At the recent PRSA Boston annual meeting, Massachusetts native Deirdre Latour, chief communications officer for GE, shared her lessons learned around her media strategy for the company’s relocation of its global corporate headquarters to Boston. “One lesson I learned: to make sure everyone involved understands the word ‘embargo,’” she quipped, referring to how the Boston Globe broke the story ahead of the announcement date.
Once the news was out, it was all Boston’s b2b Technorati could talk about: one of the country’s oldest companies, founded by Edison, is moving into the young, hip (dare I even say, “hipster”) Seaport district alongside such cool companies as LogMeIn and WeWork. Reporters wanted to know every juicy detail about the company’s plan to add jobs to the local economy, any sweetheart tax deals it might have received, and most importantly, what their fancy new global headquarters were going to look like.
Aside from “Don’t trust the Boston Globe,” here are a few other pointers from Ms. Latour that were memorable:
- Be transparent. In short, PR practitioners need to tell the truth – to clients and to the media. According to Latour, if you’re going through mental gymnastics to find a way to “spin” a story in your favor, you’re doing it wrong.
- Be authentic. One of the reasons GE CEO Jeff Immelt is so magnetic and such a sought-after media spokesperson is his straightforward communications style. His personality comes through – regardless of the setting.
- Be timely. Latour’s advice if your brand gets some negative or unflattering press: don’t wait too long to respond. Spend too much time in the marketing “echo chamber” crafting your message by committee, and you’ve missed your opportunity to take back ownership of the story.
- Be a risk taker. When something controversial happens, it’s tempting to want to stay quiet and blend into the background until the situation blows over. But brands that decide to take the “safe” approach also run the risk of missing an opportunity to truly shape a conversation.
My favorite piece of advice from Latour for PR pros was to “trust your gut.” When something feels wrong, or if you feel that a client is making a choice based on fear or bad advice, it’s your responsibility as their PR partner to speak up. Honing your instincts comes from years of experience, to be sure, but also from building out a strong, ethical team that puts the client’s long-term needs and reputation first.
If this PRSA event is any indication, the Boston business community will learn a great deal from having a company the size and scope of GE in the neighborhood. It reinforces what we’ve known all along: Boston is a great place to be for tech/b2b companies who want to grow their business, enter new markets, attract the right talent, and plug into a vast, diverse network of movers and shakers.