When a holding company integrates its brand with subsidiaries, creating a unified message can be a challenging. This is the issue Cardinal Health faced when it decided to fuse its disparate companies into the initiative "One Cardinal Health."
As company integrates brand across businesses, PR function gains a more strategic positioning
"That doesn't mean that it's absolutely centralized, but... we've looked for opportunities where it made sense to move to a shared services model," says Shelley Bird, Cardinal Health's EVP of global communications.
Cardinal Health is a global provider of pharmaceuticals and healthcare products and services ranging from hospital masks and gloves to IV pumps and automated medication-dispensing systems.
When Bird joined the $80 billion Fortune 19 company a year ago, the communications function was spread over several areas and business units. She persuaded the newly appointed CEO, Kerry Clark, to develop a more integrated approach, and since then, the global communications team - with about 120 members - has worked to give the company more unified messaging.
The reasons for the integration were simple: The company wanted to tell its story with one voice and put its resources behind one message. The change delivers communications more strategically and gives the function added value within the company.
Bird reports directly to Clark, ensuring that top management is abreast of communications issues. "It's very well-placed from a strategic perspective - much more so than it was historically," she notes.
While streamlining the function can often be taken as code for layoffs, Bird says the move was budget-neutral.
"To be honest, we hadn't invested significantly in the communications function for a good long time," she explains.
Adding to the challenge was the rate that the company grew. Over 30 years, Cardinal Health acquired hundreds of companies in various parts of the country with varying cultures and disciplines around brand management. "There is a lot of foundational work to do, as well, to pull it together," Bird adds.
She likened Cardinal Health's new communications approach to the agency model. There are business partners, who Bird says are akin to account directors, and many of the customers' points of contact haven't changed. But the business pitch has become more comprehensive.
"We're not just going to a customer and selling one product," says Tara Schumacher, media relations manager. "We're going to them as One Cardinal Health, able to talk about all of our products and services."
As part of this model, communications are located as close to the business unit as possible, Bird says. Cardinal Health's corporate PR firm is Fleishman-Hillard, but it also has a network of smaller agencies it occasionally utilizes. She says the change gives Fleishman broader exposure to the company and allows it to be better embedded in the way the company operates. "But largely we're self-sufficient," Bird notes.
Jim Mazzola, VP of corporate communications, says the move has increased the company's visibility.
"We have better resources deployed deeper in the organization than we've ever had before," Mazzola says. For instance, it can reassign communications professionals to various business units as they are needed.
One of Cardinal Health's main PR initiatives is promoting healthcare safety and productivity, Mazzola notes. To get that message out, the company is stepping up media relations, especially in targeting the business and horizontal media about Clark and his commitment to these ideas.
"It's a great challenge for a PR professional in that it's a company that's grown very quickly over a relatively short period of time and, frankly, hadn't dedicated a lot of resources to media relations," Mazzola says. "So we've become a very large company, and we've finally started dedicating more resources [to] really [be] able to tell this story."
Another motivation was to give employees more room for growth, Bird says. "We didn't do a very good job of moving people around the company in the previous structure," which was more fragmented, she explains.
The new organization offers a clearer path for career development and ways staff can build their skills for more challenging jobs.
Bird says the new structure treats PR more strategically, and both are better integrated into the businesses and staff function.
"I think there has been a culture change in terms of how communications is viewed," she says, "not just within the organizational structure, but really as a business tool, as leadership competency."
AT A GLANCE
President and CEO:
R. Kerry Clark
Revenues and latest earnings:
$80 billion for fiscal year 2006, with operating earnings of $1.8 billion
Key Trade Titles:
Healthcare Executive, Modern Healthcare, Healthcare Informatics, Healthcare Purchasing News, Drug Topics
Shelley Bird, EVP, global comms
Jim Mazzola, VP, corporate comms
Amy White, VP, internal comms
Katie Ballay, VP, specialized services
Gary Dowdy, VP, Internet marketing
Marketing Services Agencies:
Marketing/advertising: ADK, Infinia Group