For this member spotlight, we interviewed Brigitte Fontaine, Senior Manager of Internal Communications at Progress.
Why did you join the IABC?
I first joined IABC in 2007 when I was job searching. Someone recommended I look into the job section on the IABC website and, sure enough, I found there the job that launched me into my new career as a communicator. I have been a loyal member ever since.
At Progress Software, you started the 30 year-old company’s first-ever Internal Communications department. What were some of the challenges you faced?
When I first started at Progress, I quickly realized that internal communications expectations were fairly low simply because the function was not understood. At the time, a quarterly magazine, an intranet and a few email communications now and then were enough to keep employees informed, and that’s all there was to it. I had to educate the executive team and forge deep relationships with key members of most departments to demonstrate the value of internal communications as an engagement instrument. Being able to measure the outcome, in addition to the output of your work is critical to success, especially for internal communications, which is not directly tied to revenue generation.
You’ve headed up the internal communications around several M&As. What strategies did you implement to successfully engage, excite, and connect employees; and what advice do you have for communicators going through an M&A?
As a communicator, I have found myself on both camps of an M&A—acquired and acquirer. Each has its own challenges but both offer a unique opportunity to educate acquired and acquiring employees alike about the area of expertise and culture of “the other side.” One of the most successful programs that my team launched, in partnership with our human resources department, is the roll out of a technology fair on the campus where the majority of newly acquired employees worked. Over the course of three days, employees went through dozens of product sessions delivered by their new and current colleagues, interacted with executives during cultural workshops and connected with each other through networking games and parties. This was a cost-effective and efficient way to introduce our new employees to the company’s technology and expose them to its brand and culture. The key to a successful integration of newly acquired companies is to listen to both sides and strive to strike the proper balance between integration and autonomy. It really is a balancing act.
You have a technical background, spending five years as a tech support specialist and learning code. Do you find your tech background helps you in your communication role?
Absolutely! When you work for a high-tech company, you must understand the technology, if not in its minute details, at least in the general technical lines, to be able to ask the right questions when it comes to writing that re-org email or developing a new vision statement for the company. It’s just like cooking, you don’t have to be a chef to whip up an omelet, but you need to know what a whisker is.
You were a Product Manager at HP for nearly 10 years, managing the product lifecycle of an application migration product suite. How are the skills needed to be a Product Manager the same as those needed for communications?
There is some overlap in the sense that understanding your audience and being able to convey a clear and actionable message are equally as important in product management as in the communication professions. As a product manager, I had to gain a lot of technical knowledge and keep abreast of the latest in the world of hardware and software, which is a good habit to acquire for those of us communicators in the computer industry.
You wrote a blog post on LinkedIn about employees being a company’s best social media marketing asset. What are some tips to get employees to be brand ambassadors?
With the arrival “en force” of social media-savvy millennials in the workplace, older generations may feel left behind. Yet they have much to offer in terms of experience, knowledge and loyalty (in the case of employees with many years of service in the same company) which makes them perfect brand ambassadors. Smart employers who see the dichotomy as an opportunity rather than an HR headache, will pair up millennials with Gen Xs (or Baby Boomers) to harness the combined power of experience and modern skills. Both young and senior employees can learn from each other and the company has everything to win from this power duo. The blog post includes a few other tips, as well.
French is your mother tongue, and you speak English and German fluently (and can get by in Spanish and Italian). What advantages come with being multi-lingual?
Truthfully, I have had few opportunities to use French or other languages simply because English really is the universal business language. However, learning a new language is not just about the word — it also gives you tremendous insight into other peoples’ cultures. That has always come in handy for me when it came to working with a global workforce. I remember begging my boss not to order yet another branded T-shirt as giveaways for a European trade show we were exhibiting at. At best, the French might use it to dust their car, and that’s not a good use of your marketing dollars.
What is an interesting tidbit about yourself?
I love traveling around the world — discovering new places and living new experiences. There’s nothing more exciting in my book than swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos, trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro or surfing in the Caribbean, is there?