Comms lessons from GE’s spin-off into 3 companies

How the gigantic organization embraces thought leadership and brand journalism to communicate its new identities with purpose as a guide.

General Electric, an old-guard company within the realm of major American corporations, formally ceased to exist on April 2. Instead, the corporation was split off into three new brands, GE Aerospace, GE HealthCare, and GE Veranova, the last of which will cover the energy industry. The decision, which was announced in 2021, went into action this year. With such a major shift in identity and strategy, questions about what’s next for both branding and current and future employees arise naturally.

Some of these quesitons were answered in a recent interview with Gulf Business, a business journal based out of the Middle East, when president and CEO of Commercial Engines & Services for GE Aerospace Russell Stokes shared his perspective on how the changes would impact both leadership and employees alike, with an emphasis on finding purpose amid organizational change.

Purpose as a guiding light

In the interview, Stokes stated that GE Aerospace’s spin-off allowed for a greater focus on its place in the market by “inventing the future of flight, lifting people up, and bringing them home safely.”

Stokes emphasized that the new company allows for greater focus and innovation in the aerospace field, particularly in the context of the post-pandemic rebound of air travel.

“Operating as a standalone business, not as a part of a larger organization, gives us greater latitude to execute ways that we can grow the business,” Stokes said. “In the Middle East, where we have more than 220 employees and a history of more than 40 years, this will mean a buildup of capabilities on the ground and greater focus for our critically important customers here.”

It sounds awfully simple, but that’s mostly because it’s true — when you want to communicate about your organization, nailing down its purpose to both the public and its employees should be one of the first priorities. Earlier this year, we wrote that purpose should permeate every part of an organization’s communications, as that is what makes it more human in the long run.

That purpose should also be customized for different situations. For example, Stokes shared that in the Middle East market, GE Aerospace engineers work with customers to ensure that planes are optimized for the hot desert climate in the area. This comes into sharper relief within the new company’s structure, as a more specific scope of the company helps improve focus, which in turn allows for improved customer service, and which in turn helps boost brand and employer reputation. As with almost everything in the world of communications, decisions don’t happen in a vacuum.

The value of strong leadership 

Don’t undersell the importance of Stokes stepping up and speaking about these major changes early. Strong, decisive leadership doesn’t just inform both the public and employees about the direction of the company, but it can also serve as a tone-setter for culture.

Consider the tone that Stokes takes in his interview with Gulf Business. He’s confident, optimistic, and specific about the capabilities of GE Aerospace. He wants the audience to know what this company is capable of and the impacts it’ll have on the industry, customers, and employees.

That tactful executive communications can carry over internally as well with a little push from comms. Keep your employees aware of what’s going on, be open and honest about struggles that arise along the way, and be sure that you’re communicating your values consistently. It’ll instill a culture of trust and clarity that will carry through to your employees and beyond. A good culture with strong leadership is one of the best recruiting and retention tools an organization can possess.

The brand newsroom’s power

To mark this changeover to a new era of GE, GE Aerospace’s branded newsroom pulled out all the stops on April 2. In a blog post for the GE Aerospace website, the company outlined not only the history of GE in the world of flight but also the path forward in the industry. It communicates that there are ties to the accomplishments and legacy of the old company, but that the future has limitless possibilities.

Striking that tone masterfully balances past and future, recognizing the value of both. Brand journalists who know their stuff make these stories happen all the time — if you have a recovering journo or two on your comms team, be sure to lean into their reporting abilities for stronger, more journalistic owned stories. .

GE Vernova also published a blog post on April 2 that took a different approach, offering a timeline of the energy company’s spinoff from the GE Corporation that demonstrates how your content can follow a chrnological format to recap stakeholders of many developments in a streamlined, easily-digestible fashion.

GE Aerospace’s sister company GE HealthCare’s investor relations page also carries a storytelling lesson. The clearer picture you can paint for stakeholders (as GE HealthCare does with stats and figures that are often exclusive), both internal and external stakeholders get the whole view of the brand.

GE’s brand spin-off shows that with proper leadership comms and smart storytelling, new chapters in an organization can prove fertile ground for opportunities to communicate impactfully.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports and hosting trivia.

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