Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments
Angela Buonocore is senior vice president and chief communications officer for Xylem, a spinoff business from ITT Corporation. She is responsible for global brand and reputation management, public relations, employee communications, corporate advertising, community relations and corporate philanthropy.
INTERVIEWER: Which leads to a second question which is, what are the challenges and the opportunities of communications leadership for a spinoff firm such as Xylem, officially formed just last year?
BUONOCORE: Right. So, working on a spinoff I think is really a highlight of anyone’s career and I would really recommend it to anyone. It’s very hard work but it’s also extremely satisfying to be able to think through what are the most important aspects of the company that is spinning businesses off that each company wants to retain, and what are the aspects of a new culture and a new personality that you want to create for the new brand. But it was really just a lot of work, not only around those strategic sorts of questions which, once the CEOs were chosen for each of the companies, the communications team, my communications team, worked with each of them to start the ball rolling on that. But it really also was, all the important things you have to do in cooperation with finance and legal to be able to separate companies. And, keeping the messaging very clear, because as you might imagine when you announce that sort of change, employees are very anxious and they have a lot of concerns and questions and it’s the communications team, along with HR and your other partnerships, to get employees to really understand every step of the way what’s going on and a lot of times what you have to tell employees is, “This is still work in progress. Everything isn’t worked out yet.” But it comes to the question of trust. Do the employees have trust in the enterprise and trust in their leadership? And that is a lot, where you draw on the equity you have in your bank of this relationship that you’ve built with your employees over the years. And understanding and telling them that you do understand that they’re anxious and frankly everyone is a little bit anxious because it’s an endeavor that you’re really sorting through, you’re doing it to create more value for the shareholders and you know, when you create more value for the shareholders, it creates more opportunities for employees, so it’s setting the right context and trying to allay people’s concerns, but to do it in a way that people trust in. Because it isn’t all going to necessarily work out maybe exactly the way they expected, but your hope is that they will trust you and, in the end, it will result in a better value for the shareholders, three great new companies in this case—or in the case of another spinoff, I did another initial public offering where it’s one new company but, it’s just the question of wanting to stay with you for the ride and to really understand that you have to do your day jobs for the people that are involved in the spin and keep the engine room running while you’re still doing work associated with the spin. In a lot of cases, the vast majority of the employees at the company, even though they may end up in the company with a different name on the door, would be doing the same sort of the work that they had been doing, although in a new construct.
INTERVIEWER: Speaking in general terms, what do you see as the greatest challenges facing public relations executives today and how can those be met?
BUONOCORE: I think the greatest challenges facing people in PR today are really that we no longer control the messaging. And we’re all a little bit of control freaks. We love to write messages, work on strategies and worktops down. And what PR people and communicators and frankly, it’s not just communicators but everyone in business, is coming to realize very quickly, is that that sort of communications, the sort of messaging, while it certainly has a place and you still do work on creating messaging, your customers and in the case of consumer companies -- consumers, are also creating their own messaging about your product, about your brands, about your reputation. And so you’re trying to work on multiple fronts to maybe manage messaging but in a way that hopefully if you’re getting your messages out and you’re doing the right things that other people—including your own employees but, customers and other constituencies and in some cases consumers—will also be blending their voices in… and, hopefully, that messaging will be consistent and positive around your company. But I do think that’s the biggest change that’s facing communicators today. There’s a lot of other changes as well, just with the proliferation of new technology and new ways to get messaging out and the fact that you know, the individual person that you’re trying to get your message to is the recipient of so many different messages, it’s always about breaking through the clutter as well and really getting with a very targeted message to the person that you’re trying to communicate something to and hopefully it’s not just communicate, but get that recipient of the message to take some action.