I don't enjoy lunch meetings, as this column's readers will know. But I made an exception to my flimsy rule to meet with Tom Buckmaster, VP of corporate communications at Honeywell, and his colleague Michael Holland, Honeywell's director of hometown solutions, at New York's Tabla restaurant.Though I had met Buckmaster before, I hadn't had the opportunity to really have the kind of discussion that leaves you with more ideas than you had before you arrived. It is a fact of life for a PR journalist that many of the best stories will forever go untold. Inside stories of managing crises, management egos, and agency shenanigans may be shared over a meal, but will not always grace our pages.
When you meet someone like Buckmaster and get a chance to ask questions, you are not always thinking about what would look great on the cover of the magazine, but rather what can you discover about the nature of top corporate communications work that will help you tell the stories of all companies better.
There was plenty of that at lunch that day, in a discussion that ranged from why companies may be reticent to share case studies in employee communications, the ups and downs of agency relations, and the entrepreneurial spirit of some emerging markets.
But in the midst of this high-concept chit chat (during which I floated my book idea by him. I don't think he liked it, but I'm still fine-tuning the details), the conversation turned to Honeywell's Relief Fund, which Holland is primarily charged with managing.
The Fund is set up to respond to disasters that impact Honeywell employees around the world, including, but not limited, to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Rita. Honeywell aims to be on the scene and helping its employees before the local government or non-profit organizations even get started. The effort is literally managed out of communications, with Holland and others personally moving into the scenes of disaster to assess the impact on employees and organize assistance.
This is one of those programs that makes sense from every angle - the kind of meaningful engagement above and beyond the expectations that people have of their employers, when an act-of-god event comes out of nowhere.
Companies are generally happy to talk about these kinds of initiatives because they so clearly demonstrate unambiguously positive behavior. And they are great stories. But getting back to my earlier point, companies are often reticent to share the less public-spirited, more policy-driven side of employee communications.
Imparting details of new healthcare plans, evaluation procedures, or changes to management structure may not be the most riveting aspect of communications, but its successful execution is critical. Part of the communications problem is that when it works it's often seamless, at least to the outside.
But larger, more public efforts such as Honeywell's Relief Fund are still important stories because they are an opportunity for corporations to publicly demonstrate the values of the company. Given Buckmaster's and Holland's passion for the topic, the commitment appears to part of Honeywell's DNA.