Communicators’ Challenge: Fresh Ideas at Legacy Brands

Wells Fargo, the global banking and financial services giant, encourages its employees to share their stories internally. The effort adds to a sense of community among the company’s nearly 265,000 employees. However, in the last several years some workers started to ask the communications department whether there was a way to share their stories outside the company. “There was a high volume of requests from team members about how we can take [the company’s storytelling efforts] to external audiences,” said Arati Randolph, senior VP of corporate communications at Wells Fargo.

So, starting in 2013 the company’s PR department worked on developing such a program, culminating with Wells Fargo Stories, which launched online last March.

The website features text and video focusing on customers and Wells Fargo communities as well as stories on the company’s corporate values, such as efforts to reduce carbon emissions and how to educate teenagers about their financial future.

Prior to the site’s debut, Randolph and Oscar Suris, executive VP and head of corporate communications for the 162-year-old company made a series of presentations about the program to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and various management committees.

“It was less around managing resistance and more about making sure that we were communicating that the site shared the company’s vision and values,” Randolph said. “It was about communicating that the site would be relevant to a broader audience.”

The yearlong process of getting Wells Fargo Stories up and running speaks to the challenges that senior communicators working for legacy brands sometimes face when they want to introduce new PR programs, particularly in the digital space.

Unlike startups and companies that have been around for just 10 or 20 years, senior PR managers who work at legacy brands often have to navigate multiple layers of management to get their programs approved and dollars allotted.

Another hurdle is the institutional memory that legacy companies have about failed PR and marketing initiatives from the past, which may deter the company’s current crop of communicators.

Assuaging those kinds of concerns is part of three tips that Jamie DePeau, CMO of Lincoln Financial Group, recommended for how PR executives working at legacy brands can improve their odds of executing new programs:

1. Help to get rid of business silos. “You have to be legitimately integrated,” in order to ensure that all the relevant departments are on board with your proposal and/or plan, DePeau said. “You need to position it first as an attitude adjustment: It’s not about organizational structure, but what’s right for the customer.”

2. Don’t be ruled by the past. If the response to your PR proposal is, “We tried that in 1975 and it didn’t work,” fear not. “We become our own obstacles,” DePeau said. “You have to make the case that the marketplace has changed, consumers have changed and the culture has changed. That’s more of a legacy brand issue.”

3. Pilot testing. Develop pilot programs, along with industry benchmarks, in order to get the top brass on board. “You have to factor in A/B testing, learn from it and make modifications,” DePeau said. “That requires much more organizational agility and making a shift based on market changes in a short period of time.”

Respecting the organizational process is another crucial element for PR managers who want to excel at legacy companies and create more social media programming.

Take Transamerica Corp., the financial services company founded in 1928. Last June, the company ran a Twitter campaign, titled #HaveAPlan, pegged to National Life Insurance Awareness Day.

Users speaking about insurance that day or fans of the company’s competitors got a Twitter “Lead generation card,” for future marketing purposes centered on life insurance.

“We wanted to be a little snarky,” said Allan Gungormez, director of social media strategy, referring to taking a humorous approach to the campaign. “That’s something that legal said, ‘Can we talk about life insurance that way?’ because no one else does.”

The onus fell on Gungormez to explain to legal and other senior managers that the campaign would create decent buzz and offer an opportunity for Transamerica to “own” Life Insurance Awareness Day on Twitter.

“I may be a social media expert, but I’m not a life insurance expert,” he said, “so I have to take that knowledge and translate it to something that people will want to do on social.”

The campaign generated 37 million impressions and an 11x increase in brand-relevant conversation that day (June 28). “We’re lucky,” Gungormez said, “that we have a mandate from the top that every business value has to be leveraged with the digital marketing department.”

Socializing Legacy Brands

Catherine Hernandez
Catherine Hernandez

For many legacy or well-established companies, creating content for social platforms can feel like trying to understand your teenager’s texts. It’s alarming, unfamiliar and overwhelming. The truth is that it can be all of those things. It is also the first step in getting really great content to the people who matter most. Here are three tips that are particularly useful:

1. Go where you’re good. Starting in places of familiarity will allow users to focus on the content. For our members and patients who wanted to tell what they loved about their care at Kaiser Permanente, we created a video blog,, which shares those stories and celebrates the clinicians who care for our 9.5 million members.

2. Be uncomfortable. The interaction on social channels can be uncomfortable, but the opportunities outweight the risks. When Kaiser Permanente started placing physicians in Tweetchats, it created plenty of discomfort.However, the chats have been great for sharing physician expertise with new audiences.

3. Look to combine old school with new school. Social channels are hungry for great content, and most organizations have great content channels that are waiting to be shared with new audiences. When we started using our social channels to share an e-Newsletter for our members, readership increased for both the newsletter and our social channels.

The only thing that should be scary about social media is thinking about the opportunities you’re missing by not using it. Build great content, choose your channels wisely, and measure the positive results for your organization.

This sidebar was written by Catherine Hernandez, VP, PR and communications for Kaiser Permanente.

Special shout-out to Nicole Christopher, intern, for suggesting this article.


Jamie DePeau,; Allan Gungormez,; Arati Randolph,

This article originally appeared in the September 29, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.