I’m so exhausted after three days in Chicago that I can barely stay awake to write this post. I took in slightly more information than I did beer in the Windy City (but not by much) and want to share my impressions of the 2009 Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference and some of what I learned in the sessions.
A few of the sessions I attended were so outstanding that they warrant their own individual posts that will come later this week (stay tuned). The others were quite solid. I predominantly went to workshops on the PR/Marketing Communications track. Here’s a rundown of some of my favorites:
ComEd: Generating positive publicity when the lights are on
ComEd Communications Manager Jeff Burdick led this session and started with a slide that said: “99.95% of the time, you DO have power!” But of course, that’s not what customers want to hear during an outage. The average customer is only without power for a total of four hours in a given year. Obviously storm and outage communication is a major issue for utility companies, but during the rest of the time when everything’s buzzing along, how do they generate interest? ComEd focuses on pitching stories about reliability and infrastructure investments, its employees, environmental projects, and corporate citizenship. ComEd targets local TV news and smaller, community-based newspapers (many of which aren’t suffering and closing at the rate of large metropolitan dailies).
Key takeaway: Look for “Riches in the Niches” and leverage unique, local angles in stories. Don’t always focus on the largest media outlets
Wells Fargo: Flexible communications in the face of merging organizations
Presented by Kathleen Golden, VP of Public Relations for Wells Fargo Wealth Management Group, this session focused on the 2008 acquisition of Wachovia by Wells Fargo and the associated communications challenges. When merging the leadership of two organizations, speculation runs rampant among employees and the media. Who’s getting what job? Who’s leaving, who’s staying? Why are they structuring the new company this way? Communicators in this situation have to have the pulse of what’s being said and address any misinformation as soon as possible. But, it’s okay to tell stakeholders that you don’t have the answers yet.
Key takeaway: Establish a process for both sides of a merger to share, receive and distribute information. Address rumor and specualtion as much as possible with the information you have on hand to diffuse any issues. Involve communications early on in the merger process.
Word of Mouth Marketing – Get customers talking about you
I was a bit disappointed in Andy Sernovitz’s session, mostly because I felt he didn’t share anything beyond what you could get from his book or blog. All of the examples he used were primarily B2C companies (Skittles, Zappos, Duct Tape), which I think generally lend themselves to more viral, word-of-mouth activities and campaigns. It can be much harder to get a bunch of supply chain managers to become rabid fans of plastic fasteners or concrete forms or raw chemicals. While Andy had some good tidbits here and there, I was bummed that I skipped some of the other sessions going on at this time (including Katie Paine’s) to go to this one.
Key takeaway: Make it easy for customers to talk about your brand. Create content that they can participate in and make their own, then share with their friends.
Calculating the ROI of your communications – turning results into dollars
Angela Sinickas offered ways to measure communications efforts and show how communicators can take credit for behavior changes that earn or save money for a company. I’m not sure I fully understood her approach, as she seemed to advocate for continually adjusting either the costs incurred or the value derived to achieve the ROI result you wanted. In the corporate communications roles that I’ve held, the finance team would pretty quickly sniff out any data massaging like that. The other issue I had was that her approach relied on having good data available – which many communicators don’t always have at their disposal. But the basic concepts were intriguing and I think I’ll refer back to her slides and check her Web site out to learn more.
Key takeaway: Only behavior changes can have a dollar-value attached to them, so measure that. Calculate communications ROI on a project basis instead of trying to do it annually for an entire department.
As is usually the case, the best part of the conference was getting to meet so many great people. It was fantastic to have lunch with Katie Paine and see Shonali Burke at the cocktail hour. I got to meet Amber Naslund, Rachel Esterline and Ari Adler at the unconference. I hit the town with Mike Pilarz, Allan Schoenberg and Amber Porter Cox. I had my first Bell’s Beer (and my second, and my third…) and took an extra day with my good friend and travel companion Christine Hartter (who also wrote a great conference recap) to check out The Bean and the Art Institute. Verdict: Chicago is my kinda town!
Image via Flickr user amymengel (thanks to the waiter who snapped the pic above!)