A Bank CCO Who Mixes Internal Communication and Measurement

[Editor’s Note: Laura Burke, the CCO of Santander US, wears many hats. The veteran PR pro oversees executive and corporate communication, crisis and issues management, internal and external communication as well as PR, events and social media strategy. In addition, Burke is a member of the Santander US leadership team. She reports to CMO Jennifer Mathissen. The former Prudential Financial head of communication also held senior posts at Edelman and Hill & Knowlton.

Burke tells us an MBA cemented her love of financial services and influenced her view of measurement. It also convinced her she enjoyed communicating about the financial sector. During this interview, we asked about Burke’s priorities, keeping the human touch in messaging, measuring reputation and crisis communication. Her remarks were lightly edited.]

PRNEWS: What are two goals you have as CCO?

Laura Burke, CCO, Santander US

Laura Burke: My goal always is to bring business value through communication. I say that because we’re now officially one Santander US business, with four different business lines. So, my, and the communication department’s, priority for this year is creating one Santander US company-wide narrative.

We’re working now on that messaging. And we’re making hires so we can tell that narrative to our stakeholders inside and out.

Second, it’s not new, but it’s important, and that’s how do we return to the workplace? When we measure customer experience, Santander’s people are always key and rated very high. So, for us, talent is a business strategy. And communicating to our employees is vital.

We’ve just started to welcome people back to the office, on a flexible basis. But the pandemic has brought out a real need to balance personal with business obligations. Everyone’s gone through different things. It’s critical to have empathy to that. So, how we communicate with all of our different employee segments remains a priority.

PRN: How do you tailor, or do you, internal communication when the pandemic produced so many different experiences for employees and their families?

Burke: Absolutely. There are the channels that we use. Which ones can we use to leverage a mostly remote environment? Tone also is critical. We’ve done a lot of work, some of it before I arrived here, to create simple, useable channels for communication. We don’t want to be pushing information to employees. Instead, we want to develop simple channels where they can access information in a DIY style when they need it.

PRN: Such as?

Burke: Microsites. We also have bi-weekly newsletters where we have links that we track to see what content and themes are being accessed. There’s also a lot of leadership huddles. We’re urging leaders to move beyond the written word and do team huddles and Ask Me Anything sessions. We always did them, but they’re more frequent now.

In the end, it’s about tone. Of course, we have policies, but we encourage our leaders to speak at the company-policy and personal level and get feedback from employees, whose health and safety is a priority.

PRN: You mentioned your newsletter includes links and that you track which ones are opened most. What’s being opened? Has anything surprised you about what employees are seeking?

Burke: To some degree communication is like the circulatory system. Our teams are out there talking to a lot of employees. So, there are not a lot of surprises. So, from our data and measurement, as well as surveys and live Q&As, you can identify internal news cycles around the pandemic.

One thing I noticed was how personal this is. We have locations and employees throughout the US. So, while often the topics are the same, there’s a lot about the how. People understand we’re starting test and learn, re-entering the office as we pivot from the theme of welcoming people back to the how. This is where the how questions are getting specific. How do I commute? Do I pick days to come to the office?

PRN: What feedback are you getting?

Burke: In our surveys, close to 90 percent of our colleagues think the company is doing a good job [communicating about re-entering]. That’s very important to us.

PRN: That leads to a question about keeping things human. On external communication, how do you make sure communication remains personal in a world where everything seems automated and inhuman?

Burke:  At Santander we’re simple, personal and fair. That’s our north star in a lot of ways. What’s interesting about your question is how it indicates where communication is going. Communication supports our customer centricity and it’s multi-channel and real-time these days. How simple, personal and fair manifests itself is through multiple channels and our products.

For example, we launched Safety Net in Q4, which raises the overdraft limit to $100. Some other banks limited it to 24 or 48 hours; we didn’t. So, simple, personal and fair comes through in our products, in the branch experience and in our communication with customers. We communicate with customers where they are and make their experience that’s personal to their needs.

PRN: You have an MBA in finance. Did you plan to be a communicator when you did your MBA?

Burke: Yes. I was a press intern for Sen. John Kerry and did a lot of other internships. Then I went into communication consulting and eventually did an MBA. I wanted to understand how my clients make money and how businesses work, so I chose to do my MBA in finance.

Sometimes [my MBA] shows in my emphasis on measurement and data. I learned I’m more PowerPoint than Monte Carlo. [The MBA] helped me fall in love with financial services and taught me communication is the right place for me to stay.

I’m a believer in continuous education, so I recently did some work in AI at MIT. Communication is great because you’re always learning.

PRN: It sounds like measurement and data are important to you. How do you approach measuring reputation?

Burke: I agree with the premise of your question: reputation is hard to measure. You know it when you see it. However, one of the ways I see it is through the lens of business outcome. How can communication contribute to business outcomes? It’s always important to have a data-driven approach and gather business insight, but I’m not sure there’s a one-size-fits-all way to measure reputation.

So, I try to inform how we measure our success in communication by aligning to business goals. I look at our key stakeholders and how we engage them to shift their perceptions and behaviors. There are measurement opportunities throughout that journey.

For me, measuring reputation is the sum of several different parts of the journey.

PRNEWS: Are there crisis areas that keep you up at night?

Burke: It’s an interesting question since crisis and issues management have been slightly redefined. When I think about crisis, I think about event-driven situations.

So, obviously cyber. And whenever you touch customers there’s a chance for a bad customer experience, at a branch, for example. And having branches, there’s the physical component.

That said, I feel very confident, globally and in the US, in Santander’s crisis response, both from a business and communication perspective. We test often and we have very disciplined, strong crisis response protocols for a variety of situations.

That said, do I stay up at night worrying about hacks or other things? Of course, there are always things to concern yourself with.

Where we and other companies continue to have conversations is responding to global societal issues. So, we continue to work on supporting colleagues and customers in the Ukraine.

And, as we touched on earlier, returning to the workplace. There’s a lot of dynamics in the world that communication has a role in.