B2B Communications: Listening, Patience are Critical for a Successful Migration to Other Industries


B2B public relations and marketing professionals can often find themselves migrating across disparate business sectors to transition into new career communications opportunities. Thrust into high-profile roles within previously established teams, B2B communications leaders have to quickly gain credibility within their new sectors. To learn more about how communicators can nimbly move from one B2B industry into another without breaking their stride, we turned to four people who have experienced such moves for their insights. Here are their stories. DEBORAH WETZEL Manager, Media Relations, American Society of Mechanical Engineers Making the switch from a 17-year career as a journalist to PR 12 years ago was not as challenging as I thought it would be. The skills I acquired as a journalist—writing, pinpointing what a news story is, being a “news junkie” every day and thinking like a reporter—all came into play. In my career in PR, I’ve spent 10 years in government PR, one year at The New York Botanical Garden and as of today, four-plus months as manager of media relations at ASME. During my time in government, I worked at four different city and state agencies: Consumer Affairs, School Construction, Economic Development and finally World Trade Center Construction. I went into each position with the same goals: research the organization, find out where the stories are, get to know potential interviewees for reporters, get up to speed quickly on how the agency functions and pinpoint which reporters would be interested in our stories and news. Transitioning from one position to the next, I e-mailed all of the reporters I worked with, letting them know about my new position and offering my new agency/organization as a resource for them and/or their colleagues in the newsroom. In my current position at ASME, I draw from my previous exposure to the construction world, but I also rely on my ASME colleagues to assist me. As with all PR professionals, my focus is research, reading, writing, formulating story angles, pitching and learning more every day. ATHENA CAMPOS Head of Marketing, North American Construction Group, CNH/Fiat Industrial Group After more than a decade in various marketing roles at Navistar, I found myself pursuing a new career path. And at the end of April 2012, I packed a bag to embark on my first day at CNH/Fiat Industrial Group. I arrived at O’Hare early that Sunday, anxious to meet my global counterparts in Lugano, Switzerland. When I returned to Racine, Wisc. a week later, I finally met my team and began the next phase of my career. One edict was critical during the transition—I had to be patient and observe. For the first several weeks, I spent more time observing and simply sharing a new perspective rather than making drastic changes or critical decisions. I traveled with seasoned regional sales leadership, met with key dealers and watched my boss, my team and my colleagues in action. Regardless of your marketing expertise and knowledge of emerging trends, the truth is, possessing the industry and organizational context to understand how to effectively implement marketing/communications strategy is just as important as the strategy itself. By being in observation mode, you also begin to identify the critical gaps in order to add value for the business. In my case, it meant helping to reposition two storied American brands—Case and New Holland—by shifting a group of talented individuals from competing with each other on disjointed tactical executions to one of teamwork that connects the dots to deliver a focused plan that’s on-brand and more impactful. WENDY LEWIS Director of Communications at Space Systems/Loral Before I went to work at Space Systems/Loral, I had never worked in the telecom sector and I didn’t know anything about communications satellites. There were three things that helped me integrate into the new company quickly: Read the trades. I read all the satellite industry trade publications that I could get my hands on, which included a very good weekly tabloid that has in-depth stories. There is also a good monthly magazine that always has topics relevant to my company. I also took advantage of opportunities to attend industry conferences and got to hear competitors and customers speak. I continue this practice but it was particularly helpful in the beginning when I had to get up to speed quickly. Find an ally. My manager had been in the industry about 20 years, so she was very helpful, but she also set me up for a factory tour with the head of systems engineering. He was extremely good at explaining technology in layman’s terms and became an ongoing resource for me. Every organization has people who love to explain things and answer questions. Don’t overlook the engineering division for the things you need to know about technology and the market. Take your time making changes. When I first started, I immediately detected tensions between our multimedia group and some of the other departments in the company. I was not sure I would be able to work with the internal group and was sometimes expected to act as an arbitrator between the different organizations. I took my time to more fully understand the personalities and issues involved. It didn’t take long for it to be clear to me when it made sense to work with the internal team and when I could outsource without stepping on anyone’s toes. JULIE GROSS GELFAND Director of Public Relations & Communications, Marcum LLP The ability to master new material, including highly technical content, is a prerequisite for any PR practitioner, and the skill set to develop new relationships is the very definition of our craft. These are the basic fundamentals that enable us to effectively service clients, and they are also the “secret sauce” for successfully integrating into new work environments, however well-established or technically focused a team may be. My recent experience in joining a national professional services firm after 15 years with a regional agency has borne this out. My approach has been the same I would take with any client assignment: Make it personal. I’ve spent my first few weeks traveling to every office in order to have face-time with the partners and local communications staff, learn about their practices, markets and priorities, and establish rapport. Engage in the business. I am not an accountant, but by encouraging the firm’s partners to consider me a strategic resource, I was brought into two major initiatives in my first month. Both are already paying dividends; the work was well received, giving me immediate “street cred” internally, and although external roll-out has not yet occurred, the outlook is optimistic. Take ownership. I inherited management responsibility for the outside agency as well as PR implementation for all regional offices. From day one, I took possession of the assignment, took a deep breath and took my jacket off. No one expects miracles—just smart, strategic thought leadership. PRN CONTACT: B2B Communications is written by Mary C. Buhay, VP at Gibbs & Soell Public Relations. She can be reached at mbuhay@gibbs-soell.com.

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