Overcoming Today’s Top Five Global Communication Challenges

Jeff Cross, global head of communications, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd.

Jeff Cross, global head of communications, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., will be speaking at the 7th National Summit on Strategic Communications on April 26–27, 2016. This interview was conducted by Jasper Fessmann, a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, which is a supporting partner for the Strategic Summit.

University of Florida: Can you tell us what the top five global communications challenges are for you and explain why you believe them to be so crucial?

Jeff Cross: For me, the top five global communications challenges are:

1) The transformation from a print to digital media orientation;

2) The pressures of the 24x7 news cycle;

3) Developing more content marketing capabilities in order to explain your company’s narrative;

4) Embracing data and measurement of results; and

5) The competition for global talent.

Transformation from print to digital means we have to ramp up our content marketing to own the message and own the story. We’ve got to do more to gain owned and shared media and then amplify that by paid media.

Let me give you an example of how the media landscape has changed: I’m in Tokyo now and I take the Tokyo Metro Ginza line to work. I observe maybe three quarters, sometimes 100% of people in my view are all using a smartphone. It’s a rare day, rare week even, when you see a person reading a newspaper. That is a great change from the time when I first used to work Japan in 2002 and 2003 as Vice President of Communications at IBM’s Asia Pacific headquarters. In these 12 years, the previously dominant print media have almost vanished from the trains. Everything is now online. Therefore, we have to use more content marketing to make sure our story is getting out there.

Obviously the holy grail of communications is earned media coverage in the daily newspaper such as The Nikkei in Japan, The Wall Street Journal in the U.S. and the Financial Times in Europe. But we also want to own the story and get our content out there. As a real life example that is going on right now, we at Takeda focus intensely on promoting our diversity story. We’re currently featuring a series on our internet page as well as our LinkedIn and Twitter pages about female role models. There we showcase pictures and vignettes of female role models from various countries, but particularly from Japan where diversity records in the industry have traditionally not been good. That’s an example of controlling the story and using digital means to do so. So that’s one trend that I see.

The second trend we observe all of the time is the 24x7 news cycle. Right outside of my office here in Tokyo, we have a bank of muted TV screens on all the time showing CNN and the Japanese NHK. You’ve got to be aware of the 24x7 news cycle. This need for speed means that companies have to develop strong global capabilities to be able to manage that 24x7 news cycle. Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Bloomberg’s managing editor for Japan and Korea speaking at a communications networking event here in Tokyo and he discussed the exact same thing: the need for speed because of the stiff competition that Bloomberg faced from Reuters, The Associated Press and other wire services. Bloomberg faces an immense pressure to break news first because of their subscribers’ demands: people buy Bloomberg terminals, which are not inexpensive, because they’re paying for speed of information — knowing it first. So, it’s a war for getting the news in the cycle out there. The managing editor said that Bloomberg, for example, has employees whose full-time job is just to do research on what’s being posted on Twitter. So much news is first broken on Twitter these days, that they want to make sure that they’re observing what conversations are going on there.

I came to Takeda from IBM, which is more advanced in the use of social media than many other companies. At IBM, it was a requirement for any communications professionals to engage in Twitter, to at least dip your toe in the water: You follow reporters; they follow you back. And I still find it tremendously helpful because I see news first break on Twitter. Whether it’s Bloomberg or Reuters or The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, reporters are tweeting their own stories or their colleagues’ stories, and I see it there first — before I see it on Google Search or long before we have our daily press monitoring email that goes out to all employees. We currently have one media monitoring report per day, so if something happens 12 hours after it goes out, you have to wait another 12 hours until you see it in the email. Thus, I find Twitter tremendously useful and I strongly encourage our teams to follow reporters and other opinion leaders who focus on the pharmaceutical industry. You learn an awful lot that way. I find it very, very helpful.

The third trend is that there are even fewer “long reads,” or in-depth stories such as you might see in the Sunday New York Times Magazine or The Atlantic. This means that corporate communication staff needs to develop more content marketing capabilities in order to garner their fair share of voice. Clearly, earned media is not the only game in town these days, and now communications professions need to create owned and shared content to explain their companies’ narratives. At Takeda, we are embracing content marketing to get our story out there because it’s a visual world these days. People now see so much of the news on their smartphones. We have to develop content to just have your name out there. Again, the Holy Grail is still positive earned media coverage in major business newspapers, wire services and so forth; but short of that, getting your voice, your story told via social media is really important.

The fourth global communication challenge is the focus on results measurement. Whether the metric is employee engagement or corporate reputation, communicators have to embrace data and analytics as never before. The Arthur W. Page Society just published a document called “The New CCO: Transforming Enterprises in a Changing World” on why Chief Communications Officers’ work creates a critical inflection point in an organization. A large part of that document is about measurement and demonstrating return on investment because CEOs are interested in the bottom line. They want to know what they get for incremental dollars, yens or euros spent on communications versus something else. So, that is why getting reliable measurement of results is becoming increasingly more important. Therefore, having people on the team or in your agency network who can embrace data, measurements and analytics is highly important these days.

The fifth global communication challenge is war for talent. In our case, we are seeking professionals who are bilingual because we’re a Japan-based multinational, even though English is the business language of the company. We are specifically seeking professionals who have prior communications experience, but digital marketing experience would be a real plus because those are skills we have traditionally not have had here. So, we want to build our strength: bring in people who have got some prior experience in communications roles whether it is in journalism, public relations agency work or corporate communications, but who also have a digital marketing background because that’s where the activities are these days. The pharmaceutical industry is a highly competitive market and we are already attracting great people in Japan where we have a very strong brand reputation. Takeda here tends to get the top people out of college as medical representatives. Outside Japan, however, we’re not as well known and therefore it’s highly competitive to find the right talent. Our brand reputation can really help us on this though, and that’s where we want to focus: building the Takeda brand outside of Japan.

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