Mattia well-suited to tackle Coke's challenges

In his second week as SVP and director of worldwide public affairs and communications of The Coca-Cola Co., Tom Mattia made his first presentation to the board of directors in Atlanta in what he thought was a "nice blue suit." But when he got back home to change for a flight, he noticed he was wearing black pants with his blue blazer.

In his second week as SVP and director of worldwide public affairs and communications of The Coca-Cola Co., Tom Mattia made his first presentation to the board of directors in Atlanta in what he thought was a "nice blue suit." But when he got back home to change for a flight, he noticed he was wearing black pants with his blue blazer.

Mattia says the situation sums up the fast, sometimes hectic pace he's faced since assuming his new position back in February.

"I guess that's a little emblematic of always [being] on the run," Mattia says. "But at the end of the day, the presentation went well. Had I known about it, I would have been worried, but I didn't discover it until it was too late."

Mattia says he's had to learn how to manage on the move. His Blackberry is a constant companion, as he makes and receives calls at all hours of the day and night.

"There's a need to parse things out and use my downtime more effectively," he explains. "Coaching and counseling is a big part of the job, so instead of doing it as a separate thing, I have to build it into the workflow when I'm traveling. So if there are issues I need to address, I just take them as part of the flow of work, as opposed to setting up a specific time for it. It's really a management-while-moving piece and I'm learning it."

"I think he hit the ground running really hard," says Harold Burson, chairman of Burson-Marsteller, whose agency is working on a few projects with Mattia. "I've never seen a guy thrown into as many situations as he has in the past three months or so. But he's a very quick study."

Those situations include college campus bans of Coke and water stewardship issues in Columbia and India.

"We've made progress in these areas," Mattia says. "We're back on the University of Michigan campus and the national student union in the UK. The student senate at UCLA voted to keep us on campus. Once people start hearing the background around the issues and listen to our discussion, it makes for a radically different opportunity."

Mattia says one of his goals is to get his staff to "suit up to take the field every day, go out there, and state your case." This includes being more active on the Internet, following what people are saying about Coke on blogs, and, most importantly, being more proactive with the media.

"It's taking the time to visit, sit down, and establish a working relationship between our folks and the media who cover us," Mattia explains. "It's also being more aggressive and challenging people on the other side of the issue in the marketplace when we believe they must be challenged.

"I've been doing this for 35 years," he continues. "At its heart, it's still a relationship business. If you have decent relationship with the media who cover you, you will always, at the very least, get an opportunity to make your case. If you don't, that's really where enterprises run into problems."

Mattia says having some issues waiting for him to tackle helped speed up the integration.

"It's good there were some issues on the table where both my government affairs and communications skill sets came into play," he says. "The size and scope of the operation was surprising, but I've also found Coca-Cola to be a very welcoming culture."

Howard Paster, EVP of PR/public affairs at WPP Group, has known Mattia for 13 years and has worked with him on numerous occasions. Paster says what Mattia brings to the table is the ability to effectively work in a number of disciplines.
 
"He's a PR guy that can do a financial issue today and marketing issue tomorrow," Paster says. "He'll question assumptions and not assume that the old way is the only way. And he'll respect the brand, which is important for a brand with the value of Coke."

2006-present
Coca-Cola, SVP, director of worldwide public affairs and communications, The Coca-Cola Co.

2000-2006
EDS, VP of global comms

1995-2000
Ford Motor Co., variety of executive posts, including head of intl. public affairs

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