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-Amy Binder, CEO, RF|Binder
-Alberto Canal, VP of corporate communications, Verizon
-Cynara Charles-Pierre, director of communications, JetBlue
-Krista Conte, director of corporate relations, Allstate
-Joanne Hvala, associate dean, marketing and external relations, NYU Stern School of Business
-Bob Knott, senior MD, FTI Consulting
-Alex Stanton, CEO, Stanton Public Relations & Marketing
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How can communications help a company gain or maintain top status in its sector?
Cynara Charles-Pierre (JetBlue): Our stakeholders include customers, shareholders, and, perhaps most importantly, our crewmembers – and we use that term as opposed to "employees." In communicating with them, the focus is sharing what our story is and what makes us unique. Why should you fly JetBlue? We’re a 5% domestic player. With all the recent M&As, the market has tightened for airlines, so we need to be that differentiator.
Fifteen years ago, our product was very different, from offering TV on our flights to our customer service. In recent years, a lot of airlines have followed suit. So how do we continue telling that story in a compelling way? And how do we convince Wall Street there is a viable third model besides being a legacy or a low-cost carrier?
Thought leadership. We are always seeking ways to strategically place our leaders on platforms where they can talk about who we are. We similarly make sure our crewmembers feel engaged in our mission so they can be walking ambassadors. And we are constantly articulating our business strategy. That’s basically the three-pronged approach to bring your narrative to all stakeholders.
Amy Binder (RF|Binder): For client Dunkin’ Donuts, our challenge has always been how to convince people it’s not about doughnuts, but it’s about coffee just as Starbucks is. We had to find instances that would bring the story to life. One of those was when JetBlue put Dunkin’ on its flights.
It’s about finding the story that differentiated Dunkin’ from Starbucks. The latter is about going into a place where you could sit, talk, and have Wi-Fi. Dunkin’ is about value, a great cup of coffee, getting in and out, and serving those who serve America.
Even more interesting: communications can sometimes benefit you if you’re not perceived as number one in your market. Avis built an entire campaign around being number two. Communications is crucial for increasing market share, which leads to market leadership.
Bob Knott (FTI Consulting): There is ample evidence to demonstrate it’s not enough to have a good or even exceptional product or service. Expectations of companies today are higher and more diverse. Many would argue the notion of Milton Friedman is quite dead. [Editor’s note: Friedman was an American economist who famously opined that a company’s only responsibility is to increase profits for itself and its shareholders.]
There are certain inherent responsibilities companies have and they must communicate about them. A company’s business and social obligations are often intertwined and its commitment to social issues may very well result in an increased license to operate and, thus, increased profit potential.
Krista Conte (Allstate): The differentiation factor is so key in communications, but it’s a real challenge in such a highly regulated industry such as insurance. Allstate has evolved to where our agents are not just quoting, but also providing advice. We’re more than insurance. We provide other services. That said, it starts with the internal story. Of course, we have a particular challenge there, too, in that agency owners are not employees, they are contractors. We have to work even harder to inspire them, but communications then becomes even more important to mobilize them.
A key message for us is promoting the fact we offer a very rich and compelling customer value proposition in an industry that is threatened by commoditization. This puts our agency owners at the center of long-term strategy. It gets them to think differently about the relationships they could have with customers. Communications is the tool that helps inspire them.
Joanne Hvala (NYU Stern School of Business): NYU Stern’s business is knowledge creation and dissemination. Our faculty is obviously a key vehicle in that. There are also the research reports we develop that establish the school in the business community. Numerous elements we need to promote, but all are underpinned by communications and storytelling.
You here so many brands today talk about how they have had to become media companies. With all the channels available today through which to share content and thought leadership, the same applies for our school and it’s a vital tool in establishing market leadership.
Alex Stanton (Stanton Public Relations & Marketing): The challenge many bigger brands face is making their companies interesting. Market-leading companies will get attention and a certain amount of market share, but they are competing with these newer startup brands that are by nature interesting. They are delivering products in different ways. They are using digital technology in innovative ways. Younger people are more engaged with them.
It’s not about making the products better for these bigger brands. That’s assumed. It’s making the company an interesting place to write about for journalists, to work at for employees, and to be engaged with for customers. It’s a hard challenge. It can’t be done very easily with advertising. Social media can help, but you can’t control it. Communications is the key.
Alberto Canal (Verizon): The line of business we serve is the home connection, which is very easy to overlook except for the 12 times a year your bill is due or if something goes wrong. Creating that constant relevance with customers is huge.
You can have the most effective PR or marketing plan, but if your employees don’t feel and see it, you have a major issue. Whether it’s a call-center rep answering a customer’s questions or a technician going into a person’s home to hook up their connections or repair a phone line, those are your greatest ambassadors. If you’re not careful, they could be your greatest detractors.
Just think about the latter. They are in a customer’s home. That’s an incredibly powerful medium that deals as directly with your customer as possible. You better be communicating effectively with those technicians and making sure you’re reaching them at the right time with the right messages. Equally important, you need to listen to them just as you would listen to your investors. You can’t establish market leadership without that.
See the exclusive eBook of this roundtable for more on how comms impacts talent acquisition and retention; battling legislative, regulatory, and activist opposition; and stock price.
Click here for an exclusive Q&A with Financial Times Lex columnist Sujeet Indap, where he discusses topics including the key role PR played in Alibaba’s US IPO and CEOs whose comms acuity has notably boosted their brands’ value.
And click here for a full look at FTI Consulting’s 2014 Enterprise Value Study.