Oral Histories

Angela Buonocore

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics/Qualities of PR Professionals

Angela Buonocore Biography

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: The aim of the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State and of the Arthur W. Page Society is to help individuals become counselors to leadership. How can individuals best prepare themselves for that role?

BUONOCORE: I think to best prepare yourself for the role where you’re going to become a counselor, is to do a few things. First and foremost, you’ve got to have very, very strong skills in your discipline. That probably goes without saying, but I would tell you, it’s very surprising to me because I see a lot of resumes and I meet a lot of people that are studying communications—the number of communicators that don’t demonstrate the basic writing and frankly, speaking skills that are necessary to have command of your area of expertise. Beyond your own area of expertise, you have to be an expert in the business. And that comes with time -- you have to study, just like you do in school, and any time I’ve joined a new company—it’s part of just really getting yourself immersed. Not only in the nuts and bolts and how the company makes money—which you really do need to understand—but also to really travel around the company and really get to talk to people and listen to people and to be a very good student of reading between the lines - to really be able to connect dots and put things together and bring a different perspective. I think that’s the most valuable skill that you can bring and I think that’s not a skill that’s confined to communications, because there are many people in many disciplines that can bring that sort of “connecting the dots” skill. But I think as a communicator, you’re exposed to so much more in the organization that you should be able to connect the dots frankly, practically better than anyone else. And if you demonstrate that you can do that, that’s when you earn a seat at the table. You earn a seat at the table by driving yourselves and showing what those results are. And so, part of it is you have to have courage. You cannot be afraid to say what you think. You cannot be a yes person, because if you are, then you really won’t be the best advisor to your CEO, and that is not always the easiest thing. I think some of that comes, that street cred[ibility], comes with doing it and gaining some experience but, you really have to be able to tell the emperor when he or she has no clothes. You have to be able to, obviously using your diplomatic skills as well, be able to bring to the table, a new way of looking at things. And sometimes the best way of doing that is to employ the Socratic approach and to ask a series of questions that might lead a person to draw a conclusion that you want them to draw without just telling them something. So, there are different methods that you can use and you learn to flex your style and try to be able to use what works best with whomever you are partnering with. But I think to really earn a seat as a counselor, you’ve got to be able to show them that you bring appropriate skills and that you understand the business and you understand where the CEO is trying to take the business and you are able to help him or her do that.

INTERVIEWER: I want to ask you, do you have any perspectives that you could share with us on the issues of diversities, particularly gender and race, in the public relations field today?

BUONOCORE: I am a big fan of diverse teams and I think diversity covers a lot more than just gender and race. I think diversity has to do with the way people approach doing their work. I think that you have to look at having a mix of people that are analytical and people that look at things in a maybe more creative way. I think that you want to think about different life experiences and some of that has to do with a mix of young and older, because I think you get a very different perspective that way. I think if you’re in a global company, when you put together a team, if you have a global team, that usually helps inform your thinking so, I just personally think the more diverse your team is, the better solutions you’re going to come up with and I have proven that time and time again when I put together teams. People tend to put teams together that are people like them, that’s your natural inclination, and when you do that, you really won’t get the best result in communications or frankly, anything else. I certainly think that it’s important for all of us to try to make sure women and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds are considered on every slate of candidates for every job, I always do that. But I think in the end you pick the best person for the job, but the important thing is to get the right slate and when you get the right slate you will build a diverse team, I know because I’ve done it time and again and I think it’s important to do, for all the reasons we just talked about. You want to get the most diverse team possible. … This is something I learned a long time ago too and that’s part of how to be a good leader. The same type of management or leadership doesn’t always work with each of the people that works for you. You have to get to know the people and understand what motivates them and you have to try to flex your style to use what motivates people to get them to drive results. And that involves getting to know people, and that takes time. People don’t always reveal all their inner secrets to you right away—if ever. And so some of that comes back to the trust question, this is kind of common sense but it’s trust in relationships. How do you build friendships? How do you build relationships in your personal life? Some of that is the same sort of thing at work, even though you’re not trying to be everybody's best friend, you are trying to understand things about that person—why they behave the way they do. And frankly, when you’re working with high-powered—if your culture is type A’s and high powered, which many of the cultures where I have worked are. You really have to try to figure out when everyone is trying to make their own contribution, how you’re going to collaborate and work together with everybody also getting to leave their fingerprints and imprint on things. And so part of that really is you’re also a psychology student, I think it would help if I had it to do over again, I would also take more psychology courses and social science courses to really understand.

INTERVIEWER: Only so much you can cram in there between 18 and 22.

BUONOCORE: But, you could also—studying is a lifelong thing. Reading, studying, learning and frankly that’s the one thing I regret. If I had more time, I would be going to night school all the time but because my jobs have always been ones where I travel a lot. I used to sign up for courses and miss half of them. But, there’s also self-study and I do think a lot of that—and communicators especially, usually are very good readers and they’re usually voracious readers. There’s a lot you learn just on your own by reading and it’s important to do that and keep up with all the new social science and things that are coming out about; even how people make buying decisions and it’s not just your alliances at work but it’s sort of your alliances or your influence skills on whoever your customers are. And that is not just the purview of marketing. That was always very interesting to me and how communications can make an impact on that and if you manage marketing communications, you have a piece of it and I have usually managed it but it’s also really getting in there with the sales guys and gals and understanding what is it that they do to sell things. How do they do it and what could they be doing better because communications can bring a lot to that party as well, if you bring those skills.

INTERVIEWER: Angela Buonocore, thank you very much.

BUONOCORE: Thank you.