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The Changing Landscape 2, Challenges and Opportunities for US Tech Communications in 2021

The Changing Landscape 2, Challenges and Opportunities for US Tech Communications in 2021

[00:00:40] Hello and welcome to this live and our second panel focussing on the challenges and opportunities in B2B tech communications. Now, technology is a sector that has in many ways proved its mettle over the past 12 months, whether it’s how we work, keep up with friends, or being critical to us that vaccine development and rollout the real-life implications, importance of tech lives has been made real. But what impact is this had on technology communications teams? How was the last year? Changed the media landscape, our scope of work, and of course the general well-being of teams and colleagues. While Kaizo commissioned research agency Science is vital to US tech leaders in the US and UK, these very questions. Our panel last week focussed on UK B2C tech leaders and this week very much looking forward to hearing from our panel of U.S. commerce professionals about the US market experience. So I’m delighted to be joined by James Prior, head of Global Communications at four-five, a fabulous semiconductor and IP company based in Texas. Kouji Darah media relations manager at Ninja R.M. who’s an I.T. infrastructure and monitoring and management platform. Beato lovely background there at Kristen Miller, Global Corporate Communications Executive at Ping Identity Specialist and Enterprise Identity and Access Management, who is in Denver. And Zippi Kissane, head of external communications at PUPPET, the I.T. Configuration Management, and Deployment Tool, joins us. So welcome and thank you all for joining us today.

[00:02:21] Thanks for having us. Yeah, thanks for having us. So. Happy to be here.

[00:02:27] Pleasure. So the. So the reattach and a number of different factors over the last year, everything from internal challenges to external to have rules have changed. Let’s start with the beginning and let’s look at the whole what we’ve experienced in terms of the internal challenges that were identified at the top three that came through from the U.S. was quite interesting. They’re all very much focussed on managing the fast changes that we’ve all had to handle, but really focussing on elements like balancing priorities amongst diverse stakeholders, communicating changes, IBM usually quite quickly, and business strategy to address that market changes, or really even keeping on top of a very fast-paced, realtime news environment an agenda. Perhaps you just kick off by asking, you know, does this really matter your own experiences over the last 12 months?

[00:03:34] Yeah, I think it really has matched that some of the biggest challenges that we’ve had internally have been around just kind of organisational stuff around knowing who’s doing what, when it’s happening, and just making sure that everybody is on the same page when things are happening. Something that we’ve kind of focus on as we’ve tried to kind of get ahead of these things is just really big in a lot of process and a lot of time into each one of our announcements. So we know from experience that if we have a product feature coming out, you know, it’s we have a tentative date that we think it will come. And so we’ll try to have everything ready by then. But just due to the nature of development and building new products and features, you can often get shifted. So I work really closely with our global customers Bloor in our product marketing manager, just to make sure that everybody is on the same page so that when it is ready to go, we’ve already been ready to be pitching the news, to be promoting it on our social channels and the various other places. So that’s the biggest thing that we’ve done. And to kind of get over some of those challenges, which is just taking in more time and processes into the work that we’re doing.

[00:04:58] Absolutely. What do you think about it? I mean, it’s quite interesting on that front, on that point at times and processes and trying to build as much, not forget as much forward planned as we can.

[00:05:10] But in the same breath, you’ve got this need for agility and, you know, to quickly respond to these changes. Have you found that the case may be a question?

[00:05:27] Yes, absolutely.

[00:05:29] You know, I think that time management and being able to pivot is especially critical in twenty, obviously, covid came out of nowhere, and for a lot of us, it was kind of a precursor to a crisis communications situation. Things moved very quickly. Messaging was important project, Kaizo visibility. And as we approach that one-year mark for covid, it’s a great time to figure out how your organisation did. How did you manage that process in that change? Because how you handled covid could be a precursor to how you would handle a crisis situation.

[00:06:09] Absolutely, I think does that echo that any of your experiences?

[00:06:15] Yeah, I think it does as well. And I think, you know, working in technology change happens a lot and change is hard.

[00:06:23] Change is hard for people to grapple with and understand. And I think as people, you have to be really, really good at helping people understand why that change exists and how it’s going to help them. Because at the end of the day, you’re a company’s employees, your colleagues, they’re your best brand asset.

[00:06:41] So if they can understand change and be OK with it and communicate what’s going on, that’s what you need to do. So I think that’s a really good point of just being able to communicate wisely. Did you do a good job? Did you not? Where were the holes? How can you fix them in the future to make sure people are comfortable? Change is communicated well and that communication can go out externally, too, internally and externally.

[00:07:06] I think you brought up a really great point where, you know, looking at where you went wrong, you know, I think that after a project, what that we like to do is look at, OK, where were the breakdowns and communication, whatever the breakdowns and processes, what can we be doing so that next time we don’t feel rushed, we don’t feel like we’re under the gun for something, you know, and that kind of goes back to organisation management, but still being sure to look at your past work and think about how you can do better.

[00:07:40] Yeah, that was that’s one of the points. James, sorry, yeah, that’s a strong point from Zibi and Cody, they’re waiting for the right time and getting everybody aligned. I think a lot of people, when all the travel bans went into place, went into road warrior mode. So they set up camp just double down on their time in front of the laptop and try to replace the in-person meetings and discussions and with the virtual and didn’t leave a lot of time for coordinating and pass downs. So the synchronisation was a critical thing that needed to be forced upon a lot of people, I think because you didn’t get the natural bump into someone at the office download.

[00:08:29] Right. You know, we’ve all had the experience of where most work in the day gets done between the watercooler and the break room, where you have that random two-minute conversation and it changes everything.

[00:08:39] So trying to replicate that move that into a formal process has been a big, big balance and trying to just smoothly keep everything running without making people feel like they’re going to ask permission to do things, but while still enabling a consistent, coherent voice.

[00:09:00] Absolutely, I think that’s one of the other points that came up from this question was around the board-level understanding of PR and with particular emphasis on the ability to cut through the media agenda. Have you found it? And I think there’s also an understanding about what PR can deliver within certain times and how it needs to work with other parts of the businesses. Have seen lots of changes through a lot of my clients. You know, it’s far more integrated, plugged into other parts of the business probably than it ever has been before. So I think all of that might have been a challenge. I think that’s been a really positive and tanno kind of awakening for a lot of boards and leadership teams.

[00:09:49] Yeah, Steph, I think I think that you’re absolutely right. I personally had a lot of time with our CEO and other members of our executive team as well, our CSO following what’s been happening with solar winds and like a lot of the cybersecurity incidents that have been happening. You know, AJAM is into cybersecurity, isn’t a security company, but our technology is used adjacent in the stack for people that are working on these issues. So I’ve spent a lot of time with our Kaizo just talking about what we can be doing, how we can be taking his expertise and taking it to our customers, and things like that. So, you know, from the sea level side, there’s been a lot more Buy-In and there’s been a lot more understanding of, OK, we need to be doing some things here, but then thinking about. The other stakeholders involved, for example, we have investors involved as well, so we’ve also been engaging with them a little bit more, as well as looking at how we can align our marketing together, how we can work on other pieces of content together. And so just making so for us, PR has become very valuable. And it’s worthwhile is something that it’s seen as worthwhile. By our investors and by our suite. But we’re looking at how we can be using some of the tools of PR in other ways as well to reach not just media, but our customer’s potential prospects and things like that.

[00:11:25] Excellent. I think that actually if we move on to some of the external challenges that Kingsway and some of these were obviously around the changing media landscape and keeping up with change media face to face issues in audience overload, declining consumption of traditional media, and the shrinking and media landscape. But the top one that came from the U.S. was this notion that the tech sector was going to be perceived as a winner from Crawford. So I guess what do you think of that?

[00:12:07] I thought that was such an interesting question because the US scored so much higher than the UK respondents on that particular question, on the technology sector being, quote-unquote, the winner of covid.

[00:12:19] And, you know, I suppose that the technology space has always been really good at being the solution to a problem. We’ve been doing that for 20 years.

[00:12:27] But there’s a problem that can be solved by technology. And I suppose that covid is no different. So I’m a firm believer that there are really no winners here. It’s up to all of us to communicate clearly and effectively and with empathy when it comes to the sort of global pandemic. There are no winners here at all.

[00:12:49] Yeah, that’s a really, really good take. I think we found there that there is there’s not actually a winner. We can look at metrics of business success and growth and call people winners. But overall, there’s not. And I think that empathetic understanding is key to how we navigate going forward. And it ties back into previously we talked about the media agenda.

[00:13:12] And what do we want to do, you got to be cautious on trying to overly insert your own message into the current events and just stay authentic to your own key communications and knowing that your audience is there and that they’ll find you when they need you versus trying to chase some views or numbers so the winner mentality can cause you to take some actions you really shouldn’t take. So you’ve got to balance all of that against what the reality of the situation is, as does my message today. Do I need to wait and look for a pause or look for a change in sentiment?

[00:13:51] Do I need to wait for the right time to say what I’m trying to get across to my key audience?

[00:14:00] Yeah, I agree. And I think doing as Kristen and James said is empathy is essential, you know, as employees, as leaders, and calm during a time like this. And really, I’m hoping that empathy becomes front and centre for businesses.

[00:14:17] Going forward to definitely think that empathy is absolute. I don’t think that this has been super important for all of us who we work with the really fickle crowd, and they can really tell when you’re not being authentic or when you’re not being empathetic. And I think that there are so many external things that are happening that what James said about being authentic and like finding your voice is is really true. Are you really holding true to how you communicate to your community, to your community, the way that are you perceived as authentic to them? Are you being the best? Are you being the best person that you can be to these people? Because they’re people, too. And it’s important to just treat people with respect. And, you know, everybody will win after that.

[00:15:11] And we’ve also seen oh, so I think I just I think there’s a little bit of a delay when I talk, so apologies of appearing really stuck out. And I was just going to say that that empathetic and relationship-based strategy, which we should all be very good at, you know, we’ve also seen that it’s happening in the UK and across Europe, some of the US media relations that we do, you know, that empathy has been just as important when we are dealing with media.

[00:15:48] Yeah, I think so, because they are suddenly, you know.

[00:15:55] Yeah, I was going to say, I know you talked about earlier media consumption, you know, the media market is shrinking. You know, people are having to convert their careers. People are consuming news in a very different way.

[00:16:09] And I think it’s really important to recognise that when you’re talking to the media and recognise, yeah, they’re not going to be able to write a million stories a day, be empathetic, be smart when you talk to them. And, you know, there are also different channels, too, of reaching out and learning more about connecting with your audience than just media stories.

[00:16:30] And I think it’s really important right now for us to think about communication campaigns that spread beyond the media landscape to reach our audiences.

[00:16:39] Yeah, I think that’s a perfect point. There have been the big one of the biggest challenges for India has been as a smaller company, breaking through to some of those kinds of larger feature stories and stuff like that. We felt we built really great relationships with the channel media and many of the IoT media. And so we feel really good that you know when we have a piece of news that is actually newsworthy, that we’ll end up getting some coverage out of it. But, you know, thinking about, you know, the role, the media, how this role has changed, I might be jumping ahead a little bit here, but. You thinking like earned media is only one part of the equation now, you know, there’s content, there’s no leadership, there are social media, there’s email marketing, there’s what are we going to do with our website? Like, there are so many other things to be thinking about now beyond just am I going to get a piece of coverage in this publication? And like, as much as I want to just be pitching all day. I know that there’s going to be like my time is better spent and our results are better when we think about the communications program or a launch of something holistically and think about it from every department within the organisation.

[00:17:57] Yeah, that’s a really good way to put that. You’ve got to be engaged constantly with your media contacts and that low level just isn’t going to help you to get the good big story when it’s time. And also when they get the opportunity to come back and say, hey, I want to do a feature, I need some background info, you can be part of that conversation, but you’ve got to have other arrows in the quiver to go tell your message to your story and for people to find you your outbound communications no matter what time of day it is. Right. So diversifying off of the media is a key strategy.

[00:18:40] I also wanted to.

[00:18:45] Yeah, I’m sorry, I just wanted to build on something that Tony had mentioned as a key external challenge for Communicators this year, and it’s really about that cyber attack in solar when Cody touched on it here a little bit ago.

[00:19:02] But that that sort of rising of the third-party supply chain attack is going to be felt for years and for a lot of crisis communications and in a lot of tech professionals, that sort of third party supply chain attack is not in your crisis made a lot of those crisis manuals cover when your company does something wrong, not necessarily when another company does something that could affect your company. So I think that there’s going to be a lot of that in addition and an increased likelihood that you’ll be using your crisis manual sometime this year.

[00:19:36] Yeah, I think that’s a very good point, and that, again, is just about it’s not just ruled that have expanded and going into new areas to reach audiences in different ways. It’s also looking at what we’ve got in place, isn’t it?

[00:19:52] And is it fit for Pakistan? You know, we need to take that time and go, OK, how do we need to adapt and amend this?

[00:20:00] And just have one more thing I’d like to add on that. You know, what I’ve been actually really happy to see in the media is from reporters is a bit of empathy for the companies that are affected by these third party attacks. I think even if you look back five years ago when a breach or something like this happened, it was very much what did the company do wrong. And now this is totally different because there are a lot of reasons why Supply-Chain attack happens. There are a lot of reasons why it happens, but it is seeming more like there’s a lot more empathy from the media or when these types of things happen. And I think there are there’s a lot of investigation that goes into what was done on the side of the company. But a lot of people understand now that when you’re facing a nation-state actor or when you’re facing a determined individual, they will find a way to get into your system and nobody is safe. And that’s just something that I think if we’re talking about cybersecurity, people are starting to understand now.

[00:21:04] And I think that that that understanding carries with it some empathy for the business as well. But at the same time as a business, it’s not something like that happens. The first rule needs to be transparency and becoming out and being empathetic yourself and transparent of what has happened in what you’re doing to rectify the situation.

[00:21:31] Definitely, definitely. So on the some of that, just thinking about these change rules and think the way that what we do is being impacted by the last 12 months, I mean, there were a lot of positives, some of which we’ve talked about, but there were also some pretty negative on the whole, the whole set of results on this question, it was kind of the good, the bad and the ugly and the bad or the sad, I should say, were the responses around stress.

[00:22:04] What are you for long-term job security and how a lot of respondents felt its impact negatively on not only on their work-life balance but also kind of on the mental health of their team. Is Zibi, I know that you mentioned Allio about the importance of keeping this cultural drive and creativity and buzz.

[00:22:31] But how would what kind of as an industry, what do you think we can be doing as Comb’s leads us to ensure that our teams and ourselves aren’t in that boat because the focus in the US was really high?

[00:22:46] Mm-hmm. I think it’s just really hard. I think it’s partnering oftentimes that comes with your H.R. department around, hey, this is happening like we need to actually do something about it, whether it’s creating a program where people go outside, having managers or leaders insist people take vacations and doing things like that. But we do like meditation classes, I think, and then being very open about mental health, like we recognise this is a problem. If you’re experiencing it, here are some resources to help you. And just again, leading with empathy, realise everyone’s in a different situation. We don’t necessarily know what’s going on with people as much as we used to because we can’t grab coffee or lunch. So really, really trying to lead with empathy, make sure that you’re partnering with each other to understand, like, hey, what are we doing for our people to make sure that during this hard time their needs are being addressed, physical and mental needs are being addressed during this time? I think that’s really, really, really important. And then comes internal plays a huge role in making sure people know that their company supports them and they have resources to support them. And I think it comes also up to leadership that companies to really make sure that they’re thinking about this stuff and their employees. Well, comps can only go so far.

[00:24:06] Leadership has to play an active role in making sure mental health is front and centre at a time like this and hopefully in the future too.

[00:24:16] I couldn’t agree more. I think that there’s something to be said about burnout and how we experience that in the past, it used to be a prolonged period of really intense stress. It could be a project or it could be too much travel. But this feels a little bit different with covid because it’s more of year-long, low-grade stress that just keeps coming and coming and coming. And I think for many of us, it for my particular situation, I’m a PR person, I’m a mom, and now I’m a part time second-grade teacher. That’s really hard to have that work-life balance. But on the flip side, you have lots of people who are living alone and they don’t have that interaction.

[00:24:58] I think that that’s even harder. So I think that he’s right about leaving with an empathetic ear and making sure that as a manager, you’re talking to all of your employees, not just from work performance, but about how they’re doing, how they’re managing, because that’s a critical part of every job.

[00:25:17] Yeah, go ahead, cutie. Oh, sorry, I was just going to add, I think the nature of our work is such that there’s generally a pretty heavy workload. And so finding out the best way to set your own deadlines and to communicate those deadlines to other stakeholders is going to be is it’s been really important for us just to make sure that we do have some type of work-life balance that’s been my number one thing. When I left the agency world and joined Ninja RMN work-life balance was my number one thing that I wanted to make sure was that we had. So despite the fact that I’m where I feel like I’m working on so many more projects, so many more writing assignments, so many more communications, I have been really adamant about setting personal deadlines and setting personal timelines for when to expect something, when we will be doing something. And they’ve really I’ve really had a lot of that responsibility and over when something is happening shifted to me. So that’s been helpful just for creating more of a work-life balance. It’s obviously like it always feels at the end of the day like the work is never done. But I also know that I’ve communicated with my teams. I’ve told everybody what’s happening. I know I know the timeline in my head. And so I’ll be OK. But I think that the conversation that we’re having here around mental health is a really important one to be having. And it’s something that all companies should definitely be stepping up to do more. I know for a fact that there are folks at our organisation that probably need some help, just as there are folks in every other organisation, who probably need some help right now. It’s a tough time out there for everybody. And whether or not you’re living at home alone or if you’re a parent, which I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be a parent right now. You know, it’s everybody needs a little bit more support and a little bit more understanding.

[00:27:24] Yes, definitely a time to extend every little bit of grace that you’ve got and to really mean it when you start the call with, hey, how are you? I know we all do it. Hi, how are you? Great. How are you? Good. And then move on to the business topic. But I’ve found several times know it’s better to come back and say, so what’s really going on? And just let everybody decompress a little bit. And he finally makes more progress in other areas too, because you’re giving people a chance to get out of this worrying mode. Right. We see these responded saying they’re stressed about job security, stressed about the workload levels, then finding ways to relieve that pressure without being just authentic. What is the true level of investment in time we need on projects? You have the four or five rounds of review enough or does it really need to go for another one more just because you’ve always done that? So adjusting some of those processes to be sensitive and even just when we ask people to have virtual happy hours sometimes in the evening isn’t a great idea because our time the second-grade teacher is doing market revision and working and stuff, and it’s not actually making their life easier by asking them to do that then. So you’ve got to find the time and all those great things Xabi and Christine brought up and Cody to kids. They all balanced together and they always come back to empathy and grace.

[00:28:55] Absolutely, and I think that you know, obviously agency and I think the most productive and best work that’s being done this year, our clients were lucky. This applies to a huge proportion of them with who we have really good long-term in-depth relationships. So you immediately have that. You know, I mean, I’m sure you guys all know, you know, a good agency as an extension of your team. But that can be a comfort in times like these. And I think that, as I say, the ones where we saw real success and you get that back, don’t you, from an agency? Because if you treat if there’s a good relationship, you get back tenfold because people want to work with you. But, you know, I think a lot of lessons learned on that as well. But what I’m just aware of everybody’s time. But just on the agency front, what do you think your agencies are if you don’t have agencies and you know, and it’s coming to you with ideas like what would you what can they do better for you and how can they help you?

[00:30:03] I think when you look again at the media landscape, what’s happening with covered with destruction, I mean, there’s been a ton of changes. Conferences have changed. Everything has changed. There’s a million podcast it feels like in the world. I love podcasts, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just been a lot of change. And I think an agency that can see that change and be creative around how can we utilise our comms functionality within this change and within these different channels, is going to win in the end because you can’t be the normal PR agency where 10 five years ago. You have to be more of a comms agency. And I think that’s going to be how PR agencies are really going to level up and show their worth is being creative and thinking more about comms as a whole versus just the usual PR pitch. Which has never been the best agency anyway, but I think it’s even more intense now, even more highlights.

[00:31:01] Yeah, yeah.

[00:31:02] Being able to get him part of the conversation and find the opening and say, hey, this conversation is aligning to your core values and interests and you could have a voice here is a really valuable skill for an agency. So bringing that finger on the pulse. And here are some of the talking points that we recommend you look at. Here are the people who are talking about it. Does this align with something you can do right now? Really adds a lot of value. It brings in a lot of opportunities because you can speak authentically at the right moment. And it just works.

[00:31:39] Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think that we have so much on our plate that for us to have an agency be able to just come to us and say, hey, this is happening, this is what you guys should be talking about, all of this type of stuff coming with a game plan, essentially when there’s something that is breaking or when there’s like a new story that you think we should be a part of, that’s helpful. It’s not helpful to just say, hey, this is happening. You know, it’s so there’s a little bit more of that extra thought that goes into what really helps. And then also from our side, one of the big things that I started doing when we moved into this role was just tracking all of the outreach that we’re doing. And from my past experience, this was not something that agencies were doing or the agencies that I was working with were doing and understanding. Every campaign that you’re running and knowing how many people that you’re reaching out to, the percentage of responses, there’s a percentage of what turns into coverage, what turns into a link, what turns into something else like those are all really, really important numbers to know because that helps us determine what’s worth our time and what’s going to move the needle, what’s going to be a good investment for us. And that’s been we recently started working with an agency in Germany and that’s been delivering really actionable insights for us and then tracking in, like, the two biggest things that have been my personal things that I need.

[00:33:21] I agree with absolute if we go yeah, the only one other question that I asked, which sees the importance of communication, we know, especially as we’ve all done, remotely important to the overcommunication, the Islamic conferences and things like that. I think it’s important for an agency to make sure that there are over-communicating as they’re seeing things.

[00:33:50] And I think pushing companies, right, not pushing companies to think bigger as well. That’s my last point.

[00:34:00] So I was just going to say I’m definitely having a communication issue on this broadcast.

[00:34:06] And so my last question to you all, which I’ll take you one by one and.

[00:34:14] Can you give me one thing you’ve learned from the past year-wise, so I’m going to stop you right beside me on the screen, Cody.

[00:34:23] Sure. So one thing I’ve learned, if it’s a project to care about it, own it. Like, don’t wait for another person to take any part of the control. You know, don’t wait for somebody else to take control of it. Just own the project, delegate what you need to get done. And if it’s something that you really care about, as you should, you should know it from beginning to end.

[00:34:47] Question.

[00:34:49] Yes, I think it’s the importance of flexibility and time management 20 20 through a lot of it, and it’s important to stay flexible and to stay nimble and to realise that that sometimes the best-laid plans are not going to go to the point. So you need to make sure that you have a plan B.

[00:35:09] Yeah, I think authentic passion is really what struck out for me this year. It’s been finding that authentic voice, the passion that you have for your project, for your company, for the message you’re trying to put out there. If you’ve got that, then it’ll work regardless of the timing of the segments and schedules and everything else that authentic passion will carry. So look for that. Find it. And if it’s not there, then challenge it. Why do we need to do this? Find the next level.

[00:35:44] And last but not least, Zippi, this was hard, I think, to find a company you’re passionate about, right?

[00:35:52] Like it’s been a hard time, you’re working more if you’re not passionate, the company, the leadership, you know, maybe try to find something new, because I think during a time of crisis and a lot, you know, leadership and company values matters. More so than anything. So absolute.

[00:36:13] Absolutely. Well, thank you to all four of you. What a great discussion. There have been some really good points raised. I think what’s clear, I think of where you’re watching the world at the moment. We’ve said a couple of times it’s been quite 12 months.

[00:36:30] But I think what has come through from both of these sessions the on the research is that you know, what happens is a lot of changes that were happening anyway have been accelerated. And most of that is positive. And but we do just need to be aware, and it’s been really great that the level of discussion around empathy and relationships actually on this panel because I think we mustn’t lose sight of that. And I think if we can figure out how to take these landings, then move forward with them, then the world will definitely be a better place. And so all that or we need to do. Thank you to all. And to remind everyone that you can see this episode of Kaizo Life on our website, Kaizo, DR UK, along with all previous episodes. So thank you again to your panel. Thank you for getting up early and I’ll see you next week.