A Culture of Communication
Andrea Herron 00:01
Have you ever wondered how a company is able to offer unlimited time off or be a pet friendly office? Curious how HR leaders manage the well being of remote or essential workforces? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Hi, I’m Andrea Herron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces. Because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. On the season five premiere of the HR scoop, we pivot slightly from our normal content and discuss the role communications play in the HR field. Diane Schwartz, CEO of Reagan communications, joins me to talk about involving employees for storytelling, the importance of celebrating wins, and why good writing skills are becoming increasingly hard to come by. Welcome, everyone to another episode of the HR scoop. Today, I am very happy to tell you that we have Diane Schwartz, the CEO of Reagan communications with us. And we’re going to talk about all sorts of things. And I really think you’ll like it. So let’s, let’s get going.
Hi, Diane. Hello, are you there when Craig Wright I think it’s so interesting to have you here on the podcast and talk about something a little different than, you know some of the wellness benefits that we talk about in other episodes, because your background is very different. So I’m really excited to talk to you today. So I guess we’ll just jump in there. Because Reagan communications is technically a marketing and PR focused company. It does have a lot of content that intersects with HR topics and people dynamics. So I’m curious, where did the idea to combine those two areas come from?
Diane Schwartz 02:00
Yes, so we are to Ragan communications is a media company. So we’re like a publisher. And we’ve been focusing on the communications function for like five decades we’ve been around. And we do that through our websites, and through subscription products and conferences, webinars, training, and so forth. So that communicator whether they’re internal comms or external, like PR, and social media marketers as well, every stage of their career, we cater to them with different levels of content.
Over the past couple years ago, I mean, especially during the pandemic, we identified a new area for us a need to start covering the workplace wellness space, but in a different way that it might be covered purely by like an HR platform, which is to say that intersection of communications and HR, right, if you build all these wellness and HR initiatives will they come? They don’t know about it, or if it’s not communicated well. So that’s kind of how our workplace wellness brand came to be a couple years ago, just to bring it all together. I’m sure we’ll talk about that more. But that’s sort of the origin of our workplace wellness side of the business.
Andrea Herron 03:26
That’s awesome. And definitely seems like there was a gap there. And those two things are very complementary. Because I was thinking about this the other day, when I went down, tick tock rabbit hole out myself, I know it was bad, I lost a lot of time. But what it made me think I was that, you know, if you see these content creators out in the wild making these videos, everyone kind of thinks, oh, how silly look at those people filming themselves, but yet we have this insatiable need for content. And I think it’s a little bit like communications in the HR worlds.
You know, sometimes we feel silly putting these things together, or they’re cheesy, or we don’t know how people are going to take it. Yet people want the information. They want the content, they want it to be interesting. So I think, you know, if it’s internal or external, why do you think it is so important in the HR space? Or I assume you think it is, you know, how can we do it better? I don’t know. I feel like this is an area that a lot of HR people are not experts on. Yet it is really needed. You’re referring
Diane Schwartz 04:31
to content or communications? Yes.
Andrea Herron 04:37
Diane Schwartz 04:38
well, I mean, in most organ most mid to large sized organizations, there’s a communications partner, whether its internal or an agency that you’re using, so there’s a partner, but HR and comms don’t always work together. Sometimes communications reports into HR actually Oftentimes they do. But that doesn’t mean that they’re working together to, you know, communicate out important benefits or stories about employees or other kinds of information. So that’s, you know, a core role of the communicator, is to tell the stories of the organization, the people, and the mission, and the different updates coming out of the company.
So that’s part of the communications role. So why would an HR, you know, work with communicators and partner there now, as far as content, there’s all different kinds of content, when it comes to like, where our passion is, at Ragan is helping whether you’re an HR or comms or marketing, helping them tell better stories, more impactful stories, right? Just like Tic Tac is a distraction. We’re all distracted, we all short attention spans. Now, we’re dealing five generations of employees in the workplace, and they all consume content differently. So the whole area of customization, which, you know, we most companies understand that employees want some personalization and customization to their day. So you know, that’s the other area of content, like a long article versus a video versus a certain social media posts versus, you know, a report, it’s going to be consumed by employees, but in different ways. Yeah,
Andrea Herron 06:33
I think you’re exactly right. And you’re making so many good points, because in a mid to large sized company, ideally, you would have someone who’s focusing on communications. But in smaller companies, not so much, you know, normally that gets rolled into other roles. And even just mentioning, all the ways we can communicate is overwhelming. And just the thought of a newsletter sometimes, and having to do that once a month is more than people have bandwidth for. So I think it’s, it’s fascinating and help with storytelling is something we’ve talked about. And I really do think that is so critical. I’m curious if you can have from your purview and all the ways that you interact with the HR industry, do you see any kind of emerging areas that communications will need to play a bigger role? That we’re nailing it?
Diane Schwartz 07:21
Glad you asked that? Because I mean, well, the whole area of workplace wellness or employee well being, you know, that that for us, really, even during COVID, during the pandemic, I think we’re still Are we still in the pandemic? I don’t know, it depends on who you ask. But there are some really serious issues in the workplace with employees. And it’s never been more difficult to discern how your employees are feeling and dealing because of the hybrid workplace. It’s so many, not all companies are hybrid. But there’s definitely more people working from home more people isolated, more people impacted by the pandemic, in very long term ways with mental health issues, feelings of isolation, this is all converging during a time where there have been a lot of issues, social justice issues, and political unrest. So all these things are happening.
Now all of a sudden the employer is employees are looking to the employer to help solve for a lot of these issues. And no one department can do this alone. You know, that’s kind of where we come from. So that’s where HR and comms really need to work together to identify the key sort of pain points among the employees in the workplace wellness space, back to your question about what the big word wellness and well being are, you know, should be front and center for HR. And I think it is that most organizations, there’s lots of, like total rewards, is now whether it’s total rewards or compensation, it’s kind of like the workplace well being falls into that total reward side by whereas it was a lot of about physical benefit, you know, physical health, you know, and finance some financial health, we’re dealing with mental health, social, well being social belonging, diversity and inclusion. And there’s also the great resignation to add to it.
Right, that’s still going on. And so how do you retain and attract employees now? And I think being able to communicate those wellness programs at your company, in an effective way is a good way to retain and attract employees.
Andrea Herron 09:51
Yeah, I agree. If you can start strong with that communication, and you also have to keep it going. And all the things you talked about are difficult to discuss or difficult to know what to say, I know I’ve personally struggled with how to write that all employee communication, because what is the employers role in social justice? What is the employers role in personal mental health? You know, there, there are questions that as a company as a leadership team based on your values that you have to decide what that means to you, and then communicate it. And so, you know, in absence of or even in partnership with our communication colleagues, I would love to hear what you think maybe are some shared traits that these groups have and what maybe HR professionals could learn from our communication partners.
Diane Schwartz 10:42
I think some of the shared traits, good listening skills, empathy, understanding sort of like business fluency, I think it you know, understanding like the business goals and tying that to their day to day work, I think both HR and communicators get that that’s really important, that focus on the employee, obviously, is a central thing, except even PR, whether it’s internal comms, or PR, and HR, they’re all, they all get that, you know, healthy employees lead to healthier organizations, and healthy in a holistic way, that whole employee kind of approach. So I think, you know, for HR to bring communicators into the conversations and strategy sessions, early and often would be a good first step, and vice versa.
It goes both ways, right? communicators, bringing HR counterparts into the conversations around culture around the next camp employer branding campaign, you know, or marketing would probably be involved in that, too. So there’s no need, even though they’re in different departments, and maybe a different budget, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t work more closely together. Now, and moving forward.
Andrea Herron 12:04
That makes a lot of sense to me. And, you know, as you’re saying that, it makes me think a little bit how over the past couple of years, more so than, than previously, any HR function has really been elevated to a more strategic partner, because we could no longer ignore that employees in our employee approach is the business strategy. And I was just thinking, you know, the, it seems to me like the communication, folks in organizations should also be in that same category. Because you can’t just say, here’s what we want to do. Here’s the four bullet points from the meeting. Now without any other context, go write something and make sure I like it. I mean, it’s not reasonable, right. So it’s, it’s the idea of any stakeholders, but we need to think of it as more of a partnership than maybe it has been in the past.
Diane Schwartz 12:56
Absolutely, totally agree. And, you know, the one of the areas where I mean, we’ve I at Reg, and we do a lot of training, in the area of just writing. Just that one word writing, like good writing skills are hard to come by these days. I know what happened along the way from kindergarten to you know, college, but we all know, maybe some of this has to do with social media and
Andrea Herron 13:25
say Twitter, yeah, 40 characters
Diane Schwartz 13:29
in our communication strategy, but just writing skills is actually in the surveys that we do. It’s the number one skill that Chief Communications officers and top comms people feel is lacking, or we need more training and for their teams, is writing skills and being able to write succinctly clearly to the point. And, you know, topically, you know, making it interesting and engaging, it’s really hard to do writing good writing is hard. Bad writing is easy. So ever, you know, we could all improve on the writing side of things, but that is that give you build a newsletter or an intranet or whatever memo that you put out? It’s not written well, you’re just gonna lose a reader. Yeah.
Andrea Herron 14:18
Excellent, excellent point. So in that same vein, if we are going to do more storytelling, and try to be more concise in our communications, and let’s say, we don’t have a certain headcount or a person whose job is to communicate, do you have any tips or things that you’ve really seen work that perhaps we could share with our audience?
Diane Schwartz 14:41
Yeah, some of the best storytellers in your organization or your employees. And, you know, social media really changed the game many, many years ago, when employees had that everybody has a microphone now. You know, they can do everyone’s a publisher and And organizations used to have really rigid social media policies, and now they’ve really loosened them up.
Because realizing that employers are going to say what they want to say, right, and you can’t really stop them, but the best thing she could do is get your house in order, you know, be an upright, corporate citizen and your employees will, haters are gonna hate, you’re gonna have described on employees sometimes by and let the employees be the, you know, the testimonial for you, you know, have them tell some of the stories be the brand ambassador set up like brand ambassador programs to their employees, who would, you know, want to help HR and cons, we know that that’s the case. And, you know, help tell the stories help be the narrator, or, you know, the wellness programs, that HR programs, you know, it doesn’t have to be in writing, you know, it could be Video, Infographics, photos, whatever, but get your employees involved.
Andrea Herron 16:05
I love that so much, because it’s the opposite of what we’ve traditionally seen, right? It’s like, instead of acting like, no one can post or will post anything about us ever, because it’s a vague policy in the handbook, embrace it, and give them a reason to post good things or fun things or enriching things about you. And that’s really a double win, because it goes back to recruitment and word of mouth and your reputation. And yes, there are certain sites where mostly anonymous disgruntled employees go, that is unfortunate. But you can’t do anything about that. So really embracing what you could perhaps influence, but people have to have a good experience to write about it. So I like your point about getting your house in order first, because who’s no one’s going to go out on their personal page and lie about how great it is? If it’s not.
Diane Schwartz 16:58
Right, right, you can learn, you know, listening, and yeah, being open to change and open to the criticism or feedback would be really important. And, you know, communicators can bring back some of that data to their HR counterparts, you know, in terms of their social listening, that they’re actively doing out there. Not enough HR is doing that as much as comms is doing.
Andrea Herron 17:27
I mean, we hear a lot. Okay, well, I want to switch directions just a little bit, because Reagan is also very well known for their industry awards. And so I’d love to hear from you like your perspective of why you think it’s important to have recognition and kind of what benefits or impacts come from that.
Diane Schwartz 17:50
Yeah, we do offer many benchmarking programs. And we have a workplace wellness awards program. And top women in wellness, which you’re very familiar with. And top women in communications, we have a variety of awards programs, and we have judging panels and internally, we that the different kinds of categories that would resonate. And the goal is really twofold. One is to benchmark excellence in that area. So whether it’s on the PR side, the HR side, or the internal comms side by as a an independent media company and having companies enter, having a judging panel and being able to put forward the best campaigns initiatives and people doing really interesting, great things beyond, above and beyond what their job responsibilities are, you know, that’s what we’re looking to shine a spotlight on. So that we can tell the stories and distribute those stories to hundreds of 1000s of people.
And so and so that’s one you know, side of it. The other is sometimes in the areas that we cover, and just like in any discipline, it can sometimes feel like a thankless job, you know, it can sometimes feel like you’re not being recognized or not being recognized enough. So we’re here to help people get recognized. And so there’s a value in that in terms of getting more budget for the next year for something or being able to bring on more resources. And then we like to bring the community together through many of our award events.
You know, there’s nothing like an our award event or we bring your where we can celebrate together in person, you know, and everybody really advocating for the profession. So, those are the different reasons why we do awards programs. And, you know, we’re always looking we’re always updating In them, if I looked back, like 10 years ago at the categories, we had to have our awards forever, and they’d be so outdated, right, there’s always new things to evaluate.
Andrea Herron 20:09
And that’s so applicable, I think, just to the regular workplace as well, because sometimes we get in a rhythm we get in our groove. And either we don’t do awards, because we’ve forgotten Oh, well, and probably no one cared. Or we’ve had the same awards that we’re doing over and over and over for more than a decade. And I think all that goes to show that, you know, yes, there are the flashy things, the big wins. But it’s really that constant effort that more often than not, is behind the scenes, and doesn’t get recognized because it’s not flashy, that your business fully depends on to function. And so if you’re not doing awards, even in your own company, it’s a good time to revisit that. And if you do, take another look, have you updated your values, has your mission changed? Do you just want to shake it up and do something different? There’s value and consistency. But there’s also a lot of value in mixing it up to what seems the most relevant at the time.
Diane Schwartz 21:06
Absolutely. And, and you can go on the Reagan site, under awards, you can read about some of the, you know, all of our winners, there’s profiles out there, you can learn from a few things from that few things here and there. And it’s also a great way to recognize your team. I mean, our entries to our awards when there’s a field for team members involved. And, you know, people are listing lots of team members involved in like one campaign may not even be the biggest campaign. But when they win that award, they’re you know, it’s a great ceiling, Team ceiling, you know, and it’s during this time with everyone dispersed and you know, working harder than ever, it’s nice to like, take a break and just celebrate the wins.
Andrea Herron 21:52
And it’s harder to do because everyone’s dispersed and working harder than ever. It’s yeah, okay. Yeah, great check. We did that it was great. What’s the next thing? And it’s critical to not just gloss over that, but to take whatever it looks like for your company? But take a moment and recognize that? And then also, are there industry awards? You know, maybe that’s not something that you’ve thought about, but there are plenty of industry awards that are outside of your company, that are hugely beneficial and make people feel really good even to be nominated? Absolutely. All right. Well, do you have any last tips or ideas for the HR community on how to better communicate? Well,
Diane Schwartz 22:35
we do a couple years ago, we acquired communications week, which is a week long program other than science and education. And it’s really about bringing the community together. And not just communicators, but their partners, you know, HR, the media, the C suite, so we’re doing a lot, this is November 1 through the seventh. And you know, we welcome HR professionals to be a part of this, we come to our events, you can get on the comms week.com. Site, and kind of see there’s some free events or some conferences, there’s research, there’s lots of ways to get engaged with us. And you know, we’d love to bring more HR folks into our community, if they want to, you know, write for our different websites or speak at our conferences, or, you know, whatever, please reach out to me or my colleagues,
Andrea Herron 23:34
if you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at writing. Here’s Great. That’s right. We do have editors who can help. Awesome. Well, before we let you go, I will ask you my final and favorite question, I ask all of our guests here at HR scoop. And that is to tell us something about yourself that most people may not know,
Diane Schwartz 23:51
many years ago, a couple decades ago, I lived in Australia, along with my husband who was doing Yeah, he was I think we were married. Yes, we were definitely married. So we lived with an Aboriginal tribe where he was working on Aboriginal land rights. And so I got a chance to live a different community do some freelance writing and did a lot of a lot of sort of crazy stories. Like when I look back at it now, but just living in, you know, an Australian Aboriginal. No reservation was sad on my resume or anything, but it was like it was a great experience and really eliminating,
Andrea Herron 24:37
wow, what a what an amazing life experience. Take that the rest of the way through your life and probably everything you do. Oh, awesome. Thanks for sharing. And thank you so much for your time and for being here. I know our audience enjoyed all of the tips and information and we’ll see you all next time. Thank you for listening to the HR scoop podcast. Please take a moment to rate and subscribe on Spotify Apple Google or directly at WebMD health services.com/podcasts