Member Spotlight

OGRADYThom O’Grady is Co-Leader of the FLY RI (Providence) Group, held the third week of every other month, and has a strong background in Corporate Communications with a concentration in Executive and Internal Communications. Most recently, Thom was Director of Communications at Fidelity Investments.

How has your communications career evolved?

My professional career started in broadcast journalism – on-air reporting/anchoring, news story assignments, editing – the whole bit. I even did some time as a talk show producer. When I was program director for a cable system I took on the responsibility of increasing the company’s community presence; sort of an unofficial community relations manager. This led to my first corporate position as Public Relations Manager for a multiple cable system operator. My duties included government affairs, media relations and travelling the country implementing “Cable in the Classroom” workshops for teachers. An acquisition lead me to the Continental Cablevision (now Comcast) as part of the corporate communications and community affairs teams. When the company was sold and corporate moved to Denver, I moved into internal communications at Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. From there I headed internal communications at Citizens Bank for nine years and joined Fidelity two-and a half years ago.

Has the communications field changed? How?

I’ve been in five different corporate settings, mostly in internal and executive areas. When I started, internal communications basically consisted of benefits communications and “soft” information – anniversaries, co-worker stories – like a neighborhood newsletter. Now companies have large internal communications departments that play a big role in employee engagement.

The business has evolved from providing information chiefly about employee benefits to engaging the employees in the business. Helping them connect how what they do impact business growth and success. Companies are realizing the impact of strategic communications for employees and integrating internal and external platforms. I think of it more as employee relations because it involves much more than the written word.

Technology has certainly changed the way we do our jobs, but it’s more than that. As internal communications has become an important part of doing business, communications has become more personal. We try to connect with every employee from Baby Boomers to Millenials in the way they prefer access. Technology allows us to reach employees in a number of ways.

What are the challenges for a communicator?

First of all we have to get and maintain the attention of our audience. There is so much going on and so many ways to communicate – digital, video, email, websites… We use different tools and technology for different audiences. There are more distractions now. There are so many ways to get information and so much information. Employees talk about email overload, for example. I’ve tried to cut down on the emails by housing information in one place. Where before we may have distributed fact sheets, quarterly reports and news in separate messages, we now provide one location where an employee can find what they want when they want.

What bugs you in your communications day?

My pet peeve is what I call “buzz word bingo” or corporate speak. In meetings when someone says, “I don’t have the bandwidth for that,” or “we will have to socialize that,” I think, “what are you saying?” It goes back to my broadcast days, when I worked at a rock station and tailored my news writing to our audience so they would stay with us and not switch to the competition. I have always made an effort to write the way I speak; however, that is tougher now for corporate communicators because the “buzzwords” are expected by senior management…but it’s not the way people talk in their day-to-day experiences.

What do you bring from outside work to your work?

I like to read self-help books on business and management. I’ve been very active in the community, hosting telethons and getting involved in fundraising.

How did you become involved with IABC?

After years of attending the Providence FLY lunches, I joined the IABC when I was in job search mode. When my search ended, I maintained my membership. Now as co-leader of the Providence FLY, I hope others will see the benefits of talking to peers, exchanging ideas, and staying on top of trends in our world.