Behind the Headlines With Sonja Warner
Your audience is bombarded with content every day. With so much noise, how can your brand cut through and stand out?
Sonja Warner, vice president of global corporate communications at TransMedia Group, says only through planning and strategy will you reach your target audience effectively.
In this interview, Sonja discusses how to tailor communication based on culture, the process of developing a global communication strategy and why it’s so important to send the right message to the right audience at the right time.
You recently joined TransMedia Group as the vice president of global corporate communications. What will this role entail?
Transmedia is one of the nation’s most influential multilingual communications companies serving clients all over the world. We are winning more and more international clients, and our presence in other countries grows rapidly.
This means we have to make sure that our clients and partners obtain maximally professional, competent and, obviously, rapid response and interaction to all their needs and ideas. We are always as close as possible, which includes, among other available communication methods, understanding of language, history, culture, values and way of thinking.
I have over 20 years of experience heading corporate communication departments and businesses in large multinational companies, and I speak number of foreign languages. Being posted in several countries worldwide, and living for several years in the U.S., I know exactly how to create, build, develop and support the most efficient connection between clients and their needs at the new and foreign markets.
Is there a difference in how you approach communication across countries or across cultures?
Yes and no. The background and principles of why and how communication works are the same worldwide.
At the same time, our work is tightly and delicately connected to culture, values, public opportunities, political and economical situation, timing of each particular country, county, city and even household or authority.
That is why every contract and client is unique and special for our team. We have to find a “right recipe” which will work particularly for this product, service or person, which is up to date for this time and market environment.
Digital has made it easier to connect with people around the world. Has it improved global corporate communication? Is there any downside?
It definitely has. The “one voice policy” is easier to distribute all over the world quickly with digital. Using digital technologies as one of our resources, it is also easier and more efficient for our team to analyze and predict market tendencies, run highly precise search and track competitors’ activities.
I would say communication nowadays is absolutely fair, since people are free in their choice to accept, pick up, buy or think what they want. That’s one of the main reasons why only highly planned, structured, strategized and built strategies are efficient for clients to get to the target on time with optimal profit.
There are no high sales without a solid base. Communications – marketing, PR, organizational development – are areas to build support and fix this base when needed. This makes our job highly responsible, important, necessary and sometimes challenging.
We should plan in advance, react fast, know everything, have excellent communication and analytical skills and be available to react 24/7.
Global companies have diverse audiences. How can brands adapt their communication to meet all of their audiences’ needs?
Usually main messages are being created, developed and tested at the headquarters. After, heads of communications from the regional offices are invited to the presentation.
At the launch stage, colleagues from worldwide subsidiaries get together to run workshop and discuss implementation and course on sites. This might include translation of the slogan and main messages; adaptation of the strategy, including marketing plans, visuals and budgets; and local presentations to management, personnel, vendors, authorities, etc.
Further, the HQ representative and local staff interact on a regular basis to implement certain adjustments or additions.
How do you approach communication strategy for a large enterprise company versus a small startup?
The main focus here is the available resources, as well as the connection between different groups (management, employees, vendors, clients). Large corporations usually have slower, but step-by-step detailed algorithms and processes, including decision-making, approval and budgeting processes.
In smaller companies, the major decisions usually are made by the owner or top manager, who is, obviously, interested in speeding up the processes, gaining the profit and maximizing ROI.
Here, we would likely spend more time working out and explaining the importance of long-term strategy and formalizing the processes, as well as the sphere of responsibility. In certain cases, we might offer the small business client a tactical plan instead of the strategy, which serves as the entry level and makes things easier in the future.
What are some of the biggest communication mistakes brands make?
Usually established brands hire top professionals and, if they need them, highly efficient consultants, who minimize the risk of making major mistakes.
Again, the biggest challenge, which always was, is and will be for every business, is to find the right niche and the right product for the precise target groups (which should be defined in advance, too). Above all, it has to be at the right time, right place and at the right price.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
Constantly master your professional level, think twice before you make a decision, think collectively but take decisions individually. Do not be afraid to take reasonable risk and high responsibility. Delegate. Respect your colleagues. Love what you do, be consistent, and you will become successful everywhere.
Rapid Fire Round
1. My biggest pet peeve is…long talks without a particular message or result.
2. My hobbies outside of work include…spending time with my family, traveling and reading.
3. I laugh most at…my favorite movies, mostly comedies. 🙂
4. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
5. If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…probably create the same life that Robinson Crusoe did.
6. My guiltiest pleasure is…sleeping late in order to enjoy “me time” while checking international news, Facebook and world fashion trends.
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