What’s job one right now? As always, it’s telling Wells Fargo’s story. Our number-one focus as a corporate communications team—and the most important value-add we offer as a function—is to share our story with stakeholders and people we seek to influence. Storytelling takes on a number of forms. There’s good old-fashioned, media relations, but, increasingly, we’re creating more original content because we have the opportunity to be publishers—and social media is a big part of that. We like to say, we don’t practice ‘PR’—we practice ‘P + R,’ which is publishing + relations. The best example of that is Wells Fargo Stories (stories.wellsfargobank.com), which launched in March.
What’s the big picture for your PR team right now? Reputation is always front and center in the role we play in helping to promote and protect the brand. Six years after the global financial crisis, we still believe there’s a need to shore up the reputation of the financial services industry.
What are the most important PR disciplines that you try to instill in your team? We want to be credible business partners at the table—knowledge of industry is important, client management skills are important and our understanding of the external world is important. We also need to know not just what the press is saying about us, but what’s being said about Wells Fargo in the broader environment.
How has living in a post-banking crisis world affected your company’s PR? It forced us to focus our energies and to think strategically about the things that really matter to reputation. That has involved third-party research to get good insights into whether the stories that we’re sharing really matter to stakeholders. Look, in the wake of the economic crisis the reputations of financial services companies were negatively impacted. We have needed to be aware of that, respect it and bake that into how we think about our work as communicators.
Who has had the biggest influence on your PR career and why? My wife, Shana. Ours is a true partnership; she has been instrumental in my success as a communications counselor. Jim Donahue, my first boss at AutoNation, taught me how to think strategically about PR. Charlie Halloran (former CCO at Ford Motor Co.) taught me that every communicator has the opportunity to be a leader if he or she chooses to take that opportunity. And Jim Vella, Charlie’s predecessor, was the first person to believe I could lead a team.
What’s the biggest misconception about PR? That PR is dead. It has never been a better time to practice PR because there have never been so many opportunities to add value through PR work. But it does require being comfortable with a messy media landscape. Social media sits in the middle of PR and marketing and you have to be OK with that in order to take advantage of this great era we’re practicing in. A lot of people worry about who owns social media, but that’s a distraction from the opportunity to tap the power of social to enhance PR’s work. Don’t focus on org charts, focus on the value that the work is creating.
What do you do outside of work to help you to focus at work? Reading. I read about leaders and industries in which I’ve worked. I read about PR, social media and marketing, which are the ways I remind myself to keep learning. Off the clock, reading is relaxing and allows me to recharge my batteries. We have to be good thinkers and our clients look to us to be problem-solvers. At the end of the day, reading is how you develop critical thinking skills. When you are in the bunker with senior management, they expect you to be capable of critical thinking. PRN
(This is the first of a new feature profiling top PR and communication execs.)
Oscar Suris, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the November 10, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.