Binna Kim, Group CEO and Co-Founder of Vested, shares how communicators can deliver stories to a wider audience besides just sending a press release. Binna discusses the rise of employer brands after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Binna also shares a powerful message for current and aspiring leaders.
DOUG: Binna, you know, you talk about the tough job that communicators have ahead. What’s the number one challenge you feel the communicators are facing?
BINNA: Honestly, it’s a great question and honestly, it’s a speed of communication. I think today the rate at which not only that news is published, but the rate at which we have to communicate stories out to our constituents is faster than ever. And unfortunately, the example I’ve been citing recently is Silicon Valley Bank. They put their press release out on a Wednesday and by Friday the bank had failed. That’s not obviously entirely a PR issue, but it just goes to show how quickly news can spread, a lot of it driven through social media, through texts, Twitter forums that ultimately led to the bank’s demise on a Friday. And that’s 48 hours in which a communicator has to attempt to control a narrative that has gone contagious. It’s almost impossible. So, what I’d say is today, I think especially with the attention economy, the speed at which things have to be communicated is a huge challenge for all of us communicators.
DOUG: So what are some ways you can navigate against that? Obviously, Silicon Valley Bank was just hit with this firestorm and couldn’t handle the blowback of what resulted for other cases. How do you respond and know that you can sort of get control of these things, especially if it’s damaging rumors or information?
BINNA: There’s only so much we can do to control. I think a lot of it does have to do with risk mitigation. I think communicators have to go into every situation with eyes wide open, but also embracing the universe of tools and channels that are now at our disposal. I think that’s why invested we’re an integrated agency because instead of just going at it from a communication standpoint, we’re thinking, okay, how do we get to the end constituent through email, social media, advertising? What are all of the different ways in which we could leverage communications? Because the press release, to be honest, is kind of like a blunt instrument, right? And there are nuanced ways in which we can speak to that end and stakeholder and I think the more we can leverage these tools and technologies and even data, data is going to be really big for communicators, the better we can mitigate as many risks as we possibly can while also thinking creatively about how we can get a message out without always having to use the blunt instrument.
DOUG: Right. And you work in the financial space, a high percentage of your business is there. The press release can maybe fill regulatory requirements that you’re getting out there, but what are some of the things and some of the ways you’re working and trying to coach clients to be better prepared and maybe even be out ahead of situations? So, prevention obviously is always easier than the cost of the cure.
BINNA: Absolutely right. I think the way we coach clients is to say the press release is one thing, right? It’s that perfect package of messages and points and we bundle it off and we ship it off. Probably post-market close. But then there are all the things that are said in the many other forums that we can’t necessarily say in a press release. And that has to do with the conversations we’re having directly with journalists to create anchor narratives and anchor stories. Because the more we can speak to reporters and give them probably more than what’s in the press release, the more we can help craft that story. I think being able to beat internal communications to the punch is pretty important because oftentimes employee communications can fall to the wayside and that is actually a huge component because what you tell an employee and then therefore what they then say to their friends and family and the wider public at large, all of that contributes and I think sometimes it’s underestimated that you put everything in the press release, but you forget to say things directly to all of your constituents. I think that’s where communications can fail.
DOUG: Yeah. And is that one of the areas that you see that needs to change? More focus on internal communications? So, we’ve actually seen a closer tie between external and internal. For example, when we’re doing satellite media tours, we always encourage the client is more spokespeople are with the actual company than third party experts to communicate internally and take that as an opportunity because the employee base will trust more what the company goes on the record and says on TV, then maybe an in-house communication.
BINNA: Internal is external, to be honest and I think you see a lot of this happening when unfortunately you’ll see internal town halls or employee wide recordings recorded and then shared on social media. Finally, internal is external. And I think definitely over the last few years you’ve seen internal and external teams working hand in hand. I would say Covid did play a pretty decent role in that because I think the pandemic was a totally new experience for most brands and it forced brands to think about what are we telling our employees about what we’re doing, what about their safety, their health, wellness? Who are we putting in the field? Who are we not? Are people coming into the office? And that was an internal and an external communications challenge all at once. And so, during the pandemic, what we saw was, one, these teams coming together, working more tightly together than ever before. But also interestingly, a huge focus on the development of the employer brand, which is what does a brand stand for as a place to work? And that trend continues today, even in this economy. I think the development of brands as employer brand has become pretty critical.
DOUG: And leadership plays a role there. And you like talking about different styles of leadership. Why don’t we maybe top line it and then we can get into what are the implications of each style and what do organizations need to do to evolve? But first, what sort of the top line of the different styles of leadership that you’re seeing?
BINNA: Leadership is pretty, pretty diverse and I say diverse in the many components of that word. And I think I’m excited about, you know, obviously boardroom and corner office diversity, I would say. But I generally think of it as the importance of diversity, of perspective, meaning I think to be a great leader, you have to have a team, a management team of people who all bring different ideas and perspectives to the table, ensure ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, upbringing. All of those things play a role in that diversity of perspective. And that diversity also means you’re going to have diverse forms of leadership. And I like to say that think maybe coming out of sort of like the 70s and 80s and early 90s, there was sort of this style of leadership that was probably embraced, which is sort of like relentless growth, brutal management, you know, Um, I think in more recent years, especially with new generations entering into the workforce, certainly with regards to the Covid pandemic, I think there’s a huge focus now on listening. And I think listening has become a really important of leadership in today’s day and age because we as leaders have to listen. And whether that’s listening to our stakeholders, listening to our employees, it’s not just listening, it’s active listening. And so, one thing that I like to say is listeners don’t have to, I mean leaders don’t have to be the loudest leaders actually have to listen. And leaders can be diverse, and they can come from all different areas of the industry, but they can also bring different styles. And I actually think you’re starting to see that in the S&P 500 and the CEOs that are represented that you’re seeing a lot of different styles of leadership represented in corporations today.
DOUG: Now that, that’s really interesting. And I think, you know, one of the challenges is to give people the comfort that they can share what they’re thinking. I mean even as a small business owner, I try and do different points where everyone on the team can submit ideas on big picture issues to get a feel and building that sense of trust that people are comfortable doing it. As a leader yourself, how do you go about doing that?
BINNA: I’m really, I’m one of those people that subscribe to, I’m only as good as the people around me. And I’ve hired an incredible team of leaders who work alongside me every day in the US and Europe and are many different companies at Group Asset. And by surrounding myself with people I admire, respect who will tell me the truth, will challenge, will fail with me, will succeed together they help me listen too because at the end of the day, we as leaders also have to work together at every single level to listen to all of our employees and to create that trust. Because I also have to assume that I can’t have that relationship with every single person across my enterprise. So, for any brand I would say you have to have leaders across all of your functional areas who share in those values and live those values on a day to day basis, because that’s what ultimately will give employees the space to feel like, oh, I can I can have that candid conversation. But if it’s just one leader and the rest of the organization doesn’t subscribe to those same values, that’s when you sort of see that listening fall apart.
DOUG: Yeah. You know, one area where historically communications hasn’t measured up is with diversity of its own leadership. Do you have any advice for women or those who bring other types of diversity to the table about how they can lead?
BINNA: Yeah, absolutely. And this comes up a lot, actually, in many of the organizations I joined where I’m talking to fellow women or people of color and oftentimes it is about being generous with oneself. And that’s mainly because there are a lot of things around us, system, whatever, whatever you want to call it, that I think create some time, seemingly impossible circumstances for us to succeed. It’s almost like we feel like we’re forced to choose between being a leader or aspiring to be a leader or choosing to start a family or being present as a parent or as a partner. And we’re faced with these choices every day. And sometimes those choices, I think, demotivate women or others to feel like, well, since I can’t do it all, do it all, I have to choose one thing and therefore will choose to be. Maybe they’ll choose to be a leader. Maybe they’ll choose to be something else. And I think the more we can shake that off and understand and appreciate them, we cannot do it all. And that is not even actually a thing that’s actually totally artificial, but more that the choices that we’re forced to make are all good choices, but that doesn’t mean we’re failing as leaders or aspiring leaders. And if we can be a little bit more generous with ourselves and recognize all those choices are good choices, sometimes it’ll be the meeting, sometimes it’ll be the kids baseball game. And that’s okay. You’re still a great parent. You’re still a great leader. The more we can continue to bring women along in those leadership roles and create spaces for them because I think that’s going to be important as a system sort of catches up to where we’ve all evolved to with diversity in leadership.
DOUG: I’ve always been very anti the whole phrase of work life balance because it implies it’s a zero sum game. And I’m like, no, your work should be fulfilling if you can be fortunate enough to have that opportunity and that should actually support your family life and vice versa. And I think that mentality is so important, but it’s been so pounded in that there is a zero sum limit to the choices you make instead of them supporting each other. And I think one of the, I can’t say positive things about Covid because it’s been so awful for everyone, but the ability and growing acceptance to work remotely has really been helpful in providing more access for more people to get the most out of both sides of their lives, whether it’s personal, family and work, and have them reinforce each other better. This has been such a great conversation. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave the audience with us?
BINNA: We’ve chosen to specialize in financial services because I think it allows us to bring that knowledge, creativity, specialism that allows us to help financial brands, fellow financial marketers and communicators succeed in what seems like really challenging circumstances. But I think that’s what makes the job so exciting for us and invested. So, thank you for having me.
DOUG: Thanks for sharing your great insights and information.
BINNA: Of course. Thank you for having me.