Going public transforms department as it's charged with conveying transition internally and externally
When MasterCard held its IPO on May 25 last year, it immediately thrust the company's communications department into a much more significant role.
"The role of communications has been heightened since going public, compared with the role it played before," says Harvey Greisman, group executive of worldwide communications for MasterCard, who joined the company in January 2006. "It's certainly a much more significant part of the overall management of the company. I was told that in my first few weeks I had more meetings with the CEO than several of my predecessors combined."
Before joining MasterCard, Greisman was told the communications function was not highly valued at MasterCard, and management confirmed as much. "That was my first question in my interviews and especially with the CEO," Greisman says. "But management said it wanted to change that and recognized it has to be an integral part of the management of the company."
Before going public, external communications was driven primarily by advertising and marketing. But in leading up to the IPO, it became evident that was about to change.
Aside from the usual media outreach and executive interviews that come with an IPO, the department was assigned to externally reposition the brand, which changed its name to MasterCard Worldwide, and get the employee base to understand the difference between the association-type company they'd belonged to and the public company it was becoming. "Our [internal] aim was to educate them so that on listing day they understood what exactly would be happening on the stock exchange floor," Greisman says.
Those challenges got Greisman excited.
"Taking a 40-year-old company with a recognized worldwide brand name public and repositioning it externally and helping transform the culture internally really appealed to me," he says. "It was a PR guy's dream."
Greisman knew the IPO would generate stories about MasterCard and the industry, so he wanted the communications team to focus on educating external influencers. But he knew it had to look beyond financial and mainstream media, industry analysts, and economists, and extend that universe to bloggers, think tanks, and academics - the people he feels are influencing what the mainstream and financial media write about.
So in conjunction with media briefings, the communications department also arranged for management executives to visit these newly found influencers.
"It's inviting them in and going out to them and being very interactive," Greisman says. "It's all about starting and maintaining the conversation with these influencers and that is a big job. It has to be done smartly because you only have a defined amount of money and resources [staff and agency support]."
MasterCard's lead agency is Weber Shandwick Worldwide, but it also works with Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Alan Taylor Communications, Financial Dynamics, and Porter Novelli.
Greisman says his team is also working on "sensitizing" MasterCard's management and staff to the importance of using new media, such as podcasting and blogging.
Lawrence Flanagan, CMO of worldwide marketing and communications at MasterCard, says the communications function has not only been transformed, but it's also now taking the lead on major initiatives, such as transforming perceptions of the company.
"And not just externally," he says. "They're transforming the culture internally and getting those messages to external and internal stakeholders, developing strategic messages, and making sure that we're really starting to move the needle on how we're perceived."
Greisman adds that one major misperception MasterCard had to clarify was what exactly it does.
"We do not issue the credit cards or set interest rates," he explains. "Banks and financial institutions do that. We provide a franchising service for our customers. We had to explain the business model to the outside world, what our mission is, and help people understand the role we play."
Greisman says this is a classic function of a corporate communications team. "We're enumerating our various constituencies and stakeholders and ensuring they have a balance of information we generate to all of them because they're all interconnected," he says. "Now, [we're] becoming more sophisticated in dealing with external publics and... determining how we need to communicate and balance our communications to them."
But as the responsibility grows, Flanagan doesn't necessarily see the size of the group doing so. He says MasterCard will focus more on integrating the communications department as opposed to growing it.
"We have a good-sized global function here; we have people on the ground and a pretty well-integrated agency network," Flanagan adds. "What we've been focusing on is the quality of the integration and having the whole team really participate as one worldwide communications team supporting the same messaging."
At a Glance
Revenues and Latest Earnings:
Year-end 2005 $3bn, 2006 Q3 net revenues $902m, net income $193m
Visa, American Express
Key Trade Titles:
American Banker, CardLine
Lawrence Flanagan, CMO, worldwide marketing and communications
Harvey Greisman, group executive, worldwide communications, MasterCard Worldwide
Marketing Services Agencies:
PR agencies: Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Alan Taylor Communications, Financial Dynamics, and Porter Novelli
Ad agency: McCann Worldgroup