There is never a dull moment when you work in communications. It’s by far the most unpredictable job I have ever had. Watching everything come together each day is like magic — with so much out of your control, the stars have to align for it to all go the way you want.
Jamie Naughton, Zappos
After 13 years working in a customer service-driven company, where we’re tasked with incorporating our core values into our business decisions, sometimes it’s difficult to know the best way to approach a situation or project. What I’ve learned, especially in my most recent role of overseeing the corporate communications team, is the most important thing to remember is everyone is your customer.
What key value does comms bring to the C-suite? Messaging is a big one: our ability to package the brand concisely and consistently. It may come naturally to those of us practicing communications every day, but it’s not to those whose main focus is on the numbers or the technical side of things. Our companies are probably doing so many great things. That’s where we come in, bringing that work to life with personality. Storytelling is as real a business imperative as there is — both internally and externally.
The reality is, an average corporate communications team will support lots of different teams with different purposes within the same organization. The real task is allocating your time, attention, and resources to each of these teams as you would to individual customers.
The toughest gig of all
Even though it’s a tall order, in my experience, we’ve found the most success when we tackled internal comms the same way we tackle external comms. Internal comms offers its own challenges, but usually the biggest one is deciding whether to under-communicate or over-communicate. The task then becomes speaking to all 1,500 employees as individual people while also talking to them as a group.
The tools at your disposal are the same as you would have for external customers, but the information you include on each is where you get some differences. We’re always trying out and experimenting with new mediums and venues of storytelling and making sure to gather feedback from our employees just as we would from our external customers.
Customers are everywhere
Our job is all about storytelling. When great stories come out of HR, or IT, or the call center, it’s our job to know about them so we can amplify them. This is where you apply your PR expertise. The same goes when other teams come to us proactively with a story they’re super excited about. If it’s not ready for prime time, it’s not our job not to say yes or no, but rather to work with them until it is ready to soar.
No matter what flavor of PR you practice, my biggest lesson is the same: Everyone loves good customer service. Your communications customer doesn’t always know what result will mean success for their campaign or story, but you can help guide them to what you know will achieve their goals in a way that leaves them with a positive customer-service experience.
There is never a dull moment when you work in communications. It’s by far the most unpredictable job I have ever had. Watching everything come together each day is like magic — with so much out of your control, the stars have to align for it to all go the way you want. Most days you find yourself relying at least a bit on luck, but it certainly helps to work with people who thrive in chaos. Find those who do well in the fast-paced frenzy of crisis comms and work together.
Chill out (a little)
My advice to someone on their first day heading a comms team: Don’t take yourself so seriously. Everything you do is the “most important thing” to you. When someone on my team makes a mistake and thinks the world is ending, I tell them to calm down and take a step back. The world is still going 100 mph. There will be another fire to put out tomorrow, so don’t let yourself get caught up in the craziness of today.
Jamie Naughton is chief of staff at Zappos. In that role, she works directly with CEO Tony Hsieh to focus on communications and the culture for which the company has become known.