Armed with extensive media experience, Oracle's Bob Wynne aims not only to dispel preconceived notions about his company, but also to demonstrate the value of the PR profession.
Few people envy Bob Wynne right now. As Oracle's new VP of corporate communications, many see his task as thankless, because of preconceived notions of the company's reputation, right or wrong, as aggressive and arrogant.
"We have a long way to go at Oracle toward improving and maturing our communications," says Wynne. "I want to put more time into that. I really want to focus on professional development. More important, I want to demonstrate to the team that works for me the value they bring every day."
But Oracle is a software giant and, as the recent acquisitions of PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems have proved, a force to contend with. It's Wynne's job to help the market and public see the company for what it is, and not just for its colorful CEO, Larry Ellison, or aggressive tactics during the PeopleSoft acquisition.
During one of its earlier communications administrations, Oracle seemed to enjoy sparring with the press. But that's an approach Wynne hopes to change. He wants to make sure communications is more closely aligned with the company's business goals, and that means supplying the media - whether print publications or blogs - with stories that benefit Oracle's bottom line.
It's a daunting task for which many deem Wynne to be the perfect person.
"Bob's a good, solid professional who brings great energy," says Chevron's external relations manager Russ Yarrow, who first met Wynne at regional newspaper chain Alameda Newspaper Group (ANG).
"[Oracle] is a high-energy company and Bob can hold his own there," adds Yarrow. "He has good intuition and instincts. And with Oracle focusing so much on the media, his experience makes him a great fit."
Wynne, 52, attended the University of Washington to study journalism, left with a degree in communications, and wound up at the Tri-City Herald in eastern Washington. He put in his time covering the typical beats: cops, courts, city hall, and schools.
A job offer with ANG, which includes the Oakland Tribune, brought Wynne to the Bay Area. Yarrow eventually left for the communications team at Bank of America (BoA) and persuaded Wynne, after 15 years in journalism, to join him.
Wynne opted to switch to PR because Dick Rosenberg, then-BoA president, was interested in tracking how the bank was perceived - both stories about and issues that could impact the bank.
"It was interesting to help them think about what they were doing and how it would be perceived," says Wynne. "It was also interesting to help them focus on their reputation and what could be done to guard that, to protect and build that reputation equity. It taught me that if the pieces being written are accurate, but you don't like the stories, then something is wrong with what you are doing."
Wynne then moved into the agency world, first with what was then called GCI Kamer Singer (GCI Group's San Francisco office) to work on the Visa International business, and he then followed Sam Singer when he left GCI to open Singer Associates.
"Bob Wynne possesses one of the great personalities of all time," says Singer. "He's funny, charming, and has one of the best attitudes of anybody in the business. He's successful at whatever he does. And he possesses three fundamental skills: he's a former newsman, he has a financial background, and he's an excellent communicator."
After Singer, Wynne did a brief stint as deputy GM in Edelman's San Francisco office before joining Oracle as VP of strategic media relations.
Wynne says that while he initially faced a steep learning curve, he quickly found that he was a good fit for Oracle's culture, one that demands flexibility to deal with fast-changing circumstances.
In such an environment, Wynne says his 15 years in journalism still pay off.
"Newsroom experience prepares you for having to adjust on the fly," he says. "And that's very valuable here. Everything can change [overnight]. The BlackBerry never stops going off."
Wynne joined just as Oracle's hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft grew even more heated. Getting up to speed quickly was one of the biggest challenges of his career, says Wynne, particularly because the tech industry is one of the most complex. And while he did not come from a tech background, he says the attraction was being able to work for one of the few companies where the visionary founder (Ellison) is still involved on a daily basis.
Accurate and clear communications has been at the heart of every position Wynne has held, including his time as a journalist. But he says it has never been more important than it is now at Oracle.
Wynne credits his first city editor, Ken Robertson, for teaching him as much about communicating as anyone else.
"He taught me that from a single, clear, declarative sentence, you should be able to understand what you are trying to tell someone and what you are trying to accomplish," recalls Wynne.
At Oracle, there are two things Wynne wants to accomplish: create an environment that lets his team do its job better and be able to communicate in a way that helps drive sales.
Wynne is particularly focused on being able to better measure PR's value so that others can see what it brings and make sure PR can withstand scrutiny.
"When the company's president asks about what value I bring, it's not like going to sales and being able to provide figures," explains Wynne. "It's harder for PR to demonstrate value. And this is a company with a very large personality. People have very strong opinions of this company. So I need to make sure that more and more customers understand Oracle's mission."
Oracle, VP of strategic media relations/VP of corporate communications
Edelman, EVP/deputy GM, San Francisco
Singer Associates, EVP
GCI Kamer Singer, SVP/EVP
Bank of America, various posts from senior director to VP to SVP of PR
Alameda Newspaper Group, editor
Tri-City Herald, reporter/editor