Friday 29 May 2009

Heather's IPREX Diary: The Expert's view

A panel discussion at the University Club followed Bloomberg, with some of the most eminent Directors of Communications in the world, facing enormous challenges.

Harvey Greisman, Group Executive, Worldwide Communications of Mastercard was in the toughest boat since only last week President Obama called the CEOs and senior executives of all credit card companies to the White House. He had received an unprecedented number of letters from the US public complaining about the high level of credit card debt and the perseverance of all of them to push high rates onto sub prime people. Harvey’s advice was that “good corporate governance is a top driver in restoring trust among the public and reputation management is something all PRs should do”. He has a long way to go in restoring this trust.

Raymond Kerins VP of Worldwide Communications of Pfizer explained that the pharma industry spent too much time reacting and independent agencies should help in-house PR be more proactive. He added that operating in this heavily regulated industry meant they do need to be careful about using Twitter and other social media. They do however heavily utilise the likes of SERMO online – industry e-mags. His key messages were that they are now a $50 billion start up with new management, new focus, products that sell, with stability and cash. Strong points and well put.

With regards the use of social media, Barbara Pierce, Worldwide Comms Director of Kodak utilised social media to maximum effect when the Wall Street Journal print version put out misguided numbers. Perhaps more effective with a consumer brand, Barbara negated the WSJ comments effectively through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Other speakers included General Electric, Swiss Re, Viacom and Bausch & Lomb. The panel overseer was the illustrious Jon Byrne, editor-in-chief of Business Week. I admire him most as co-author of Jack Welsh’s book: Jack: Straight from the Gut. He acknowledged that all the speakers’ companies have had an extremely tough ride in the down turn and that there is a propensity for journalists to focus on bad news. Restoring trust was paramount. There is a definitive need to educate the markets and he quoted that reputation management is the sum of the images. The images consist of Performance, Behaviour and Communication.

The Head of Comms from NYU sponsored this panel and wrapped up by quoting Abraham Lincoln: “Character is the Key; Reputation is the shadow.”

My own observation of in-house PR directors is they have to be self deprecating, bold when it matters and incredibly savvy.


Image courtesy of Matt Hamm on Flickr, through a Creative Commons License.

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