[Editor’s note: Lulu Cheng Meservey, former EVP, Corporate Affairs and Chief Communications Officer at Activision Blizzard, recently helped steer Microsoft’s $70 billion acquisition of the gaming company to completion. At a recent Axios Communicators event, she shared lessons on internal communications, board governance and building movements through messaging. Following are key insights gleaned from discussion.]
Communicators Require a Seat on the Board
Meservey is a strong proponent of having communications professionals on corporate boards. In fact, after serving as VP of Communications at Substack and prior to joining Activision Blizzard, she joined its board. “Every corporate board in the world should have somebody that understands reputation and comms and trust,” Meservey told a room of communicators and industry folks. “Because your job, as a board, is governance. It's accountability. It's strategic planning. You can't do all three of those things if you can't communicate that to people.”
Without these skills, it’s not possible to build trust, she added. And while a “classically-trained” communicator isn’t necessary, that skillset is just as important as being an expert in finance. In her view, boards should be looking for at least one executive with "a strong instinct for comms and culture, reputation, and trust.”
The Importance of Internal Comms in Building Trust
When asked to share lessons learned from OpenAI's board fiasco involving the ousting of CEO Sam Altman, Meservey said the saga revealed the critical role that internal and employee communications have to play in terms of building trust. “One big lesson from the whole episode that people are not talking about enough is the importance of internal comms/employee comms. Because an external crisis is inconvenient and internal crisis is existential," she said. Throughout all the back and forth that occurred during the crisis—Altman’s firing, employee protests and the CEO's dramatic reinstatement—it was the lack of employee trust in the board that pivoted the entire situation, she said.
Three Fundamental Parts to Building a Messaging Movement
Step one to building a movement is being direct with your communications. And “if you are the underdog, and especially if you're trying to carry a message that might not be popular, you're not going to have a lot of people willing to translate that for you."
“You have to actually be in the fray, because no one's going to do this for you," she said. "Startup founders should be going direct comms; people should be saying [their ideas] themselves, as a human being, as opposed to an unnamed anonymous spokesperson saying something that could have come out of ChatGPT… You have to actually get in there, so you have the license to speak.”
Second, you have to tell people what's in it for them. “People join mass movements when they think that there's something missing, and they see [an] opportunity for dramatically improving something about their life. That's what they care about. They're not going to join a movement to show for a corporation. That's not exciting," she said. "No one joins a movement without a human being as its leader. Every movement has to have an actual breathing pulse."
Third, make it easy for people to share. “You have to give people something that makes it easy to spread," Meservey said. It could be a meme, a catchy phrase or an image. Mark Zuckerberg's “Move fast and break things," Nike’s “Just Do It,” and the “Barbie” movie’s viral selfie generator are a few examples. Aiming for virality, however, should not be the goal, she said. "It has to start with: What is the business outcome? Are we trying to recruit people or are we trying to sell more widgets? And then, it's how do we spread the message that's going to make those people want to buy those widgets? And you go from there."
Kaylee Hultgren is Content Director for PRNEWS.