Interview Segments on Topic: PR and Technology/Change
Alan Marks is senior vice president of corporate communications for eBay Inc., and is responsible for leading communications strategy for all areas of the company, which includes business and consumer media relations, employee communications, executive positioning and issues and reputation management. Prior to joining eBay, Marks was at Nike Inc., Gap, Inc., and Avon Products. He began his career as a journalist.
INTERVIEWER: Are there public relations challenges that are unique to firms that are doing business primarily through new media, such as Ebay does, and if so, what they are and how do you meet them?
MARKS: Well I think the challenge of social media today is it’s constant and it’s real time, and everybody has a voice. That’s very different from traditional media and traditional journalism, where you build a relationship with a media outlet, build a relationship with a journalist, and have a little more control and perhaps influence in the story that resulted in a final product. There was a story placed, and that was often the end of it. Social media is 24-7, and instead of managing it, what I say to my team today is if the primary goal of media relations is to place an effective story, get your messages in the story and get your messages in how media was covering your company. Today, media is really a distribution channel to reach your end audience and you really have to pay more attention today to who your end audience is. Companies today have tools to be their own publisher and they’re not reliant, purely reliant, on third parties. Media is still critically important and incredibly influential, but it’s not the only way today that a company has to drive engagement with its stakeholders. You’ve got your own publishing platforms, you’ve got your own social media tools, and your stakeholders are engaging in that as well. So today it’s more about participating in a conversation, and having a dialogue and placing that story. That’s a different dynamic today, and it requires more constant vigilance about what kind of conversations are happening about your business, and which kind of stakeholders are engaged in your business and how you are responding. It not only requires participating and responding, but it requires listening. And it really is more about having a conversation and participating in something, rather than placing something and pushing something out.
INTERVIEWER: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing public relations executives today? Speaking in general terms, and how can these challenges be met?
MARKS: Well, I think in large respect—I mean obviously there’s the communications. Communications technology is rapidly changing, as is how information is disseminated and consumed. It’s challenging to stay abreast of that and understand it and understand what may be a fad, versus what may be a permanent change. I think broadly speaking, for a chief communications officer, it’s the challenges that face any business executive today and that’s the broader pace of change that’s happening in the global business environment. How do you stay abreast of that and the disruption that’s happening in many industries and many companies? And how do you…you’ve got to understand—obviously you’ve got to understand communications and you’ve got to understand the communications environment you’re working in. But it’s critically important to understand the business environment that you’re organization is operating in. And what are the forces affecting that environment and creating disruption and innovation in that environment. And then how do you effectively adapt and innovate and stay ahead of the curve to affectively use communications as communications evolves, to meet the business challenges that companies face today?
INTERVIEWER: Well that’s a good lead-in for our next question, which is basically, that the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State, and the Page Society—which you’re a member—their aim is to help individuals become counselors to leadership, in all these areas of change that are happening in corporations today. How can individuals best prepare themselves for this role as counselors to leadership?
MARKS: Well I think it goes beyond counseling today, particularly if you’re in a chief communications officer role. You have to deeply understand the business. I think increasingly today—and I work today in the technology environment and there’s constant change in technology and e-commerce. You can be disrupted from so many different directions every day. And so you almost have to think like a general manager and really be deeply grounded in the business, the business model and what the business is trying to solve. Then your role as a chief communications officer is to apply your communications expertise to how we help address those business opportunities and business challenges. So I think it goes beyond an advisory role, and really to be effective in today’s environment, you have to be a strategic business partner. That means you have to be able to exhibit almost a general manager like mindset, and a general manager type understanding of the business and what the opportunities are. Then your role is to bring communications solutions to those business opportunities and those business challenges.