5 questions with Citizens’ head of communications Michelle Hecht

The industry veteran shares guidance on measurement, messaging consistency, and getting a better seat at the decision-making table.

Secrets of comms success

Welcome, dear readers, to the inaugural installment of what we hope will be an edifying, empowering series, in which we ask experienced and venerated communications pros a handful of pointed questions to help you succeed in your career.

First up in the hot seat is Michelle Hecht, executive vice president, head of communications of Citizens, one of the U.S.’ largest banks. Hecht has amassed more than 25 years’ worth of experience leading communications functions, during which time she’s helped companies protect their reputations and create high-performing cultures.

Here, she shares a bit of wisdom accumulated from an impressive career:

Ragan: How can communicators do a better job of ensuring consistent messaging across different platforms and departments?

Hecht: Given today’s environment—advancements in technology capabilities, ability to leverage data in more sophisticated ways, changes in human behavior impacting how we consume and retain information as well as the widespread impact of social media—I believe taking a “human centered approach” to communications is crucial.

This means transcending traditional organizational silos—and expanding how we think about “audiences.” To accomplish this, it means communicators from all disciplines must be willing and able to take a multi-stakeholder view of their work. When bringing diverse perspectives from multiple disciplines together, you can achieve breakthrough results—with aligned messaging, creative support and execution.

Michelle Hecht

Ragan: What advice would you give comms pros to help them remain relevant in a post-pandemic landscape?

Hecht: The world has never moved faster than it does today;  the pace of change is rapid.

Communications has and continues to evolve at a velocity we have never seen. Continual learning is essential for success. This means staying aware of human behavior, the latest technology and data capabilities, and timely and relevant societal issues.

Our roles are more complex, but we also have the opportunity to add much more value.

Ragan: How can comms pros get a better seat at the decision-making table right now?

Hecht: I believe a better seat is earned by demonstrating value.

Investing time in building relationships and learning the business is fundamental. Then, combining that foundational knowledge with effectively executed communications strategies will help any communicator establish themselves as a trusted advisor—and ultimately a valued member of any leadership table.

Ragan: What are some tips you have for measuring communications success or progress?

Hecht: The very first principle is to define and align on your objective. That seems simple but is often a challenge for companies or individuals who are operating at high velocities with rapid change.

Answering the question: “What are we trying to achieve?” at an outcome level (vs. activity level) is the first step of objective setting. From there, once you have alignment, you can move on to key results, answering the question: “How will you know you are successful?”

It’s also important to identify – and perhaps develop – actual metrics that allow you to measure your progress at the right frequency. When done well, metrics enable a communicator to prove their value and quantify their impact.

Ragan: What are some top trends you suggest other communicators get ahead of?

Hecht: In this environment, being a  continual learner is essential.  This might mean staying abreast of technology capabilities, understanding how you can leverage data in more sophisticated ways, constantly monitoring changes in human behavior impacting how we consume and retain information and engaging with social media.  Change is constant, and learning is critical.

Ragan: How does your company view and approach internal comms?

Hecht: My organization understands and values the importance of aligned communications. We established a cross functional communications council, consisting of leaders representing all stakeholders such as customers, colleagues, community partners, shareholders, regulators, and key influencers.  This means teams from areas including marketing, Investor Relations, Regulatory Relations, Communications, Talent Acquisition and more, come together with a common purpose – to strengthen and protect the reputation of the company.  I believe reputations are fundamentally built from the inside out, and taking a holistic and collaborative approach enables us to drive the best outcomes.

Together as a council, we listen and learn from one another, share insights, metrics and ideas. We work to increase talent mobility across teams, and align on messaging to help the company communicate with one voice.

If you’re an experienced internal comms practitioner who’d like participate in a “Secrets of Success” interview, please email robbyb@ragan.com.


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