What does Michael Baker International do and what path did you take to your current role as global communications lead of the company?
Michael Baker International is a global leader in engineering, planning and consulting services. Those services include planning, architectural, environmental, construction, program management, and full life-cycle support services, as well as information technology and communications services and solutions. The company is currently represented in 38 countries.
Prior to joining Michael Baker International, I spent nearly 20 years at global public relations agencies in Chicago and Pittsburgh where I worked on domestic and international B2C and B2B public relations initiatives and teams, and integrating communications functions to deliver measurable results for clients.
Which key skills must communications professionals have in order to be successful in a lead communicator role with direct access to the CEO and wide ranging decision making power?
The ability to serve as an advisor who can provide a range of strategic options and recommendations complemented by the practical knowledge of how to put tactics into action, as well as getting into the weeds as needed. There is also a need to remain nimble – C-suite executives often go against the grain in ways large and small, which requires corporate communications teams to provide counsel and often recalibrate to ensure message consistency.
In addition, it is important to be a good listener and interpreter. Communications must capture the tone and energy a CEO wants to convey to colleagues as well as external audiences, and our charge is to ensure a consistent, “one voice” narrative.
Do you agree that the importance of senior level communications executives has increased as a result of the growing importance of corporate reputation?
Corporate reputation has always been important. The difference now may be that communications advisors are more successful at working with executives at every step in the communications continuum. This more regular access and dialogue can demonstrate for executives the value in building and protecting corporate reputation as a regular course of action, i.e., in every interaction with team members, clients, the public, rather than as something to only focus on in an issues management situation.
Can you give an example of how you have dealt with an issue or a crisis and successfully protected corporate reputation?
During my career I have had the opportunity to work with companies to manage issues that threatened corporate reputation. The most successful issues management programs were those where a solid foundation had been established with influencers and allies before the issue had arisen. In the organization’s time of need, there were hence third-party character witnesses who could stand with the company.
In all instances when corporate reputation was threatened, we followed the mantra of “identify the problem, do the right thing to correct it and then talk about it.” Deeds, not just words; doing the right thing; taking action to ensure the issue does not occur again, and then reporting on progress toward specific objectives went a long way toward rebuilding corporate reputation and trust.
What are thought leaders saying about the future of corporate communications and what do communicators need to know to best prepare for their professional futures?
There is greater emphasis on enlisting team members throughout an organization to participate in conversations and contribute content to tell a company’s story rather than corporate communications serving as the only curator. Millennials, and then Generation Z, expect multi-channel communication engagement – texts, brief videos, social media – to stay informed about their company.
As far as what communicators should know to prepare for their professional futures, it’s essential to be open to new technologies provided they resonate with your key audiences. No one wants to be known as the company that still employs 20th
century communications strategies.