For this member spotlight we interviewed Heather Bonarrigo, Organizational Communications Manager at Raytheon.
What trajectory has your career path taken that has led you to your current job at Raytheon?
It’s hard to believe I’m nearing my 20th anniversary in the communications profession. It seems like only yesterday I was graduating from Boston University with degrees in English and English education, fully expecting to be a high school English teacher. Instead, I started my career working in academia, ghost writing for one of my alma mater’s vice presidents. After that I landed a job at Raytheon Company, and here I am almost 17 years later.
Seventeen years at a single company might feel foreign to a lot of people – especially these days – but I’ve been blessed with a new role just about every two years, so it’s been far from boring. Although I’ve always worked in communications-related roles, I haven’t always been home roomed in the function. I’ve sat in our in-house media group, IT, business solutions, operations and engineering. This diversity of experience has allowed me to really get to know our business and grow a strong network – traits that serve you well when you’re in organizational communications. In fact, I think every internal communicator should have the chance to be immersed with their audience. I jokingly call it “Undercover Comms.” It’s eye-opening to see what it’s like to not be one step removed from the leadership team and paid to know the latest news, strategies and priorities. You quickly realize how disconnected some employees are and why what comms does to engage them is so important.
Why did you join IABC?
I joined IABC back in 2002 to sharpen my skills and learn best practices from other communicators. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to attend three IABC World Conferences (always an amazing experience…if you haven’t attended, do it!). Since 2013 my teammates and I have earned six Gold Quill Awards for our campaigns to engage employees in the business. Besides the accolades, which are obviously nice, I’ve found the Gold Quill Award process to be an incredible learning experience. It forces you to reflect on your goals and objectives, asses your strategies, and measure your results. This reflection refines your approach to campaign planning and execution and helps you improve year over year. Oh, and external awards can add prestige to your function, making it that much easier to be seen as a strategic business partner.
What’s one communications project you executed that you’re particularly proud of?
One of the proudest moments of my life was standing on the stage of the House of Blues on Lansdowne Street surrounded by my teammates as we were awarded the Publicity Club of New England’s Super Platinum Bell. We were totally shocked that the top award of the night was going to an employee engagement campaign instead of one of the amazing PR campaigns that had been receiving awards all night. Our campaign, called “The Cure for Performance Anxiety: A Healthy Dose of Pride, Confidence and Business Smarts,” improved employees’ understanding of the “business of the business” – and bolstered their confidence in our leadership and pride in our mission – to ensure their ongoing alignment with our business strategy during a period of leadership changes and financial challenges. It was a multi-layered, integrated campaign and a true labor of love for all of us, so being recognized on stage was extremely gratifying (not to mention hysterical, since my teammate knocked the award out of my hand, causing it to fall to the floor and break on stage. We sure know how to keep an audience entertained!).
When did you know that communications was your passion?
At heart, I’m a writer and a teacher. I love the English language; I love rearranging words to tell simple, clear stories that are fun to read and educational at the same time. I love mentoring and coaching, and standing in front of audiences delivering presentations that leave them inspired and informed. In college, I didn’t know these skills could be applied anywhere other than the classroom. As soon as I realized that the communications profession was “a thing,” I was all in!
You mentor colleagues on your project teams – what kind of advice do you give them?
First and foremost, be yourself. Be authentic and genuinely passionate about the work you’re doing – that solid footing will serve you well when the inevitable challenges arise. But don’t be afraid to change; in fact, you must. Continuous self-improvement is critical. As a leader early in my career always reminded me, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” Lastly, never underestimate the power of strong relationships. Your network can help you get things done faster and better and launch your career to places you never saw it going. But remember, people want to work with – and help – happy people. Be the person that lights up the room and energizes the conversation. “A smile is a curve that sets things straight,” especially when you’re dealing with tense situations or conflict.
How do you prepare your executives for presentations? Any tips?
First off, get to know them. It’s hard to prepare an executive for a presentation if you don’t know their style. And since they’re human (don’t forget that – no matter how much mahogany is in their office), each one is different. Do they perform better armed with bullet points or a speech? Does a confidence monitor help them or totally disrupt their flow? Know their strengths and play to them. Next, make sure they know who they’re presenting to. Who’s in the audience; what’s their disposition? What do you want them to say, feel or do differently; what’s the call to action? Once you know the goal, it’s all about crafting a compelling story that will help the audience get there. The more personal details and anecdotes the better. Remember, it’s the leader’s presentation, not yours, so if you want them to appear authentic and confident, they need to be part of the story development. On the other hand, you’re the comms professional whose job it is to make them succeed, so if they suggest a message or a graphic that simply won’t resonate, tell them. Remember, you’re getting paid for your strategic counsel.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love going to concerts. To date I’ve been to 360 of them, starting with New Kids on the Block back in 1990 and most recently Jain at the Brighton Music Hall. Thankfully, my big brother encouraged me to log them all in a “concert book,” so I can tell you who I saw, when, where and with whom. Right now all the info is in an old-school lined notebook; one day I want to digitize it so I can sort and filter by band, venue and guest. Maybe when my boys are older I’ll convince them to do it for a school project. Until then, pen and ink it is.