Behind the Headlines With Ted Meyer
When making important decisions, you need to rely on your own expertise and wisdom.
In this interview, Ted Meyer, senior vice president of global public relations and communications of Natixis Global Asset Management, shares his thoughts on the importance of communication during a crisis, how the financial crisis of 2008 is still affecting brands and what PR used to look like before the Internet and social took over.
What drew you to the PR industry?
I’ve always been a news junkie and loved to write since I was a little kid. I had a few stories published in high school journals, and starting around junior high I used to write letters to the editor of the local paper.
My views were a little progressive for the rural Minnesota area where I grew up, so I received my first death threat when I was about 16.
I also loved freestyle BMX riding, so some friends and I published a BMX magazine which eventually expanded to include advertising, events, merchandise and even a correspondent and circulation in Europe. That made me realize that I could turn something I love to do into a career, so I looked at colleges where I could earn a dual major in both communications and business.
I thought I might go into publishing, but a professor in the Newhouse School at Syracuse told me about the field of PR and how I could marry communications with business and the news. I was hooked immediately.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role as senior vice president of global public relations and communications of Natixis Global Asset Management?
My mission is to help continue elevating the Natixis brand, building on a lot of great work that’s already been done. Natixis is one of the largest asset managers in the world, with over $870 billion of assets under management.
We have a seasoned executive team, incredible fund managers and a really amazing research and analytics program which we can leverage for our communications program.
What are some of the biggest PR challenges financial companies face?
The challenge varies widely in different parts of the financial industry. For the largest banks, the reputational damage from the financial crisis could take a generation to repair. They’ll need to better highlight the role they play in capital formation and helping businesses to grow and create jobs. Income inequality, politics and long memories will be formidable obstacles.
Other parts of the industry were less impacted by the crisis, but always play a sensitive role at the hub of economic activity.
In your more than 20 years of experience, how has PR changed?
When I started at GE in 1995, I was one of a handful of people at corporate headquarters who had ever used the Internet. Faxing press releases was still fairly high-tech, we produced a 200-page hard copy clip report every week, and we used gigantic books of media contacts – which were updated annually – to create our press lists.
The media industry was profitable, reporters had time and resources to research stories and there were even dedicated fact-checkers at some publications. “Native content” was called “advertorial” back then, and nobody read it.
The Internet quickly changed all that, and at GE I was lucky enough to help build one of the very first major corporate websites. Soon after, I piloted one of the very first reputation-monitoring systems on the Internet – and yes, there were trolls even in 1997.
Email reshaped how we communicate, but things like desktop publishing and even the creation of the PDF format all dramatically changed the profession.
The most important evolution, of course, was the rise of social media and the idea that anyone and everyone is now a publisher. Not only did that change how companies and the public interact, but it profoundly changed the media industry. Now I get nostalgic for the days when people consumed content governed by journalistic standards.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about PR throughout your career?
The basics never change: there’s an audience, a message and a channel. When things seem complicated, I always come back to that.
You’ve helped brands face some of the biggest crises. What are some of the key components of a successful crisis communication plan?
Communication needs to be integrated into the broader business continuity system, so when an event is unfolding a communicator can interject when they see a need.
It’s also important to remember that plans can help guide decision-making, but they don’t make decisions for you. There is no substitute for being able to step back, assess a situation with objectivity and then act decisively.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
Learn to write well. It’s the bedrock of what we do, and few do it well. Read the newspaper – the whole newspaper. And help people even when there’s nothing in it for you. Karma is real.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I’m at my best when…everything is hitting the fan.
2. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…coffee and the newspaper.
3. My favorite social media platform is…Facebook. It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends all over the world.
4. My biggest pet peeve is…people who walk slowly.
5. If I won the lottery, I’d…be riding my bike and/or skiing every day.
6. The most interesting thing about me is…I guess I’m known as an adventure sports guy, racing motorcycles, skydiving and such.
Image via Ted Meyer
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