The keys to brand health: A Zignal Labs-hosted roundtable

A dozen top comms leaders convened in New York to discuss how traditional tactics and new tools support each other to shape the strongest brands

Photos courtesy of Ali Smith Photography


-Alexandra Bowie, director of corporate communications, Regeneron
-Liza Fefferman, SVP of communications, MTV, VH1, and Logo
-Dana Gandsman, senior director, reputation communications, Pfizer
-Paul Gennaro, SVP and CCO, Voya Financial
-Manuel Goncalves, executive director, US media relations and corporate communications, KPMG
-Diana Littman, executive director and chief integration officer, Marina Maher Communications
-Dominic McMullan, VP, head of corporate communications, WeWork
-Andy Pray, founder, Praytell
-Lisa Rosenberg, partner, chief creative officer, and co-chair of consumer marketing, Allison+Partners
-Nicole Smith, senior manager, corporate communications, IAC
-Keith Trivitt, head of business unit communications, Axis Capital
-Bret Werner, president, MWWPR

Comms pros today have considerably more on their plates than ever. They must be data and analytics experts. They need to thrive in a crisis. They need to turn what some deem a threat to their existence – AI and machine learning – into a tool that boosts their value. And often times, those three skills must come to the forefront simultaneously.

In May 2018, Zignal Labs, in partnership with PRWeek, conducted the Brand Health Survey to gauge senior-level communicators’ current sentiments and capabilities in the above three areas, as well as in matters such as demonstrating ROI to the C-suite, reputation management, brand safety, content, and more.

Results from that study will be revealed July 9, 2018, on Ahead of that, PRWeek was a fly on the wall as 12 senior-level communicators, representing top agencies and brands, engaged in a free-flowing discussion about how data continues to empower every facet of comms strategy. Below we share each leader’s top thoughts:

Jason Moore, head of sales at Zignal Labs, emphasized the role data plays in crisis comms

Alexandra Bowie, Regeneron:
The key to being ready in any scenario is making sure you're coming from an authentic place – and engaging leadership early is a way to make sure you are. You can't just be out there talking about issues. You need a leader who is taking action that you can then put forward. That ensures you’re ready with authentic backup.

Liza Fefferman, MTV, VH1, and Logo:
The world in which I work is so heavy on unscripted and reality. As such, it’s essential to have the [data and crisis] tools at our disposal to create a template that can be tailored based on what the incident is, as well as craft a narrative. We’re always gathering facts and then reacting based on what our fact pattern is.

Dana Gandsman, Pfizer:
We prepare because when we get a call, we want to be in the story. Ten years ago, "No comment" was typical. Today, we want our point of view out there. Even if it's neutral to negative, we see it as a win to have our point of view on that story.

Paul Gennaro, Voya Financial:
Voya Financial has been named on lists of both the world’s most ethical and world’s most admired companies. This was our first year of eligibility for the latter and I would have thought that would be the most impactful. But when we did a survey and folks were asked to choose one, 52% chose ethical, 22% chose admired, [and 27% chose Fortune 500]. For the general consumer, the "most ethical" distinction clearly jumps out, which was a very interesting discovery for us.

Manuel Goncalves, KPMG:
One of the challenges communicators face is this notion that every C-level executive in your organization takes an immediately personal reaction to what's happening. It helps immensely to be equipped with the real-time data necessary to combat that initial reaction and enable everyone to calm down. Immediate data can help you gauge the right strategic direction. And sometimes that’s not an instant response, but rather determining when is the right time to insert the company’s voice into the narrative.

Diana Littman, Marina Maher Communications:
It’s very important to have a commitment to the right data visualization. It helps make data, which can be confusing, much clearer. And visualization is a springboard to action. Furthermore, you should always look to marry impact to the data you collect, as well as the actions you take. It’s a different way of looking at things, but it drives us right into a place of outcomes, rather than just creating noise in a marketplace.

Dominic McMullan, WeWork:
You need to be proactive in addressing your brand and issues. It's much more about how you can take a leadership position on an issue that will actually create brand equity. In terms of your C-suite, their job is essentially to manage risk. However, they often equate reputation with risk. Communicators need to help them understand that proactively managing the risk is a better place to be.

Andy Pray, Praytell:
From a brand health perspective, what data will sometimes tell you is that the loudest detractors are often the definition of an echo chamber. What’s interesting to me is determining the threshold of social and what noise is enough for us to have to react. As more people tweet and use their soapboxes, as they should, brands must really think about what their tipping point is.

Lisa Rosenberg, Allison+Partners:
It’s all about connecting the data and the strategy. Determining what it means for your business and where it tells you to go or not go. And once you’ve embarked on the path data determined you to take, it’s so important to keep looking at sentiment and seeing how it is tracking with your actions.

Nicole Smith, IAC:
Brands must be able to determine the difference between a crisis and an issue. Otherwise, they’ll find themselves constantly battling everything. The impact of each on your brand is different. Moreover, AI can help propel your data analytics to where you can better determine when to insert your brand into a conversation and when you have a genuine opportunity to lead.

Keith Trivitt, Axis Capital:
Beyond reputation issues, which are vital to brand health of course, data oftentimes becomes the catalyst for all these different ways in which you're working and how you're trying to drive business results. As communicators increasingly focus on driving business opportunities, data is a huge opportunity to propel the strategic value we bring.

Bret Werner, MWWPR:
What's changed so much recently is the blending of consumer, corporate, and public affairs – something we’ve termed the "corpsumer." Brands must take that holistic a view on every issue from the very beginning. And as with any new technology, AI benefits comms if it helps lead to correlation and causation and is then blended with qualitative thinking.

This was the first of four such roundtables being convened by Zignal Labs and PRWeek. The next one takes place in Chicago. Check back on the week of July 9 for coverage of that gathering.

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