This year’s Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement focused on integrated measurement. Here are stories of lessons learned from three different sets of presenters.
The four pillars of Sodexo’s comms
We love it when senior execs appreciate the value of PR. Jennifer Williamson’s background was in operations, not communications. So it was particularly telling that, two weeks into her new job as Senior Vice President of Brand and Communications for Sodexo North America, the company faced pushback from the local community just as it was about to close a major deal. “This solidified for me the important role PR plays in making sure the local community knows who we are and what we contribute, and how critical that is for sales and operations,” Williamson recalled.
Jennifer and her colleague Stephen Cox, Vice President of Public Relations for Sodexo North America, presented their case for an integrated communications strategy during a luncheon session at this year’s Summit. (The photo up top shows the two of them in action. See their slide deck: “Public Relations 3.0, Sodexo in North America 2017.”) They recently reorganized Sodexo North America’s communications around a fully integrated system with four pillars: media relations, thought leadership, digital space, and local communities.
At the center of their reorganization is Sodexo Insights, a media publishing hub that serves as a central repository for all content such as news releases to thought leadership white papers. All other efforts—including CSR, diversity and inclusion, and traditional brand efforts—hook directly into this hub for their content.
With this model, they quickly reached a critical mass of audience that now generates between 60-70 comments a month—a high number in the B2B space. They’ve also learned how to target content for the specific audiences on each platform. For example, Facebook tends to be home to employees and community activities while Twitter is the source for news.
It was important to use Sodexo Insights as more than just a repository for marketing content. “We realized that thought leadership is not us talking about ourselves, it’s our knowledge leaders talking about important issues in our marketplace. If it’s not advancing the body of knowledge, it’s not thought leadership,” Jennifer said.
At the heart of the thought leadership strategy is a clear framework for developing content. Since its inception 50 years ago, Sodexo has been committed to “Improving the Quality of Life” for its customers and the communities it serves. As part of that commitment the company has recently defined six core dimensions in which its services have a measurable impact on quality of life.
The team now uses these six dimensions, along with several global mega-trends, to identify timely topics where it can contribute to advancing the body of knowledge. Williamson explained: “This framework gives us a steady stream of thought leadership. The focus is not just for external use either. All content distributed externally is also shared with sales and operations teams internally to enhance employee engagement and strengthen relationships with existing clients.”
Once they had established the framework and defined their messages, their next challenge was a dearth of content talking about the surprisingly large size and scope of Sodexo’s services. Sodexo is one of the world’s largest global corporations, with 420,000 employees representing 130 nationalities present on 34,000 sites in 80 countries.
One tactic they recently implemented to help potential customers and employees understand what Sodexo does is to publish content four days a week leveraging the news wires. Using traditional press release tactics, they craft and publish the story. It then lives in the Sodexo Insights repository, as well as the various news sites that automatically pick up PRNewswire’s press releases.
No one expects the media to pick up all these releases, although the new approach has spurred a number of interesting on-message stories. The point is that the releases are now evergreen content online, where they can be searched, found, linked to, and used whenever the need arises. Every release features one or more aspects of Sodexo’s capabilities, offers, products, or services. “We’ve gotten very good at taking a wide range of topics and mapping them back to those themes,” explains Williamson (and the fact that all of the content is searchable helps others in the organization tap into it as needed and helps prospective new clients find Sodexo in the digital space).
The spillover effects of this tightly integrated department are huge. They publish a weekly newsletter to alert people about new content and to share info about what is being used and how. One of the benefits is that they are now working closely with the Sodexo marketing teams on integrating content and breaking down silos that lead to ineffective communications efforts. Now they’re becoming part of the unified whole.
The key to Jennifer’s success is her grounding in operations. She understands the numbers that are important to the business. Not just sales, but the rate of customer growth, where the customers are, and what they’re buying—all are closely connected with the communications efforts. The corporate communications team has a keen focus on supporting new business development not only with new clients, but also the cross-selling of services for many of its current clients.
Communications integration flies high at Southwest
Southwest Airlines has taken a similar integrated approach to its communications measurement. Cindy Villafranca, Senior Communications Specialist, walked attendees through the process she went through to integrate internal communications, external (both social and traditional) community relations, and business goals into a single dashboard. (See the slide deck of Cindy Villafranca’s presentation: “The Role of Data, Dashboards, Technology, Data Visualization & Predictive Analytics.”)
The dashboard enables them to track the interrelationships between their various efforts. For example, they had speculated on the impact of external communications sentiment on internal comms. But during the six-month timeframe they analyzed, when the data appeared on the dashboard, there didn’t seem to be any correlations. Their conclusion: Burning issues for employees are not the ones that grab headlines in external media. Of course, as more data is analyzed, there could be correlations made in the future.
Integrated measurement when revenue or sales leads is not the goal
Sean Monogue, Senior Executive for International and Government Relations, Strategy, Communication, and Analytics, U.S. Air Force, and Deanna Centurion, Principal at Cyera Strategies, talked about the unique worlds of the regulated industries, for whom “sales” is never a metric. They face a delicate balance among what they want to say, what they have to say, and what they can’t say. For them, measurement comes down to persuasion and relationships.
In Deanna’s work with energy companies, her job is to “make friends before we need them.” In other words, maintain good relationships with first responders who are frequently the second group of people at a disaster (after the company’s own employees). She measures her relationships with them via a modified Grunig relationship study that she conducts as often as the budget allows.
She is also in the enviable position of working in an industry where measuring communications outreach is mandated by law. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It’s one thing for a company to spend money on community outreach. But, in the energy business where crises are always threatening, you need informed communities to help them react appropriately. So her clients need to measure not just whether or not people are receiving the info, but if they recall it, spend time reading it, comprehend it, and know how to act if needed.
The first thing she does when she gets data back is look for the lowest scores. She then contacts those people and finds out why. As we always say, “learn more from the failures than from the successes.”
For the U.S. Air Force, Sean Monogue has an obligation to “communicate to the public what we are doing with their sons and daughters.” But he also has to live within the narrow boundaries of what can and cannot be shared within the military. His roles are “to build trust, never be seen as communicating to get more funding, and overall to increase understanding of what the Air Force is all about.”
At the same time, there is a very strategic intent to many of his communications. For example, when they announce a deployment of aircraft to a particular region, it’s not to get headlines in the local paper. The goal is to be a deterrent—to send a very clear message to U.S. enemies about our capabilities.
Sean’s requirement is to both communicate and measure those communications all over the globe. He follows a standard format of assessing outputs, outtakes, and outcomes. He measures outputs via a suite of media assessment tools, using a bespoke media quality score. To measure trust and understanding he does extensive analysis of media coverage combined with regular surveys of his audience to ensure that the right messages are being received and understood.
Currently his biggest challenge is recruiting and training airmen in sufficient quantities to meet the U.S.A.F.’s commitments. In the wake of the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sequester-induced budget tightening, staff was reduced and budgets were shifted to modernizing Air Force infrastructure. As Sean put it: “To stay ahead of adversaries not just now but 30 years in the future.”
Then circumstances changed, and more, not fewer airmen were needed in the Middle East. So a broad outreach was started to recruit talent. It’s a tough challenge when nationwide unemployment rates are dropping and everyone is fighting over talent. Add to that the military tradition of rotating leadership every three years. As Sean put it, “I need to be able to collect data to enable the decisions that need to be made at the time, even if I don’t know who’s going to be making them.”
He also uses his metrics to determine where to put the resources that impact recruitment. Resources like the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds, appearances at airshows, and deployment of the U.S.A.F. band to key recruitment communities are all important tools. He closely studies demographic and geographic maps to identify communities that have the highest incidence of likely recruits. Not just the most people, but the most potential recruits with the skills needed by the Air Force. They then use that data to determine which assets go where. (See the slide deck of Sean Monogue’s presentation: “Public Affairs Measurement and Analysis: Developing Insights & Driving Decisions.” ) ∞
For even more information about the 2016 Summit, the history, and the plan for next year, please click here.