Nine cases made for CommsTech

In this series’ second of three roundtables, a nonet of industry leaders highlighted myriad tactical possibilities technology has either availed or amplified for them – and can for you.

Roundtable participants included (top row, l-r) O'Leary, Agathoklis, Biwer and Canal; (middle row, l-r) Grace, Konrad, Lochmann and Richard; (bottom row, l-r) Waldron, White and moderator PRWeek's Steve Barrett
Roundtable participants included (top row, l-r) O'Leary, Agathoklis, Biwer and Canal; (middle row, l-r) Grace, Konrad, Lochmann and Richard; (bottom row, l-r) Waldron, White and moderator PRWeek's Steve Barrett

•PARTICIPANTS
-Mariana Agathoklis, head of communications, Verizon Business
-Molly Biwer, chair, marketing, brand strategy, advert and creative studio, Mayo Clinic
-Alberto Canal, VP of external communications, Verisk
-Brian Grace, CCO, Nationwide
-Rachel Konrad, CCO, Impossible Foods
-Dan Lochmann, MD, group communications, Orix**
-Jim O’Leary, global corporate chair, Edelman
-Alfredo Richard, EVP of corporate communications, NBCUniversal Telemundo
-Susan Waldron, VP, head of corporate communications, American Century Investments
-Dana White, CCO, Hyundai North America
-Moderator: Steve Barrett, VP/editorial director, PRWeek

**Was head of global comms, global marcomms director, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, at time of roundtable

“I can't think of another time in modern history when communications’ ability to make a material impact on the business has been greater.”

This was among the sentiments shared by Edelman global corporate chair Jim O’Leary upon kicking off this roundtable, the second of a three-event series, which focused on the seemingly limitless potential of CommsTech to bolster the capabilities of communications, particularly in the areas of internal culture, risk mitigation and demand generation.

Moderator and co-host Steve Barrett, PRWeek’s VP and editorial director, notes how a comms head from one of the largest brands in the world recently told him that he is now spending two-thirds of his time on employee engagement. Many of the roundtable participants underscore this revelation by noting how CommsTech is helping them better define their internal culture even though their teams are working mostly from home.

Speaking of those staffs, O’Leary adds, “We're increasingly seeing communications teams that have entire analytics operations built within them.” This is having a direct impact on crisis and risk management. The assembled roundtable group is enthusiastic about how CommsTech is broadening their recognition of the scenarios that could put their reputation at risk and, in turn, bolstering their ability to limit the damage of a crisis, if not avoid it altogether.

“With predictive analytics,” says O’Leary, “you can look into the future, around the corners. There's nothing a crisis communications team – and, maybe, general counsel – values more.”

Sales impact has long been a very difficult connection for PR teams to make to their efforts. CommsTech’s value in this regard is immense – and just scratching the surface.

As roundtable participants note, CommsTech allows brands to tie narratives to specific industries, audiences, and pools who can then be nurtured at the right time with the right message. And these can all be strong sales leads.

“If you think about the past 12 months,” O’Leary summarizes, “we’re existing in a state of permanent issues management. All things must be managed and measured in real time. Technology helps us do this more easily and effectively.”

That is a main reason why Edelman, last fall, unveiled its CommsTech Solutions offering. It’s also the impetus for this convening of nine top in-house comms leaders to discuss how technology is already bolstering their efforts, as well as the endless possibilities they see for it to do so in the future. Below we share key takeaways from that conversation:

Hyundai's White lauds how CommsTech helps brands conquest customers more effectively than ever before.

•PUTTING THE CONSUMER FIRST
Whether it’s winning over new customers or doing right by existing ones, CommsTech is equipping comms teams with knowledge that is taking these efforts to another level.

-Mariana Agathoklis, Verizon Business: Technology helps us do more than meet our customers where they are. It enables us to help them start to solve – in a very meaningful way – some of the problems we know they have in their lives.

For example, when COVID first hit the U.S., the main concern all our customers had was connectivity. We quickly realized effective use of our owned channels, as much as earned media, offered a constant stream of updates and transparency. Just being really straightforward with people was hugely helpful. And we saw the benefit of that in demand generation where people felt really comfortable coming to us because we put it all out there.

-Dana White, Hyundai North America: CommsTech is really helping us evolve as a brand, particularly in our efforts to conquest customers. To know what messages will resonate with them. To know the brands we want to associate with to get to those potential customers. We can see the cars that people turn in and recognize if we are gaining more customers from a competitor brand. We can find out if people who support a rival brand are more apt to use DoorDash than Uber Eats and then target based on that knowledge, as well as other similar choices customers make in their lives.

It really goes to understanding who our customers are and what they want – before they're ever thinking about a car. It’s about fitting into their lives in a manner that will get us considered when they prepare to buy their next car. Maybe even figuring out how to get someone who has been driving another brand for 20 years to think about a Hyundai.

-Susan Waldron, American Century Investments: Technology has allowed comms to evolve from being the narrator of the story to a part of the story. And whereas impressions and share of voice used to be the main metrics, CommsTech allows for more effective data, such as looking at your owned and earned content and seeing how it drives people back to your website. I’m a bit obsessed with studying what people are reading about American Century and where that takes them on their customer journey, including, hopefully, to our website.

It’s also worth noting how refreshing it has been to see executives embrace technology from the standpoint of how it allows everyone to learn more about the man or woman leading the company in ways they weren’t when everyone saw everyone in an office or professional setting.

Orix's Lochmann underscores how CommsTech helps brands build markets and drive conversations about products before they hit the market.

•LOFTIER STATUS FOR COMMS
Driving sales. Empowering marketing. Adopting technology to drive measurable results. Cementing the seat at the C-suite table. CommsTech is empowering the discipline to achieve its greatest heights ever.

-Dan Lochmann, Orix (at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries at time of roundtable): CommsTech has enabled communications to drive the marketing revolution within the company. We took this top-of-funnel thought leadership and brought in a huge number of potential customers, other fans and even possible employees. We then sort them down into different pools, even direct some into sales where they can actually have sales-driving conversations.

It’s the two “RE”s. Communicators are not only responsible for reputation anymore. We should also be responsible for at least some type of revenue generation. We can build markets and build demand for different products. In fact, CommsTech helps drive conversations about products before they hit the market so that the product is ready by the time the world is ready for it – and vice versa.

-Rachel Konrad, Impossible Foods: Working at a tech company, my focus is not solely on the tools of technology helping deliver messages, but the technology itself being the message. Specific to our brand, a huge part of our message is meant to bust open the mythology that food, somehow, is not part of technology and science. I am also really concerned about the somewhat shaky reputation the tech industry has right now.

The good news is that communications is in a unique position to discuss the role of technology. And, yes, CommsTech is very helpful in that regard.

-Brian Grace, Nationwide:
As our CEO likes to say – if it doesn't get measured, it doesn't get done. So when you think about CommsTech and the possibilities it enables in the measurement space, it’s exciting because you’re delivering something you know the C-suite wants.

Equally exciting, though, is our ever-improving ability – both internally and externally – to put the right content in the right place to drive the right outcome. Our ability to leverage technological tools and still do the planning, creative thinking and communicating bodes really well for the industry’s future.

-Molly Biwer, Mayo Clinic: Comms teams always seek that seat at the table. Applying technology allows us to do that throughout the entire funnel of activity – from our outreach to potential patients to that first call they make to the Mayo Clinic all the way to the post experience when they ring the bell to signal their treatment is complete.

In addition, new partnerships have formed thanks to tech adoption, everything from our marketing counterparts to the Center for Digital Health.

"With predictive analytics,” says Edelman's O'Leary, “you can look into the future. There's nothing a crisis communications team values more.”

•SUPPORTING THE TEAM
Remote working can be a huge barrier to camaraderie. Savvy organizations embrace technology to bolster a feeling of community, help employees feel safe and ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.

-Alfredo Richard, NBCUniversal Telemundo: The impact CommsTech has on employee communications cannot be overstated. Remote working is a huge challenge from an engagement perspective. It’s very difficult to define a common culture when everybody is working at home in those unique environments. Technology has allowed us to really step forward in that direction. It can actually create community.

And you must embrace the fun that can be created with technology. We experimented with a lot of things from lounges to meditation to speakers we might not have been able to secure in person. All in the name of ensuring every employee felt part of an innovative culture. It allowed us to be proactive in that way, as opposed to just being at the mercy of what was happening.

-Alberto Canal, Verisk: Particularly for large organizations, it's easy to fall into silos in spite of the best intentions. So as we all still figure out how to get the best data, we must remain focused on using that data to lift everyone and everything across the organization – messages, stories, people. We must always service the master narrative and support whatever the specific business goals are. With so much data, it can be very easy to go down different paths. The key is staying true to your North Star.

Thanks to Edelman for sponsoring this event.

Click here for the recap of the first roundtable in this series.

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