“Who do you report up through?”
It’s a question that’s been popping up a lot more lately–in conversations over coffee, in meetings and online.
And, apparently, for good reason. According to one recent survey, in-house comms teams report up through at least EIGHT different departments, including–GULP–legal! (I don’t want to know the story behind that one)
And, that’s just one survey. If discussions with friends and colleagues are any indication, reporting structures vary widely across the Twin Cities.
Some report straight to the CEO.
Many report up through marketing.
Others report through HR.
Others yet, strategy.
Some even report through the CFO.
And while I’d probably guess the largest percentage report through marketing, I’d also be willing to guess it’s probably more evenly dispersed across other departments than you might think.
And why is that?
For starters, comms and PR continue to be disciplines that are not widely understood among the executive set. How long have we been talking about this? (answer: far longer than this communicator has been in the business!) A lack of understanding is certainly contributing, as many companies simply don’t know where to put comms/PR. This is how you start reporting to legal, apparently!
I also think a big part of this is the fuzzy nature of comms/PR itself. I mean, if you ask 100 communicators to define PR/comms, you may get 100 different answers! Sometimes it involves social. Other times it’s more heavy in employee comms. The answer in how you define it often leads to where it reports up through. For example, if your comms team focuses more heavily on employee comms, chances are you probably ladder up through HR (or the CEO). Whereas, if your comms team gets more involved with media work and social media marketing (especially on the paid side), you’re probably reporting to marketing or strategy.
But, the big question most people want to discuss is this: Which structure works best?
That’s the million dollar question.
Again, I believe a good starting point to answering that is how you define comms/PR.
Beyond that, I also think about how corporations see some of these different functions. For example, HR is seen as a cost center whereas marketing is a revenue driver. That definitely makes a difference when we’re talking about setting future budgets and making the case for additional head count! I’d definitely rather be on the marketing side of the house for that very reason. And, reporting through HR can typically lead to an over-focus on HR-related comms (benefits comms, recruiting, etc.). Not saying that’s always the case–just a trend I’ve noticed.
You also have to consider the nature of the company. If you’re a sales-focused company, reporting through sales might not be the worst thing in the world. This is where the company is focusing its time and effort–you’d be right in the middle of it all! And yes, pressure would be on to drive leads, given this alignment, but I’d rather have that pressure than to be reporting up through the legal function (I hate to beat that dead horse, but man, it’s just so proposterous!).
At the end of the day, the tough answer to this question is: “It depends.”
There are many factors that go into developing the right reporting structure for corporations. I don’t think there’s a definitive right or wrong answer.
But, I would be curious as to what you think–especially if you’ve been on the corporate side and seen first-hand what some of these different reporting structures look like. Let me know in the comments below, or on LinkedIn.
The year was 2012. A good friend, Shelli Lissick, had recommended my name to Dr. Tom Grier, a professor at my alma mater, Winona State University. After chatting with Dr. Grier over the phone, I made the trip to Winona to speak to his class for the first of what would be many times over the next 7-8 years.
With that, my interest and passion for teaching was ignited.
Over the next few years, I would speak at Winona at least once a year. Then, long-time friend, Betsy Andersen asked me to speak at her class at the University of St. Thomas. I had never really spent much time on that campus, but fell in love with it almost immediately. Maybe I could, one day, teach at this wonderful school, I thought. Seemed far-fetched, but a dream started to grow.
Recently, that dream became a reality.
Earlier this month, I was officially invited to teach my first class (a social media class) at the University of St. Thomas this fall.
Now, I realize this might seem like an odd dream to some. After all, let’s be completely honest, there’s not much fame or fortune in teaching. No one accepts an adjunct position because they’re looking to get rich and/or “famous.” And, why would someone with a solid solo digital marketing practice agree to teach and take time away from that?
For starters, no, I’m not doing it for the money. And, I wouldn’t think many of the other adjuncts I’ve known over the years, were either. We do it because we love it (or, in my case, I think I’m going to love it). And, we want to help shape the next generation of marketing and communications’ minds.
Second, this will not affect my solo practice in any way–at least, that’s my plan for now. I actually think they complement each other nicely. I’ll bring much of the work I do in the industry into the classroom each week–I think this will be the area where I can add the most value for students, at least out of the gate. On the flip side, I think my clients will benefit, too, as I’ll bring new thinking to the table as a result of the research and reading I’ll have to do for class each week. What’s more, many of these students will soon enter the workforce–my clients may be needing to hire them! Who better to recommend the best and brightest than their professor!
Overall, I also see teaching as a “second act” for me down the road. My wife and I have designs on scaling back our work lives once our kids are out of the house (just six years away now!). For me, I’m hoping that means a mix of consulting (fewer hours) + teaching, with the idea of phasing out the consulting eventually. This is many years away, but that’s my tentative plan.
For now, I’m so excited to get started at UST. But, before I do, I have so many people to thank–people who got me to where I am today in this journey:
Betsy Anderson — Betsy has helped me in so many ways throughout the last 8-10 years, from inviting me to speak many times at UST and the University of Minnesota, where she now teaches, to mentoring and helping me out as I start this journey.
Mark Jenson — Another long-time friend and mentor, I will be following in Mark’s footsteps in a way, as I start teaching this fall (just like he did a couple years ago at the U of M).
Aaron Zaslofsky — Aaron initially introduced me to Bruce (see below) who introduced me to the Dean who hired me. None of this happens without Aaron’s generosity.
Bruce Moorehouse — I met Bruce after an introduction from Aaron. Even though we instantly connected, he certainly didn’t have to take the extra time to personalize introduce me to the Dean and vouch for me as an adjunct. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank Bruce enough.
Dr. Tom Grier — I’ve gotten to know Tom pretty well after speaking to his class probably more than 10 times over the last number of years at Winona St. I never had Tom as a prof when I was in school, but I certainly have come to admire and respect his approach and style as a professor–most likely a style and approach I will employ in the classroom starting this fall.
Angela Hanson — No one pulls off the independent consulting gig without the support of their spouse. I’m no different. And, this teaching position at UST never happens without me doing the solo thing the last nine-plus years.
See you on campus this fall!
Remember back to the early days of social media when we put customers/fans/people in convenient persona buckets?
Typically, these were titles like: commenters, influeners, creators, sharers, engagers, and lurkers.
Ever since, most companies have been focused on those engagers, creators and influencers. And, maybe for good reason. I saw one recent stat that claimed 22% of 18-34 yo’s made a major purchase after seeing an influencer endorse the product.
But, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot more about those lurkers. I’ve been thinking about the 90-9-1 rule which claims there’s one thought leader in each group, 9 others who are fairly active, engaging regularly, and 90 that are happy just lurking and listening quietly (although others have argued it’s closer to 70-20-10).
Regardless of the numbers, the majority of our social communities are lurkers. There’s no question about that. And, I tend to think that number is growing. I don’t have any data to back up that claim–I’m simply basing it on a few key factors:
- The evolution of social media platforms. As the platforms mature, I feel like more people are simply using them as news sources vs. communities to comment and ask questions. Think about how many people use Facebook and what we’ve seen with engagement rates lately. It’s flat-lining. Fewer engagers. More lurkers.
- The growth of chat apps. Growth curves for Messenger and WhatsApp have been steep the last few years. This is where people are “engaging” and talking with friends and family. And, the rest are using Fortnite 🙂
- Personal experience. Almost every month, I seem to get a note from someone that tells me they’ve either been a long-time reader of my blog or a long-time subscriber of the Talking Points e-newsletter, but they’ve never once commented on a post, or shared it publicly. And, I’ve also noticed far fewer comments on blog posts and social media posts the last number of years.
Lurker numbers are huge. Yet, we don’t pay as much attention to these people of these numbers. We downplay impressions. We minimize reach numbers. We spend billions of dollars, collectively, paying to partner with influencers to reach our customers.
Yet, lurkers still represent the most sizable, and potentially profitable, segment of our social audiences.
Consider the following hypothesis’ for a moment:
- Lurkers may not comment regularly, but that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually buy/convert.
- Lurkers may not share every week, but that doesn’t mean they’re not reading your blog content.
- Lurkers may not like your posts each day, but that doesn’t mean at some point they won’t share a piece of social content that they feel particularly passionate about.
Now think back to how you measure success in social media marketing. Most likely, you’re looking at engagements, traffic and probably leads. Impressions and reach may no longer be on the list.
I know these lurkers are hard to measure. They’re tough to quantify, and it’s next to impossible to explain to CMOs and SVPs the long-term business impact these lurkers can have.
But, I’ll leave you with this: Just because these lurkers aren’t engaging, doesn’t mean they’re not buying.
Coming up in the PR and comms world in the Twin Cities, Greg Zimprich was always one of those names I saw often. Probably partly because, at the time, he had a killer job managing brand PR for General Mills. And partly because, well, he’s a rock star!
But, over the course of many years, he was just that–a name. That changed in recent years when I met Greg for the first time. We had him on our Talking Points Podcast. I had coffee with him to discuss all matters MN PRSA. And, the more I get to know Greg, the more it’s obvious to me: he truly is a rock star in our field. A titan, if you will.
Let’s hear more from one of the living legends of our industry, Greg Zimprich.
First, can you tell us more about your current role at Medtronic? What made/makes financial communications so intriguing to you?
First, Medtronic is such a great company, with such an engaging and supportive, mission-driven culture. Second, my role in leading finance communications is new, so it’s an exciting opportunity to shape the voice and narrative for the function and our CFO Karen Parkhill. I’ve always gone into every new role with the attitude that I’m going to learn new skills and gain new knowledge. This role affords me the chance to both learn corporate finance and also to help translate the finance story for both the function as well as the broader company.
You’ve spent time on the big corporate side (Honeywell, Medtronic, GM) and the big agency side (Weber, Miller Meester)—for those who might be reading this who are just starting out, how would you characterize the pros and cons of each side?
I’ve enjoyed roles on both sides during my 30-year career. Here are a few thoughts. First, it’s not atypical for corporate roles to require several years of experience, even at the most junior level. And that’s why I think agencies are a great place to start out and to gain meaningful experience. You’ll also gain exposure to how different clients think about PR. Some thrive in the frenetic pace of agencies and learn how to effectively multi-task – plus, the variety is appealing for many people. Corporate roles typically offer the chance to go vertically deep in a specific practice area or industry, and that can be appealing for other people. Either way, we all need to take advantage of the situations that allow us to learn the industry and make ourselves better, because the opportunities in this field are endless.
You also somehow find the time to be an adjunct professor at Metropolitan State University. Why did you decide to take on that role and what has been the biggest learning from your experience so far?
It’s pretty simple. The professors I had in college and grad school who real-world experience made a huge impact on me. Gary Evans was editor of the Winona Daily News when he taught at Saint Mary’s. George Reedy, who was the press secretary for Lyndon Johnson, taught me at Marquette. For me, it’s really important to give back and share what I’ve learned during my career. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how eager these students are to learn and apply their knowledge. They’re like sponges.
A couple months ago, you also assumed the role of President of Minnesota PRSA. As we talked late last year, I know you have a lot of big ideas. I’m curious to hear what’s on your agenda, as president, for the upcoming year?
We have an aggressive agenda for the year and I feel very fortunate to work with such a strong board and highly committed co-chairs. In January, we became the first PRSA chapter in the nation to have a full-voting, board-level Diversity and Inclusion Officer. We are so excited about partnering with Marsha Pitts-Phillips to implement that initiative. We also are in the midst of strategic planning led by Janet Swiecichowski, which will help us set the course for the next 3-5 years as our chapter and industry continues to evolve. We made several changes – including transitioning to a new management firm and new website platform – that will help change our cost structure and put us on strong financial footing. Eva Keiser and I partnered to launch a new integrated partnership program to ensure our long-time supporters receive real value for their sponsorship dollars. And finally, like most professional associations, we’re constantly battling for the time and attention of our members and the broader community of practice. So we need to continually hone our offerings and content delivery to strive for relevance.
Turns out, you’ve already had one big announcement—naming Marsha Pitts-Phillips as the chapters Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Can you talk a little about that role and why it’s so important for MN PRSA and the PR industry?
Our chapter – and our industry more broadly – would benefit from being more reflective of the rapidly evolving world in which we operate, and we clearly have work to do. That includes diversity of skillsets, mindsets and cultures – in addition to the obvious opportunities to improve across racial, ethnic, gender, orientation and religious lines. Building mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics fundamentally requires an authentic knowledge and familiarity with those publics. Diversity of thought inherently leads to better-informed, stronger and more stimulating ideas, discussions and debates. We are blessed to have Marsha Pitts-Phillips leading our Minnesota PRSA Diversity and Inclusion efforts and we’ll be sharing more details about our 2019 plans in the coming weeks.
During your time at Mills, especially, you had an opportunity to meet and work with some pretty incredible sports figures and celebrities. Any stories stand out (that you can publicly talk about, at least)?
I was the senior PR lead for Big G Cereals for about 10 years. During that time, Wheaties rarely had marketing budgets that would support advertising, so PR was the main brand driver. It was during that time we created the concept of unveiling an oversized replica of the package cover as if it were a piece of art. Our box unveiling B-roll packages were used extensively by local and national TV outlets coast-to-coast, and it wasn’t unusual to get 1,000-plus broadcast placements. So for a number of years, the brand team would literally let me write the marketing flow for the year – including which athletes to feature on the box. Naturally, I had a list of some of my boyhood heroes who never made it, so I worked through that list – Roberto Clemente, Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron – and more. My best memories, though, were the personal friendships with some of the athletes – guys like Walter Payton and Ozzie Smith and others. We had dozens and dozens of other spokespeople through the years outside of sports as well. It was a great time to be in that role.
I know you, like me and many others listening, are also a huge Vikes fan. Since we can’t really talk about “favorite Vikings moments” (um, there’s only one that I can think of recently!), what’s your most painful Vikes memory?
There are far too many to count. Don’t get me wrong – I bleed purple – but it’s difficult for me to ever feel too good about the team knowing that at any minute they could break our collective hearts. The four Super Bowl losses – in 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1976 – certainly stand out. NFC Championship overtime losses with the 15-1 team in 1998 and the Brett Favre interception in 2009 still sting to this day. And everyone universally agrees that Drew Pearson still pushed off in the 1977 championship game – allowing the Cowboys to win. And how about 41-donut loss vs. the Giants. I think I feel my blood pressure rising. Thanks, Arik.
As I approach 50, I see many of my friends and colleagues struggling a little to find positions and the right “fit”. As someone who has seemed to successfully navigate those waters over the last number of years, what advice would you share with those folks?
First, congratulations on approaching that important milestone – and come on in, the water’s fine. Also, don’t believe all those stories you’ve heard! As someone who considers himself a life-long learner, I’ve always felt it’s important to continually evaluate your skills and background to understand your strengths and opportunity areas. Use that assessment to go into every new situation with your own agenda of the skills, background and knowledge you hope to gain. Plus, building a successful career requires discernment and refinement along the way – both in knowing what you like to do, but more importantly, knowing what you don’t like to do. Focus your attention there and the navigating part becomes a lot easier. And most who know me also know my No. 1 rule – always have fun, no matter what you’re doing.
Last week, a friend sent me a Facebook DM: “Should we still be using press releases?”
Simple question, but one that’s full of history and heated debated on both sides of the coin.
But, in 2019, I think it’s a question worth seriously considering. Do you really still need to be using press releases as part of your PR/comms strategy?
Of course, you’ll find the vendors that benefit from press release use are still backing it in 2019. Take this Cision study for example.
On the other hand, Silicon Valley start-up folks have had a rough relationship with the media and the press release for years–take a spin through this old post to get a better sense.
What’s always been missing in this debate is a relatively objective third-party who can take an impartial look at what’s happening, how things have shifted and give an informed opinion on this topic.
OK, fine I’ll share my opinion! 🙂
Press releases were designed, at least initially, as a way to get news out to a mass amount of media outlets with minimal effort. This is why wire services exist, right? “We need to get our press release out on the wire!” is a phrase you used to hear many years ago.
The idea, of course, is that the media will use the release in a few different ways:
- Key message “pull-through” — this is a fancy way of saying the journalist will use your key messages from your release in his/her story
- Direct quotes — you hope the journalist pulls straight quotes from your release
- Client mentions — of course we want this, right?
- Lifting big chunks of the release — in some ways, this is best case scenario, they almost run the release word-for-word!
Now, press releases can, and do, continue to do all these things. In spots, they work quite well (getting corporate announcements out to a large group of reporters, for example). But, today’s communicator also has many more options at his/her fingertips in 2019–options that simply weren’t available 15-20 years ago.
Predominantly, I’m talking about corporate blogs and social channels here. In many cases, media will follow these blogs and accounts for information in real-time. You could make an argument that Twitter is the modern wire service in many ways!
Also: If you think about the goals I talked about above, wouldn’t you have a better chance of success with the first one, and maybe even #2 and #3, if you had a personalized pitch with a reporter you actually had regular contact? I would certainly think so.
On the other side, today’s reporter is more stretched than ever before. They don’t have as much time for research as they once did. So, a well-written press release in their inbox can go a long ways toward securing coverage–especially when it comes to goal #4 above.
All that said, I’ve been leaning away from the traditional press release for a number of years. My big reasons?
1: Banking on quality vs. quantity.
I’d rather take a few hits with some key publications vs. 25 hits with publications I (and the client) have barely heard of before. It’s quality over quantity. I can’t think of too many clients that wouldn’t want just 1-2 hits in key pubs they really want to get into vs. 10 hits in pubs in that “other” or “nice to have” bucket.
2: The SEO angle is dead.
As if it were really ever alive! Years ago, many would argue there was true SEO value in getting a high volume of stories placed in the media with links back to your site. This was almost 100% an SEO strategy by PRs. But, I never saw it that way. It felt like people were gaming the system. It didn’t feel effective. And, I really never heard too many stories about it working all that well. Certainly, in 2019, this is not an effective approach, or justification to use a news release.
3: In it for the long run.
I much prefer an approach similar to what my friend and podcast partner, Kevin Hunt, has done at General Mills. They run media-ready stories on their blog first–then pitch. Or, better yet, over the years, they’ve conditioned certain media to look for them! Many media will reach out to them for a story based on what they saw on the corporate blog! That probably doesn’t work for most companies, as GM is a Fortune 500 company with a big following. But, the concept still works across many different industries and niches–it’s more about the long play than the short-term reward. And, that’s what I’m interested in when it comes to developing media relationships and generating value for clients.
Just my two cents in the “press release is dead” conversation. What about you–got an opinion on this always hot topic?