ICology: PRSA Connect Pt 2

Ep #21, Christopher Hannegan, Alison Davis and Elisabeth Wang

This is a break from the traditional episode listeners of ICology might be used to. I attended and spoke at this year's PRSA Connect, PRSA's annual employee communications event. While there, I thought it would be great to catch some audio from a few of the speakers. 

This is the second in a three-part series of interviews I conducted while at the event. In this episode, you'll hear from: 

  • Christopher Hannegan, EVP & US Practice Lead for Employee Engagement, Edelman
  • Alison Davis, CEO, Davis & Company
  • Elisabeth Wang, Executive Director, PR & Communications, Piedmont Healthcare

ICology is available on iTunes as well as many other platforms and apps. Or you can listen to the media player above. 

Episode Transcript

Chuck: Welcome to ICology, the podcast dedicated to interesting people doing interesting things in the world of internal communications. This episode is part two in a series of interviews conducted at PRSA Connect. If internal coms is your passion, this is your podcast. Listen in.
This is the next installment of conversations I had with IC leaders at the 2016 PRSA Connect conference in Dallas. When people think of PRSA, they don't often think about internal communications, but it is definitely growing audience within the organization. And if you missed the first in this series, that is fine. Go back and listen to that one later. In this episode, you will hear from Christopher Hannegan from Edelman, who is also a past guest of this show, Alison Davis from Davis and Company, and Elisabeth Wang from Piedmont Healthcare. Keep in mind all these interviews were conducted in hallways or common areas, so you might hear some background noise, doors being shut, small conversations happening, but it is not distracting to the interviews. So, I hope you enjoy today's guests.
Chuck: Hey, Christopher. How is it going?
Chris: Pretty good. How are you?
Chuck: Good. So, I am here with Christopher Hannegan, a past guest of iCology, first and foremost, but also of Edelman fame. I wanted to do a quick interview with him because I think he has one of the more interesting and eye-catching headlines of your session here at Connect.
Chris: Yeah, well first of all, I think you're the famous one in here out with the podcast. So, yeah, we're here at Connect '16 and I am going to talk about the employee content in the era of pizza rat, which is one of the many videos that has gone viral in the last year or so. The whole premise of my talk is that employee communications, content strategies have to keep in mind all of these external distractions that are out there like pizza rat videos and have to really rethink how the content that we're creating to engage the employees given all of these external distractions.
Chuck: So, what are some strategies...because obviously, they're not going to duplicate a pizza rat at their workplace, but more the essence of what draws the eyes. What are some things communicators can do to steal from that attention and virality of it?
Chris: Yeah, so I think there are few things. I think number one is really changing the way they think and that employee communicators now have to really think like marketers and execute with a newsroom mentality. So really just thinking about the communications they're producing for employees as a product that has to be marketed and that has to be competitive.
Chuck: And then it seems like...this goes back to a very early episode of iCology with Allan Oram where we talked about the lack of creativity in internal comms. Why do you think..is it a...certainly, their communicators are very creative. Is it a time thing, is it an energy thing? Why do you think there's not as much as there should be?
Chris: I think many folks have just been really stuck in an old model about what makes effective employee communications. I think that people are just not... I think they're only just now realizing that what employees want is very different from what they're getting. And that has been a theme that we have been exploring throughout all the great presentations at this conference. And I think that it takes some courage to break the mold, and it takes some courage to say what we've been doing in the past is no longer effective, and I think it really takes a visionary leader to really make a clean break with the past and try some new things in terms of what kind of content is being created for the employees.
Chuck: And this morning Alison Davis, the keynote, she talked about how communicators like to look at other companies to see what they're doing to communicate their employees. She believes that they should really be looking at it from the consumer side and stealing from that world.
Chris: Yeah, I could not agree more. One of the things that I'm going to talk about is just the incredible proliferation of content that's out there, right? The billion Facebook posts that happen at any given point in time, all of the photos being uploaded, all of the videos being uploaded. The other thing I am going to mention in my talk is that due the multitasking, the average American actually is cramming 31 hours of activity into every 24-hour circle. So, again, I think those are all consumer marketing trends that are undoubtedly affecting how people process information in the workplace, and really I think are all things that employee communicators need to be keeping in mind as they're developing content strategies.
Chuck: And then very recently, Edelman has coined this new term communications marketing. So is this some of what you guys were talking about?
Chris: Yeah, I do think that has a lot of that in it. So, the idea of communications marketing is really a whole new way of thinking for people who are in whether chief marketing officer role, chief communications officer roles, or indeed, CEOs themselves. And the whole thing behind communications marketing is that companies and brands can no longer expect to demand the attention of their audiences. They have to earn it every day though a great content delivered through multiple channels and platforms. And that same thing holds true for internal communications and employee communications that companies can no longer just demand the attention and respect to their workers, but they've got to earn and re-earn that every day, again, though the same kind of content strategies and same ideas that apply externally.
Chuck: And I think those who've always sort of pushed envelopes, they'll embrace this. Others, that's going to make them a little uncomfortable thinking about their employees as customers, but in reality, they are from a content standpoint
Chris: Yeah, and I think this is where the importance of data cannot be underestimated. I think if you have good data around what kind of content is resonating with your workforce and what kind of content is actually getting the behavior change that you want and the aligned behaviors that you want in your organization. I think if you have good data around that, it allows you to have different conversations with your internal stakeholders around what kind of content is effective and what kind of content do you need to be producing more of and less of.
Chuck: Okay. Well, good luck this afternoon.
Chris: Thank you so much.

Chuck: Alison Davis was this morning's keynote at PRSA Connect, and I'm here talking to her now. Alison, you're here with Davis and Company. Why don't you talk a little bit about what do you guys do as an agency?
Alison: Great, yes. We are an employee communications firm, and we help our clients reach, engage, and motivate employees. And we have been doing it a long time, since 1984, but we are always trying to learn new things.
Chuck: So, what did you feel about the energy in the room this morning when you were up there on stage?
Alison: It was awesome. This is a great group. Actually, one of the funny things before we started was people were so connecting with one another that they found it difficult to stop talking. I think the networking is terrific and the people I met so far are very dynamic.
Chuck: Now, one of the things I thought was great was you asked people to do a little bit of an exercise at their table calling out the impact they think they are making and then the challenges that they've experienced. So, what would you guys do with those at the end of the conference?
Alison: Yeah, right now we are trying to sort them because we've got at least 200 impact statements and probably about 300 challenges, which is usually the case. But what we're doing with them throughout the conference is we are tweeting them, and then after the conference, we're going to compile them and make them available to everybody because I think what it show is A, what an impact people are making. We are really making a difference. And two, we are all facing the same challenges, so we can help each other solve these challenges.
Chuck: Now, being a big Prince fan myself, you had a nice little tribute to him in there. And as we know in his songs he likes to use the letter "U" in place of the word "You." So, you come up with three Us that I thought were really helpful to communicators to take away. So talk what those were.
Alison: Yeah, and I'm a great Prince fan too. I was very sad. But the inspiration really is one of the key things we do as communicators is we create content, and we have the power to create a content that really is meaningful to employees. So, the three Us are content should be unique. What I asked the participants to do is never publish another press release on their Internet site because that is not unique. So, we need to create unique content that provides context for employees. The second U is useful. We have the power as communicators to help people do their jobs, or solve problems, or navigate their organizations, or understand tough issues. And the third is you, like Prince. U for Y-O-U and that's really that we need to be putting our employees in the story. Our communications should be about employees not just about the executives.
Chuck: Now, I am a big Let's Go Crazy fan from Prince. What is your favorite Prince song, if you have one?
Alison: Nothing Compares to U.
Chuck: There we go, with the U. Very good. So, people listening to this now obviously missed out Connect '16. Connect '17 is next year. What would you say to them to encourage them to become a part of this community for next year's event?
Alison: One of the things I love about this community so much is it's got enough members where you can really find somebody to help you or connect with, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed. And even though we have a lot more people at this conference than last year's, I still feel like it's manageable. And Ally Bunin said she wanted to meet every person here and so do I. So, I think next year is just a great... If you are really into inspiration, networking, getting ideas, I think the Connect '17 Conference will be just a great use of your time and resources.
Chuck: All right. Thank you, Alison.
Alison: Thank you, Chuck.

Chuck: I am here with Elizabeth Wang from Piedmont Healthcare. And an interesting story about Elizabeth and I, we met at last year's Connect conference, actually went out to dinner one of the first nights. And since then, we have now become way more involved in the event. Elizabeth, so why don't you talk about your experience since last year?
Elisabeth: Sure, Chuck. Thanks for talking with me. So, last year was my first year at Connect, and I was actually fairly new at PRSA. Public relations was a new part of my job responsibility. So I joined, and then I learned that they have this nice employee communications conference. So, that's what brought me here. I came. The content was just fabulous. I was just blown away by all of the amazing speakers and the real, practical tips and tools that I learned at the conference that I could take home and begin to implement immediately. So, I fell in love with the employee communications section at last year's conference and immediately wanted to get involved and be a bigger participant.
Chuck: And now, this year you're speaking at Connect. So, what is your topic about today?
Elisabeth: So, tomorrow I will be talking about the connectors program that Piedmont Healthcare has. And about six years ago we were on the brink of a huge change management project or deal, and so we implemented an ambassador program that ended up being really, really successful. And so, there was a lot that I learned, and as long as you promise not to publish this before tomorrow so that people would still come to hear me, the real big takeaway for me and what I learned in launching an ambassador program is that you already have people doing this in your organization. Whether you know it or not, whether you acknowledge it or not, you have people who are ambassadors. They just may not be delivering the messages that you want them to deliver. So, what my talk is going to be about is how to identify who these people are, and then how to really give them a job to do that becomes an extension of your communications team and really puts them to work delivering the types of messaging that you want them to deliver. But then, more importantly, serve as a feedback loop and can bring information back to your team that allows you to create better messaging, better content and engage the organization at a higher degree.
Chuck: Well, we definitely agree on the ambassador thing because it could be that you have some amazing ambassadors doing great work, and you can also have some ambassadors there saying things you don't want then to say. So, were there any specific tools or channels that you used as part of this?
Elisabeth: Absolutely. And part of the program and part of the beauty of this is to find those people who are naysayers, and if you could turn them around to become...to be able to deliver the messaging that you want them to, demonstrate or show them why what you're doing is the right way to go, is the successful way, is what is going to take your organization into the future. If you can turn them, they will be a stronger advocate. So, you may find someone who is questioning what you're doing, but if you can turn them, they are a much stronger tool in the long run than someone who is just a bobble head nodding from the beginning.
Chuck: And what about from a leadership standpoint, what role did they play as part of this program?
Elisabeth: So, the main thing for leaders was just buying into the program. Our connectors are not necessarily leaders. We have some connectors are leaders, so we were agnostic to career level when we were going out to look who our ambassadors were. So, the main thing that we needed leaders to do is be okay with us having this program because sometimes we told our connectors things before we told our managers, and we needed them to be okay with that to know that there would be some frontline staff who might know things ahead of when they knew them.
Chuck: And how did they take that?
Elisabeth: I think some it took...it was a bit to swallow, but once they saw the connectors get engaged and they saw what the connectors were doing, and they saw that it was working and it was helping the organization, they became raving fans as well.
Chuck: And so, for those who aren't familiar with Piedmont Healthcare, describe some of the size, scope, scale, how many employees, all of that.
Elisabeth: Sure. We are six hospitals with a fairly significant corporate services entity as well, and a physician enterprise which has about 400 employed physicians in about 100 locations located all over Georgia. So, 13,000 employees in all. So, fairly sizable and spread out.
Chuck: So, an ambassador program there can wield a lot of great power and great influence with that many voices out there on target, on message.
Elizabeth: Absolutely. And we were really making a transition from going from a holding company to an operating company. And so, those ambassadors that were spread out throughout the organization were integral to that.
Chuck: Okay. Thank you, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Thanks, Chuck.

Chuck: I truly can't thank Christopher, Alison, and Elisabeth enough for taking the time to talk with me. And this is just a small sample of the quality content shared at Connect this year in Dallas. There were more than 200 communicators attending. This is more than 60% from years past, and it was one of the most active internal comms events on Twitter. So, if you want to see some of the great tweets, some of the photographs, links shared, go follow at #prsaconnect. And for those curious about next year's Connect event, do know it will be in Denver in June. So, it will be great to see some of you there.

Make sure you hit subscribe on iTunes or your preferred listening platform so you don't miss the final set of Connect interviews or future iCology episodes. And if you really liked what you heard, those five-star reviews are always appreciated. If internal comms is your passion, iCology is your podcast. Thanks for listening.