By Susan Cellura
(Disclaimer: Gini Dietrich asked me to write this as a woman who has worked with different offices and brands…in a man’s world. This is NOT a diatribe against men.)
I selected this title because it is a pretty true statement when it comes to working in the chemical and oil and gas industries, both of which I’ve worked in for most of my career.
When I first began writing this post, the memories came pouring in, and I had to stop writing for a couple of days.
This post was headed in a negative direction. That is not what we do here at Spin Sucks.
(Subliminal hint for Gini.)
Let’s talk about the positive!
Internal communications in a man’s world is very difficult, so I’m excited to share how I was successful in these industries when working with male executives, chemists, engineers, marketing managers, and salesmen.
First Step toward Effective Internal Communications
Prove yourself and earn their trust. That is a pretty vague statement, don’t you think?
Here is how I did it back when I worked for global specialty chemical company that was eventually bought by BASF.
I was based in North Carolina, home to textiles and tobacco. I handled NAFTA region communications for textiles (clothes, dyes, car paint, carpet), home and personal care (shampoo, soaps), and water and paper treatment (city water plants).
ALL of these businesses were managed by men. And that was okay with me.
I didn’t let them intimidate me. I asked to be included in meetings. I kept showing up at the meetings.
I walked the halls, stopping in their offices and making chit-chat or giving them updated on projects.
Then it all came together—football season arrived.
As the football chatter started up, I joined the conversations. I was able to quickly prove that I knew my stuff.
While I had made inroads, this sealed the deal for me. I was able to initiate more strategic and complex internal communications projects.
Don’t Let Them Get You Down
NEVER GIVE UP.
New people come into the business; others get promotions, and whether man or woman, new power goes to one’s head.
That is when you square your shoulders, stand taller, and keep moving forward.
I was working for Huntsman Corporation in the mid-2000s, and was exploring this new communication vehicle—blogging.
Again, football season had helped finalize the cemented marketing relationships I had formed and built by proving myself through my work.
Three projects stand out from my time there:
- The vice president of the coatings, polymers, and resins group came to me to build a brand for them. (And no, we could not play off the CPR acronym!) Short story: We brought in an outside agency, got poor service (they just wanted to get to my VP), so I fired them. Then, I worked with the VP and a longtime graphics designer, and created a campaign that went from being successful internally to becoming the brand campaign for the entire business (of which CPR was only one part). This worked because I dug in and did what was right for the business. I explained the “why” behind each step and got buy-in before going all out, thus not wasting time or money.
- Working with IT and gaining buy-in from both my boss and the VP of the overall business, I set up the first internal blog to help global employee conversations and interaction. Blog views and participation peaked at 73 percent. That was pretty darn good considering Europe and Asia were behind in blogging and the chemical industry still is today.
- The CPR marketing manager was going to an important conference that not all of his global clients would be able to attend. I saw an opportunity to introduce this thing called “blogging” and reach all of his clients at the same time. We set up a short-term blog, sent an invitation to all clients letting them know what it was, that we would send them updates from the conference itself, and it would be limited to the days of the conference so as not to overwhelm them. I counseled the manager on what worked in a blog, and off to the conference he went.
He shared his posts with me; I posted them, sent the emails, and tracked the interaction.
The first day was a hit! His booth was swarmed by clients, competitors, and media, all of whom wished they’d thought of it first.
He received positive feedback from clients who could not attend.
The true win, though? It had been timed with a new product launch.
Results included an updated website garnering a 51 percent increase in external hits and search engine results in the top three listings, as well as media placement within trade publications.
All of that led to commercial business with Behr Paint and a prediction of 300,000 pounds of product in the next year.
A Bigger Example
One last example for you that comes from my time in the oil and gas industry.
I handled internal communications for the global supply and trading (GS&T) group in the downstream business.
(GS&T gets product to all businesses and markets within both upstream and downstream businesses, as well as being its own mini-trading group, as in trading stock. They have their own trading floor!)
My main task in addition to all other internal communications responsibilities?
Explain GS&T to all of Chevron.
No problem. (ACK!)
This was a bit tougher because Chevron is freaking HUGE! By that I mean there were many more egos to avoid ruffling than I had to deal with in the past. Woo-hoo!
I couldn’t rely on football season to cement any relationships. There were too many moving parts. I had to pound the hallways and glue the phone to my ear.
I met with the VPs and managers of each business unit to truly understand their functions within GS&T and the company.
By now, we had social media, videos, and lots of other vehicles that could be used internally.
I looked at my entire toolbox and decided that we’d go with “an oldie but goodie”—the Intranet.
I worked with my team to create an animated, interactive home page, complete with pop-ups over each business unit that quickly explained how it worked within the company.
This might sound trite now, but it was a complete hit because people could finally UNDERSTAND what GS&T was and what it did.
So What Have We Learned?
First and foremost, believe in yourself.
Stay true to your expertise and knowledge and build the business case as to why your internal communications plan will benefit the business. Stay professional.
There are jerks in every business, at any level, male and female. Stay professional.
And finally, whether it’s football, golf, or cycling, take the time and get to know your internal clients.
Everyone likes to feel special.