For this member spotlight, we interviewed Dina Wolfman Baker, Director of Marketing and Communication at Cambridge Systematics, Inc.
How long have you been a member of the IABC?
I joined the Boston chapter in 2012, but before that I was a member with the Philadelphia chapter, and honestly I can’t recollect how long ago I first joined!
You were our chapter’s Director of Professional Development for two years–what did that job entail?
My goal in that role was to leverage members senior in their careers to help mentor and develop either junior people in the communication profession or in school preparing for the profession. With the support of the board, I developed a mentorship matching program for these groups. We had a number of volunteers step forward, early-career professionals desiring mentorship, and a great partnership with Bentley University for the student component. Over those two years we created some solid matches.
At Cambridge Systematics you oversee the teams for marketing/brand strategy, marketing communications and internal communications–how important is it for these different teams to work together?
It’s essential, and unfortunately there’s the tendency to silo them. As an Assistant Director at CIGNA, I handled Internal Communication and Public Relations in the Legal and Public Affairs division. Marketing Communication and Marketing Strategy occurred in an entirely separate division. Client Communications were another thing altogether. When we launched the CIGNA IntegratedCare subsidiary, I took the Marketing Director role there and combined all these teams under me. The leads of these roles certainly had a dotted line reporting relationships with their divisions, but we needed a truly integrated approach to be successful. I believe this was fundamental to our value; we used internal communication to build buy-in across the three business divisions with which IntegratedCare had to collaborate, leveraged that to work with representatives across those groups to build a comprehensive, integrated marketing communication strategic plan, and combined all of the disciplines to ensure that our sales support, brand development, thought leadership, event, advertising and collateral communications intersected so effectively that within a year—before we’d even launched the product–“IntegratedCare” became the accepted generic industry term of our offering type (after two decades of the term “24-hour care”).
You’ve worked in a variety of industries (transportation, finance, insurance, health care, pharma…). How has that diverse experience helped you in your career?
First of all, it’s kept me interested because I’m always learning. But there’s actually a common thread. I started out in ad agencies in Philadelphia, which lend you a diverse client base. And Philadelphia agencies—being too close to NYC to compete in the consumer products world—focused on B2B technology offerings, as well as finance, health care and education. I did all of them. And I saw the relationship among them: making seemingly inaccessible information accessible to a wide audience. This often lends itself to comprehensive, multi-faceted, integrated communication campaigns that consider a range of internal and external audiences—which is the type of work I love.
You wrote an article on LinkedIn about leadership and said, “One of the career ceilings I see for marketing and communication superstars is the inability to let others do the work so they can spend time and effort leading and engaging in corporate-level strategy.” How do you recommend that leaders “let go” of the day-to-day?
The same way you let your child get on the school bus and be whisked away for the first time: with an expectation of an imperfect first experience, and an understanding that it’s for the best. If you’re getting nervous about giving your staff the freedom to develop their own style, their own relationships with colleagues and clients, and their own recovery from errors—then you’re thinking about their readiness, which probably means they are ready. Accept that ready does not mean things will go perfectly, and be accountable to answer for your decision. Back them up even as you acknowledge their mistakes, and provide them—behind the scenes—with constructive advice and course correction along the way.
You’ve worked with both Fortune 100 companies and start-ups alike–how are your communications skills put to use in these polar opposite environments?
My motto, in any environment, is to try to meet people where they are. As a communicator, that means my audience. As a team member, that means my colleagues. That approach is the same regardless of the company size or life stage. So across the board, I use my skills gained as a professional communicator to effectively work within the given environment.
You founded your own publishing company–Baker’s Dozen–in which you are also an author. Tell me more about that.
I established Baker’s Dozen Press to publish my own material. I wrote a memoir, in my child’s voice, for children who were experiencing the death of a parent. I was 11 when my mother died, and as an adult I met others who had lost parents, and I discovered that most had felt left on their own to cope because adults shied away from discussing it with them. My father and other adults in my life, on the other hand, were always available to me and I had—I believe—a much healthier experience. I scanned the literature, and found that almost all books for children on the topic used animals to tell stories, still avoiding a real discussion. So I decided to tell my story in a book that adults could read with children to help open up dialogue. I had been writing and giving sermons at my synagogue for a number of years, and I realized these sermons really amounted to a collection of essays. So, I wove them together, and published the volume myself. Baker’s Dozen Press was born. My last name is Baker, and a baker’s dozen always gives you a little something extra, which is what I hope my books can do for people—whether they are grappling with loss or with issues of social justice. Since publishing two books, I’ve limited my writings to press’ blog. But perhaps one day I’ll get back to putting out more in print.
You do a lot of public speaking–what’s some advice you can share on doing it well?
I believe that enjoying it helps you to do it well. I just find it fun—like having an overgrown conversation (it helps that I like to talk)! You also must prepare. I’ve long agreed with the 20-to-1 rule: 20 hours of preparation for one hour of speaking. That includes research, writing and practicing. I don’t often live up to the rule, but just knowing I should ensures that I put in significant effort. I always practice the talk aloud in a private space, several times, timing myself and taking notes. And I familiarize myself with the space. I visit it in advance, stand in the speaker’s position, and get comfortable with the room. Finally I try, to some degree, to tell a story.
You’ve been in the communications field for 30 years–what do you think the “next big thing” in communications will be?
What I see that most excites me is a blurring of the lines among the various marketing and communication disciplines, between HR and communication in engagement, between the businesses and the strategic communication functions. It’s not happening everywhere, but it’s happening more and more. My great hope is that this means we will move further from worrying about turf, and more toward collaborating on our common commitment to meeting the organization’s objectives. In that world, communicators can spend less of their time figuring out how to get a seat at the table and more of their time using their seat effectively. It’s our responsibility to accelerate this; communication programs should churn out professionals who are schooled in business fundamentals, and experienced communicators must own their responsibility as business leaders, not simply communication leaders.
You’re a very active volunteer who gives back to a number of different causes–what is your motivation?
It’s the legacy that I was fortunate enough to inherent from my parents and grandparents and, as I know from stories, generations before. Whatever our situation, we can contribute to society. I don’t see it as giving back, which suggests a tit-for-tat arrangement in which I help because I’ve been fortunate. Rather, each of us has unique gifts and privileges. With every gift or privilege comes responsibility to contribute to ourselves, our families, our communities and our societies (in that order, because the strength of one enables us to address the next). I enjoy the gift and privilege of communication and organizational skills and years of valuable work and life experience; I bear responsibility to contribute them. Contribution implies that it’s additive to something larger.
As if you didn’t do enough already, you owned a landscape design firm (Baker Creative) for 25 years! Do landscape design and communications have anything in common?
My husband is a horticulturalist and landscape designer. I co-owned his design-build company and handled the marketing. I have no horticulture or landscape design expertise, though I do have a beautiful property with no effort on my part. But yes, the two fields do have some things in common, most notably creativity and the need to consider audience and purpose to develop the right solution.