Today, 200 communications professionals from the corporate, nonprofit, real estate, healthcare, and education sectors joined us for our 23rd SM& Presents panel, “Mad Men & Women of the New Millennium: Communicating Your Brand in the Age of Integrated Media.” We were honored to be joined by a panel of all-star communicators from leading brands, moderated by Solomon McCown Vice President Michelle Mastrobattista. The panelists shared their experiences telling a cohesive brand story in an era of ever-increasing media platforms.

The panel kicked off with a discussion about how communication teams are structured.  Nate Nickerson, Vice President for Communications at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that communications is decentralized. Of the 200 Institute employees with communication responsibilities, only 30 report directly to him. To bridge any gaps that naturally creates, Nickerson gathers larger groups of communicators for monthly check-ins to discuss the Institute’s content strategy and best practices. And, he added, MIT lets students blog about their experiences at the Institute – unfiltered and uncensored.

On the other side of the coin, Matthew Charde, Executive Vice President at EF Education First, highlighted that EF values integration deeply, building New England’s largest open-concept office space so teams are physically integrated. EF also constructs small project teams with experts from finance, public relations and copywriting to ensure the best product.

On hiring, the panelists shared their interesting perspectives. “We look for expert generalists,” said Beth Miller, Senior Director of Communications, Skanska USA. The old “territories” of communications teams are disintegrating, Miller added, and professionals must be able to engage with users on social, handle a crisis and also buy ads. All panelists highlighted the need for stellar writing skills when hiring in today’s world too. Dan Mazei, Senior Director of the Global Newsroom at Reebok, shared an anecdote about a job candidate who had a beautiful multimedia resume, but he was turned off when the applicant spelled “marketing” incorrectly.

Once you have a team in place, how do you tell the story? “No consumer consumes in a silo,” Mazei said. “We are the gatekeepers of content.” Mazei shared that his team at Reebok is only five months old, but has the goal of making a cohesive unit out of existing digital content and public relations teams to better tell Reebok’s story. He added that NewsWhip is a valuable tool for his team to gauge whether a piece of content will resonate with Reebok’s audience.

Ilana Robbins, Digital Strategist and Social Media Lead at Biogen, emphasized the value of sharing meaningful content that has a purpose. “If it doesn’t make sense for your brand, don’t push it out.” Miller added that Skanska communications teams discuss the news of the day every morning to get on the same page for how they want to sound that day.

Solomon McCown President and crisis communications expert Ashley McCown chimed in from the audience and asked how the panelists use social media during a crisis. Mazei recommended approaching the situation with humility. Miller added that it depends on the circumstances. If a group is willing to have a dialogue, it’s worth engaging online and meeting in person to reach a compromise. Robbins added that her hands are often tied by regulatory bodies on what can and cannot be discussed on social media.

Panelists also discussed the evergreen question for communications professionals of all stripes: Proving return on investment for their organization. Charde shared that at EF, the bottom line always comes down to sales and conversions. Mazei added that impressions, which have long been a key metric, are less important to him than engagement and shares, which proves that the audience is reacting to your organization’s content.

Big thanks to our panelists and to everyone who attended this important discussion. There was a lot more great content, so to read more or if you missed the event, check out all the tweets on our hashtag, #SMCPR. Have a question for us? Drop us a line on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn!