critical to understand how this all relates to our business, and how we can tell that story.

How has the digital revolution impacted how your organization maintains its brand and reputation?

Completely. We have dedicated communications teams working in social media and online communities -- and driving our customer listening initiatives. And we're putting a greater emphasis on programs that drive participation – whether it is with customers through ReGeneration.org, or with employees through our internal blogs and wikis.

Dell has positioned itself as a green leader in tech, but when it comes to style and design, it is not as well known as an innovator brand. Are there plans from a PR perspective to strengthen Dell's brand perception in this area?


You know, we've invested greatly in design and launched some stunning products – like our XPS One, Dell Studio Hybrid and the Latitude E-Family. With great products we can do great communications.

What is the greatest challenge and opportunity for Dell with Enfatico, notably for its PR function?


Enfatico is about rethinking the traditional - and siloed - agency models. With Enfatico we get much closer to our vision for integrated marketing driven by data. Our opportunity is to take our marketing competitiveness to new levels.

Bob Beauchamp, president and CEO, BMC Software



How has your communications/PR function helped your company over the past couple of years?

BMC Software is doing business in a very competitive space. We are generally acknowledged to be the leader in enterprise management software, but we compete every day with companies like HP and IBM who have tremendous marketing and branding budgets. Matching up one-to-one in these areas is not an option for us, so we invest in key areas where we believe there is the greatest benefit and then we really execute. BMC Global Communications has made BMC very visible to our customers, and their work clearly influences many customers to consider BMC and buy from us.

Has the communications team contributed to your business results?

I would certainly say that they have. Many of my sales executives consider the PR and AR support they receive to be absolutely indispensible to their success. I also hear from a lot of people – analysts like Forrester's Jean-Pierre Garbani – about the powerful contribution that our communications team makes to BMC's business success. Given that analysts and reporters are some of the very people that BMC seeks to influence, this sort of personal confirmation carries a lot of weight. If we turned our communications off, I think we'd all feel it very quickly.

Have you noticed a discernable change in the stature of either the professionals entering into communications or in the effectiveness of your communications team and function?

The effectiveness of BMC's global communications organization has significantly improved. About three years ago we brought in a new team, and today BMC's AR and PR teams make real and measurable contributions to the business. But my general impression of marketing and communications people out there is that many of them know more about the presentation of ideas than the ideas themselves. To the extent that this impression is true, it must change.

What are your expectations of your communications teams in terms of understanding financials, competitors, Wall Street, etc.?

A communications team should really understand the business, its customers, and its competitors. They should understand the broad fundamentals of business and the market. The more they demonstrate that sort of knowledge, the more credibility I place in their advice. I'm not saying that they need to be finance or IT experts, but I do believe that PR and AR are business functions with business goals, and communications professionals should be business people who specialize in communications.

How has the digital revolution impacted how your organization maintains its brand and reputation?

The digital revolution has delivered thousands of bilateral touch points for communication, association, education, and commerce. This means that a company like BMC must communicate with extraordinary consistency around the world but in a highly relevant “multi-local” way.

The other major impact is the real dialogue that has been created in the marketplace. BMC must be consistently real and relevant to our customers, partners, and other stakeholders if we want them to talk with us. These conversations have a real impact on everything from R&D to customer service to new sales opportunities. And just like in any other relationship, there is a loyalty that develops over time in these communities that delivers real business value.

Do you think the PR industry currently provides accurate measurement of its services?

Not yet. Most business leaders believe in the value of PR and what it can do. We've seen it, experienced it and we've seen compelling anecdotal evidence. But for a CEO, anecdotal evidence is not enough, and every dollar spent has the expectation of business ROI attached to it. For the communications profession, identifying and correlating the right communications, marketing, and business metrics should be job number one. Getting that right is the biggest thing your profession can do for its own credibility and success.

Cass Wheeler, CEO, American Heart Association



How has the PR function helped the American Heart Association over the past 10 years?

It has been invaluable in us moving forward towards the achievement of our strategic goals. It has helped us compete for mindshare. Nonprofits have to be acutely aware that they're not just competing against getting attention versus other nonprofits. People are bombarded with 5,000 ads a day, they get a lot of data, and don't always get a lot of meaningful information. We're dealing with a highly-competitive, cluttered environment to get our message out. We actually tried to look at the best practices within the for-profit, as well as the nonprofit sector. We did some consumer research in 2002-2003, and it helped us identify the need to increase the relevance with our customers, and have more emotional and personal messages that would resonate with our customers. We had high name and brand recognition. They felt we did a really good job, but they weren't exactly sure what we did, and how it was impacting their lives. That led us on an initiative called internally as the “Passion Project.” We went from the tagline: “Fighting Heart Disease and Stroke”, which the consumer research had indicated had gotten a little stale, to “Learn and Live.” We then coupled that with a national paid advertising campaign, which we had never done before. We tightly integrated our national public relations and communications efforts with that national advertising campaign. We came up with new messaging, and lots of calls to action, online quizzes, and risk assessment. We've sought to capitalize on our science credibility but balance that substance with the style that resonates with our target audience. We've gotten creative in how we've gotten our messages out.

How does PR help reach your audiences?

It is very important. We will evaluate our effectiveness by how many people come in, sign up, and take a risk assessment. We do pre- and post-surveys. Before the launch of Go Red for Women, 34% of the women recognized heart disease as their greatest health threat. Just three years later, 55% recognized it. We know have over 1 million women who signed up online. Certainly, our media relations, communications, and advertising drive them to that site to register. We try to put certain metrics in place, so we know people are actually taking action.

Can you name some facets of communication that have been successful in helping you achieve your goals?

Nontraditional alliances: We have engaged groups, such as the Red Hat Society and sororities. We have formed partnerships with the Word Network, NBC, and Parade magazine. Guerilla marketing: We've encouraged news anchors to wear the red dress. Franchising: We provide tools for our grassroots volunteers and staff to help them replicate and build our national communications efforts at the local level. Also, [we rely on] the traditional PR efforts of celebrity spokespersons, survivors, news events, and press conferences.

Is the PR industry has caught up to the advertising industry in terms of metrics?

I do. It's like getting a million people to register for our Go Red campaign. There was very little paid advertising; that was pretty much all public relations. We're big on measurement. I think PR has caught up a lot in that regard.

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