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Bill Margaritis on Building a Strong Corporate Culture

By Keith Trivitt

May 1, 2011

A large part of our role as public relations professionals revolves around branding. And we may often find ourselves discussing corporate culture and engagement, two terms that seem related to the brand, but often in nebulous, somewhat hazy ways. Are brand and corporate culture the same thing? If not, how are they different? How are they related?

Bill Margaritis, corporate vice president of worldwide communications and investor relations at FedEx, and chairman of the Arthur Page Society, describes the difference — and interconnectedness — this way: brand is the promise we make to the marketplace; culture is the set of actions that help bring the brand to life.

In this exclusive PRSA video, Margaritis discusses the FedEx Purple Promise, an effort to engage employees and build a corporate culture that brings their brand to life.

So, when looking at your culture and assessing whether or not it supports and brings life to your brand, take a look at your engagement levels. According to Margaritis, discretionary effort is the most important thing you can build in a culture. And it’s engaged employees who deliver that discretionary effort day in and day out.

When employees are proud to work for your company and satisfied with their role, when they understand the vision and strategy and have a clear line of sight to how they can contribute, they’re engaged, using their talents and passion to make a difference, to go above and beyond. Employees want to belong to something larger than them; they want to connect at an emotional level, and when we can help them do this, their passion and attitude will lead them to out-perform anything they might have done before.

Margaritis talks about the power of this discretionary effort and how engaged employees bring the brand to life.

On the relationship among brand culture and reputation:
Brand is the promise that we make to the marketplace and to the customers we serve — fast, reliable service, for example. Culture, on the other hand, is the set of actions, through our employees and the company, that bring that brand to life. It speaks to the character of the organization, the value system, who we are as corporate citizens and how we treat our people. We view brand and reputation as complementary. Consumers are looking for more than just a brand. They want a relationship with your company. They want to know who you are, what you’re about and how you’re involved in communities. So culture is the connective tissue to reputation. And a strong culture is one that has a strong set of beliefs, values and behaviors around something important.

On employees contributing to the company culture:
In our case, being in a service industry, great customer service has to be ingrained in all of our front-line people. Every one of their actions every day can either help or hurt that reputation.

One of the most powerful things you can build in a culture is discretionary effort. People love to be part of an organization that goes above and beyond, because they’re winners. It’s not something you can legislate in a manual or in a training class, because it speaks to the heart.

There’s an emotional spirit that comes through when someone goes the extra mile to do the right thing. That’s what we strive for through all of our programming. A lot of it is storytelling. It’s capturing real people in real places and having them tell their stories.

On measuring the value of employee communication campaigns:
We have a robust research instrument in play right now to try to understand loyalty, pride, engagement and how employees view our reputation. A proud employee is going to be a loyal employee who will go above and beyond.

We also try to connect this research to our external reputational research. We want to see if there’s any correlation between how our employees feel about these issues versus external stakeholders. So our research is actionable, and it’s outcome-based. We want our folks to be ambassadors of the brand. The more informed they are, the more motivated they are, the more connected they are and the more likely they are to be ambassadors.

On the evolving role of corporate communications:
We’re finding that a communications professional inside a company needs to be a counselor, a strategist, a partner and a problem solver to the internal clients — much more than someone who just writes good copy, gets an email out or runs a good meeting. Our clients are now in a much more complex environment. They need to have a partner who can help them think through all these issues and get outcome-based results.

The new communications professional has to have a much broader set of skills. They need to be strategists. They need to be well versed in research and applying that research. They need to be able to negotiate and be persuasive. They need to have strong business acumen, know how to run a project, know how to build coalitions and know how to work horizontally — not just vertically.


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