Interview Series: CMO of UL Discusses How PR & Content Marketing Are Evolving in 2018



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Kathy Seegebrecht is SVP and Chief Marketing Officer for UL (Underwriters Laboratories). She joined UL in 2015 and is responsible for brand and marketing strategy, communications, public relations and crisis management, corporate social responsibility, events, customer experience, digital marketing and social media, as well as the marketing organization at large. Kathy sits on the Executive team at UL and reports to the President and CEO. Kathy has also worked in a variety of marketing and sales roles at Navistar and BP.

Onclusive sat down with Kathy to talk about her work at UL:

Onclusive: Tell us about your role and how your team helps UL gain visibility and manage reputation.

Kathy: I am the SVP, Chief Marketing Officer at UL. When I joined UL three years ago, corporate marketing was a small central function. We’ve grown quite a bit, and our team now includes Corporate Social Responsibility, our own in-house agency team, a Demand Operations/Lead Gen capability, Strategic Meetings Management, and, most recently, Customer Advocacy. We had out-sourced much of our work to agencies prior, including our website, which made it difficult to be as agile as we needed to be. We also had only a few in-country marketers who were managing our corporate presence and reputation locally in international markets, and we now have strong talent in our growing international markets.

We are fortunate to have a CEO that believes in marketing and communications. In working directly with the CEO, I’m able to share and gain immediate input into our activities. But, more importantly, I’m able to share the relevant business context with my team to make sure we are continually aligned with company strategy and growth goals.

We started down a path to renew our brand work over two years ago, which has been instrumental in changing the way we go to market by providing information on services we offer to satisfy a set of customer needs vs. telling customers what we do. It specifically helps bring to the forefront our brand promise. This work is being woven into the development of a new web platform that will enable us to serve up content that is important to our clients and stakeholders in the way they want, when they want. From a PR perspective, we have actively focused on executive visibility, building our reputation and trust in the marketplace through ongoing work with influencers, customers and stakeholders. Lastly, we have undertaken thought leadership content work that I’m confident will further the visibility and reputation of UL.

Onclusive: How do you view Integrated Marketing?

Kathy: In my opinion, Integrated Marketing as a function has morphed into Content Operations and Campaign Management. Ultimately, the principles are the same in terms of consistent messaging and keeping the customer as the focus.

Onclusive: Does the UL marketing team combine content marketing, PR & communications, social & digital marketing and direct marketing efforts?

Kathy: We don’t combine those efforts today in terms of team structure; however, we realize the importance of communication and collaboration across those functions. We are currently working on a ‘next generation’ organizational design for our team, and we’ll address the synergies of those activities as well as the strategy that sits above content creation and audience engagement.  While it’s a work in progress, with the right processes and the right structure, you can be very efficient and nimble in addressing customer needs.

Onclusive: You’ve held a marketing leadership role at Navistar and BP as well. Have you seen the way that marketing departments function evolve over time?

Kathy: The evolution of marketing teams has been extremely significant, and I definitely have to put a lot of effort into ‘keeping up.’ The increasing capability and focus now is on content generation, campaign management, lead generation/demand generation operations, marketing technology and customer experience. None of these were central to marketing when I was working at Navistar or BP. PR has always been an important part of what we do, and it continues to be while it too has evolved to support executive visibility, thought leadership and content generation. I also like our renewed focus on internal communications, in support of employee value proposition work that is happening and being led by our talent management team at UL.

Onclusive: When businesses are launching a PR or content marketing campaign, what are the key elements they should focus on?

Kathy: The objectives or strategy always come first. What are you trying to accomplish? Who are you trying to reach and with what message? What is the desired outcome? How will you measure success? Once you answer these pertinent initial questions and have the objectives clearly defined, then start content development and identify your subject matter experts and spokespersons. Then, consider the appropriate and effective channels for reaching your audience. Channel execution is key, whether mass media, social media or digital marketing, marketing automation, etc.

Onclusive: How do you know if your efforts are working?

Kathy: From a media and social media perspective, we do have analytics we look at and we are often testing and learning to determine how to best use resources and focus efforts. In many cases, our stakeholders are telling us if our efforts are working. Our dedicated through leadership content strategy and campaign efforts are just getting off the ground. We’ve spent a full year focused on the strategy, framework, and content, and the fun part will all unfold in 2018. I’m confident we’ll see successful campaigns and  great ROI.

Onclusive: What are best practices in PR & content marketing measurement?

Kathy: Measurement should be clear, concise and easily understandable. Key performance indicators should be closely aligned to business objectives. Site analytics and competitive audits should be key measures of PR and content marketing effectiveness.

Onclusive: How do you see PR & content marketing evolving in 2018?

Kathy: In a rapidly changing landscape, the continued importance of influencer identification will be key to PR and content marketing. Whether a reporter, analyst, author, trade association, academic, consultant, etc., the overriding question is – which of these influencers drives reputation, perception and decision-making? We must continually apply new technology tools and a data-driven approach to verifying maximum influence. Once influencers have been identified and verified, we have an infinite quantity of thought leadership expertise to share with them, and because of our consensus-based culture, the right mindset to enter into relationship-based influencer arrangements that stand to generate meaningful outcomes for both parties. Channel importance is changing, but that’s really dependent on the audience you’re trying to achieve and your metrics. Content marketing is fascinating and the evolution that’s taking place is in the ‘how’ of how you reach your desired target audience continues to evolve.

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