PR’s Top Pros Talk…Authenticity – Jennifer Beugelmans
Jennifer Beugelmans, CCO at Groupon
Jennifer Beugelmans, CCO at Groupon, discusses how the company navigated massive change internally and externally on a global scale. She emphasizes the importance of authenticity and transparency when managing communications on the merchant level as well as the customer level.
Jennifer also shares some of the internal changes that Groupon has implemented to tackle social justice issues and create a safe space in the workplace.
>> More episodes here
About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: JENNIFER BEUGELMANS
DOUG: Jennifer, thanks so much for being with us, and you definitely will give an opportunity to our viewers to learn about navigating change. Because at Groupon, there’s been tremendous change, just like there’s been at many companies, a new CEO among them. How do you do that in this kind of environment? How do you navigate what a keys to keep in mind?
JENNIFER: Yeah, I mean, I think there are obviously a lot of tips and a lot of actions that folks around the world have been putting into place. At Groupon I think what we did, and I think this was a very important step, is that we took a huge step back, and we started thinking about what do our employees need from an internal communications perspective, what do our merchants need, and here on some levels, what do our customers need? And we found that their needs, they had a lot in common. Number one, they needed to feel reassured. Number two, they needed to feel like we were communicating with authenticity and transparency, and they needed to feel like they were having a two-way dialogue. So, we focused on those three things is kind of being the North Star for everything that we were doing. We focused on controlling the things that were within our control, and we focused on just being authentic and creating a new voice that would help people have a source of truth as they were navigating through this really tough process. So, I can walk you through, if you’d like, some of the basic touch points that we change for making sure that we had like the right technology in place. For example, from an internal perspective, we know that not everyone is awake and working at the same time. We’re obviously a global company with offices all over the world, from Chicago to Sydney to Bangalore to Paris. So, it was really important for us to kind of establish processes that we would have for regular weekly check ins, for example, and other robust ways to keep in touch. Like Slack, we integrated Slack during this time period. And making sure that we have the visibility so that people knew where to go when they had, for example, a comms related question or they needed feedback. So, it’s also important to remember that we know we’ve always been a global company, but with the lines blurring between being at home, as you can probably see, I’m in my kitchen right now. So, we had to make sure that people didn’t feel the pressure to be always on, and we had to proactively communicate that it’s really important to set some boundaries. And then we have to make sure that this behavior was actually modeled from the top down. As you know, and I think you’re in your home as well, when your home becomes your office, it’s really critical to have distinctions between the two. So, it not only evolved communications with our global team, but also a level of education that we hadn’t done before for our most senior leaders. A couple of other tips that I would extend is that from a communications perspective, I had to make sure that my team were natural communicators. They really focused on expanding their network. It was super important for us to recruit ambassadors for us who could help effectively cascade our messaging. In a world that’s remote it’s harder to have that face-to-face time that is so important. And so, we needed people also to help us be on the lookout for situations that needed comms help. So, my team really made a very particular point, I would say they’re very successful in doing this, seeking out people that we knew we could trust in our organization that were outside of communication.
DOUG: That is really important. One question I have, because so many people that are in your sort of key publics have different experiences, even among your merchants. Some might be thriving because of what’s going on, others, their businesses are terrible. How do you manage messaging when you’ve got people who are going through such different experiences, both with your own employees at your merchant level and with the customers who are buying in to the service and buying the products?
JENNIFER: So, I think that there’s really two basic things you have to keep in mind, and for us, it was about authenticity and transparency. We couldn’t ignore what was happening, and so we had to make sure that we were empathetic, that we were understanding of those folks who were struggling and communicating what their stories were. And at the same time, we had to figure out a way that we could help them. But we thought it was also very very important for us to make sure that we were communicating stories of triumph. We wanted to make sure that people understood that there was a path forward, and sometimes holding up an example of either a teammate or merchant who had been successful or even of customers and merchants coming together to support each other. Those are really inspirational stories that needed to be told, and we were doing just that.
DOUG: You’ve mentioned authenticity, authenticity and transparency. I guess you needed to mention it a couple more times for me to get it correct. But that’s something that we found that broadcasters are looking for. And that’s been a recent change where TV producers we surveyed said they prefer to actually interview someone with a company than a third-party spokesperson. It’s all about the authenticity. You talk about it, but what are ways you bring that to the communication style? Are you trying to get your spokespeople out there both communicating internally and externally? What’s the strategy behind that?
JENNIFER: Yeah, I would say that the strategy for both internal and external are very similar, and that is kind of making sure that there’s continuity in your communications. In other words, don’t just talk to people when you have a great positive story to tell, but explain to them what has gone wrong, what they can expect and when things don’t play out as you expect, it is, again, coming back to them and explain exactly what happened. Because I not only think that that is the way to build an authentic voice and to really, truly have a dialogue, whether you’re talking about talking to your employees or talking externally, trying to reach merchants and customers, but it’s also the way that you add levity to the conversation, and you create credibility for the future and what you’re trying to do.
DOUG: One of the things that’s important for someone in your position and the others who work on your various teams is to maybe give pushback to others when you don’t necessarily agree with them, especially when times are so fraught as they are now, things are changing so rapidly. How can you encourage that kind of open discussion and discourse and maybe make people free to share what’s on their minds?
JENNIFER: Yeah, I mean, obviously, I mean, I’m going to say something I think that everyone knows. But you have to create a safe space. You have to create an environment where people feel free to raise their voice. And that at the end of the day, we all know that we may disagree, but will commit to the consensus in how we’re going to move forward. But you cannot create a good product, a good outcome, a good plan forward if you don’t have a diversity of opinion. So, making sure that A, people feel like they have a seat at the table, they have psychological safety where they can express their true opinions, but that we also have a healthy level of respect for the outcome and that we all commit to driving forward on that outcome, I think those are the ingredients to making sure that you have a diverse set of opinions that are driving your business, your communication strategy forward.
DOUG: And businesses seem to be ahead of sort of government when it comes to promoting diversity and engaging on those issues of social justice, but outcomes haven’t been equal at this point. What are you trying to do at Groupon specifically communicating internally on those social justice issues and enhancing diversity of your team, especially during a time where you might have to have layoffs and that could undo efforts of diversity that have happened in the past?
JENNIFER: Sure. So, I mean, this was very important at Groupon, not only in light of all of the terrible activities that took place earlier this year, but just in general, in terms of us coming together as a group and being remote, it was more important than ever to make sure that we identified as one team around the world. So, this past summer, we felt very strongly that we needed to acknowledge what was happening in the world. Didn’t mean we could change it. It didn’t mean that we could bend the curve on the outcome, but acknowledging it we knew was the first step. We had to give our employees a safe space to discuss how they were feeling. And so, the first thing that we did is that we organized and held a virtual community conversation. It was attended by I think more than 700 of our employees. And it was really that safe space for people just to express how they were feeling and come together. Our entire management and leadership team participated, and people could just really talk about what was happening in the world, personal experiences that they had and that they’ve gone through and really understand the desire from not employees of color to become allies. This event actually served as a springboard for additional programming, such as our dedicated hashtag Black Lives Matter Slack channel, a CEO led book club in which we read the book White Fragility that discusses lots of racial issues and how to become an authentic ally. We also ran diverse merchant programs, and we really focused on how do we empower merchants as we thought we could make a difference in that way, merchants of color to come onto our platform and partner with Groupon to thrive. Externally as well, this was matched by the stand we took as a company in support of Black Lives Matter. We actually created a social media campaign that’s still ongoing called Hashtag Pass the Mic, where we turned over our voice, we have a U.S. audience of more than 22 million followers, to amplify and uplift black voices and merchant success stories. So, from an internal and external perspective, we really tried to make sure that we had a safe space that not only provided people with an opportunity to express how they were feeling, but it also amplified some core messaging that we stood firmly behind.
DOUG: That’s awesome. And finally, if you can sort of look into the crystal ball, what tips, advice do you have for communicators going into 2021?
JENNIFER: Just stay honest. I think that a lot of times we’re sometimes afraid to communicate because we don’t know what the answers are going to be, we don’t have, as you say, a crystal ball. But I think what really damages us is when we withdraw from the conversation. So, my advice is to stay consistent, stay focused on having a two-way dialogue, whether you’re communicating with external constituents, or whether you’re talking to your teams internally, and make sure that they understand that you are being transparent, that what you say is what you mean, and that you are committed to continuing to provide them with updates that they need to feel safe, to feel motivated and to thrive.
DOUG: Well, clearly, you’ve provided our audience with some great updates that they need to continue to succeed and to thrive. Thanks so much for spending time with us.
JENNIFER: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great.