Employing your strongest resources - a Zignal Labs-hosted roundtable

Atlanta played host as a dozen comms leaders underscored why C-suites need to care and do even more about their brands' reputations

Photos courtesy of Erin Fuller

-Conroy Boxhill, MD, Atlanta, Porter Novelli
-Annette Busateri, executive director, comms operations and planning, GE Power
-Aimee Ertley, media relations lead, Southeast, Accenture
-Matt Harrigan, senior manager, corporate comms, The Home Depot
-Karlie Lahm, director of comms, Edible Arrangements
-Andy McGowan, president, Watkins McGowan
-Garin Narain, SVP of PR, Atlanta Hawks
-Eric O’Brien, partner, Jackson Spalding
-Nancy Riley, M&M comms manager, IBM
-Amy Sorrells, senior manager, global comms, Oracle Global Startup Ecosystem
-Lauren Thompson, director of external comms, Coca-Cola
-Melanie Touchstone, director of digital channels and marketing, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce

In recent years, the PR industry has notably increased its appreciation and use of data and analytics. Similarly, efforts to find and work with influencers have become a set part of their daily to-do lists.

Of course, the pursuit to use all these resources most effectively continues. In an effort to discover how today’s comms leaders are faring on that front, Zignal Labs, in partnership with PRWeek, conducted the Brand Health Survey in May 2018.

Results from that study are revealed here, but to highlight how communications tools and tactics are being used in actuality, PRWeek and Zignal Labs convened 12 Atlanta comms leaders to discuss the crucial link between reputation and the bottom line, employee activation, and influencers. Below we share key takeaways from each participant:

Randy Brasche, VP of marketing at Zignal Labs, addresses Atlanta roundtable attendees

Conroy Boxhill, Porter Novelli:
Society has become a bit desensitized to bad behavior. What’s more important now on the reputation side is what did the brand do when they found out about a crisis. That is actually the most important currency now. How did you act? Swiftly? Were you decisive? Were you comprehensive in how you looked at the matter? Did you have policies in place? Especially in the age of social media, that matters more than ever.

Annette Busateri, GE Power:
Brands need not search that far for powerful influencers. We have been looking at whom inside of our company can serve as micro-influencers.

Aimee Ertley, Accenture:
It’s very important to Accenture to spend money in and work with the community, as well as to ensure those programs tie back. Data is a huge factor in this regard. We very closely monitor what our messaging looks like in those areas. And from the CEO across the C-suite, they are all paying attention to this because they deem this vitally critical to who we are as a company.

Matt Harrigan, The Home Depot:
We always stress to the C-suite how big a role reputation plays in that simple decision all consumers make about whether to go to our store or the one across the street. Sure, people factor price and customer experience, but so often it comes down to what was the last thing that person heard about the company. When it comes to brand loyalty, we work hard to make that connection with those reputation factors because there is a definite bottom-line impact.

Karlie Lahm, Edible Arrangements:
Employees are looking to be empowered. Many want to share their opinions with managers. And if a brand creates an environment where that is encouraged, where employees feel that connection, they’ll offer incredible insight that is honest and adaptable.

Andy McGowan, Watkins McGowan:
If you’re looking to build up goodwill and relevance, you need to encourage your senior leaders to have face-to-face interactions as much as possible. And comms pros must practice what they preach and do the same with the media. That’s how you develop the personal relationships that will open doors for your pitches.

Garin Narain, Atlanta Hawks:
One area where measuring our reputation is crucial is in how the business world views the Hawks. Companies want to be more involved in their communities – and working with our team is a great way for them to do that. But we must constantly know how the community views us so that we ensure we’re a partner with whom brands want to team.

Eric O’Brien, Jackson Spalding:
What we do as communicators is more important now than it’s ever been. When you talk about the 24-second news cycle, the various channels, fake news, misconduct, and so on, brands can’t have their heads in the sand. You’ve got to plan ahead and be proactive. In fact, it’s often not even the crisis that gets companies in trouble. It’s the response. That’s why you must have your pulse on what’s going on, what people are saying at every moment, and be prepared to handle it before it happens.

Nancy Riley, IBM:
In terms of brand ambassadors, some of the most relevant and effective are not necessarily the recognized leaders of the company. One of our Distinguished Engineers, which is a very high title within IBM, is a woman in her 30s with young kids. She is very relevant to the way we want people to think about IBM as a progressive brand. And the company encourages her to have a presence, especially on social media.

Amy Sorrells, Oracle Global Startup Ecosystem:
There’s a big entrepreneurial spirit at Oracle. Our staffers mentor others. They volunteer. They want to be part of that spirit – and it’s incredibly powerful for a brand when employees get behind that. You end up with a whole army of comms people.

Lauren Thompson, Coca-Cola:
It’s been so interesting watching the influencer shift. It used to be brands focused so much on those with national reach, but increasingly companies want to work with micro-influencers. Brands value the local voice and the closer connections those influencers have with consumers. The influencer space is evolving as quickly as it is growing.

Melanie Touchstone, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce:
If our team just sat around the table, we’d all conclude that Atlanta is great and our job is done. But that’s not how it works. Constant data collection and analysis is crucial to help us understand our reputation beyond what we think it is. This facilitates some fascinating, sometimes tough, and sometimes very positive insights that really help us develop an effective narrative for Metro Atlanta.

This was the third of four such roundtables being convened by Zignal Labs and PRWeek. The first two took place in New York City and Chicago. The final one of the series convenes in mid-October in San Francisco. Stay tuned to prweek.com for coverage of all gatherings.

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