Last week, W2O Group conducted its Fall Social Commerce Days at Syracuse University as part of the W2O/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce.  The Visiting Executive Forum  featured Tony Cervone, Senior Vice President, Global Communications, General Motors Corporation (GM), and Chairman, GM Foundation.

In addition to participating in several classes addressing such topics as Research, Campaigns, Writing, and Crisis, Tony was involved in a panel discussion attended by over 150 students titled: “Why Should I Care?  How GM Engages People on its Products, Perspectives, Technology, and the Future Transportation.”

Among the key take-aways from the discussion were:

  • GM is aggressively moving to become a Technology-oriented company as it competes for talent across the technology spectrum with the likes of Google, Amazon, IBM, Apple, etc.
  • From a communications standpoint, PR and marketing are connected like never before but refinement is still needed around influencer engagement and storytelling.
  • The lesson for Corporate Communications today is the need to “knit together an overarching story” vs. just telling stories if the organization is to achieve relevance.
  • From an influencer standpoint GM is working to discern between “larger conversations that drive opinion”  vs.  smaller conversations that may have volume but don’t generate specific actions or behaviors important to the company.
  • The game today lies in the “Pivot.”  Analytics need to uncover insights that determine the evolution of audience behaviors to understand when people pivot to the next thing.  For example, when young buyers pivot from information gathering to dealer visit or actual test drive.
  • As communicators, three areas are essential for growth and success: 1) Employing analysis and insights into planning, execution, and assessment; 2) clear and articulate writing skills and 3) global understanding of business, markets, customers, employees.
  • To be relevant, organizations and brands have to be “self-aware.”  GM is working hard to be smarter about who and what it is both internally and externally.  This transcends every decision it makes about products, services, people, market, etc.
  • Answering “Why your company exists” is probably the most critical task for communicators and marketers today.
  • Regarding Purpose and the GM Foundation, Cervone told students that GM thinks about Purpose as a foundation that eventually drives reputation. A focal point for investment is around STEM or educating the next generation of professionals in science, technology, engineering .

The W2O Group/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce is now recognized as the standard for industry-academic partnerships and in 2017 we will be celebrating our five-year anniversary!  To date, we’ve welcomed Chief Communications or Marketing Officers from Chevron, GM, Verizon, Medtronic, and Delphi as Visiting Executives to the Center as well as dozens of W2O Group staff from each OpCo.

The Center was created by Jim and Audra Weiss, both SU grads, to positively influence and inform the next generation of the profession.  It’s an important component of the W2O Group ecosystem blending staff, clients, notable brands, perspectives with students, professors, and a fresh curriculum.  The Center is fast becoming a beacon of progressive and practical thought leadership for the profession.  Maria Russell, professor of public relations at Newhouse and an icon in the communications field and I serve as co-directors of The Center.

All of us at W2O Group and its related firms are proud of the work being conducted at the Center for Social Commerce and our relationship with Syracuse University and the Newhouse School of Public Communications.  More importantly, we are excited about the future being shaped for students by faculty and professionals alike.