Member Spotlight

Peter Lucht, Senior Vice President — Head of Media Relations and CEO Communications, Citizens Financial Group, Inc.

For this member spotlight, we interviewed Peter Lucht, Senior Vice President — Head of Media Relations and CEO Communications at Citizens Financial Group, Inc.

You started your career as a newspaper reporter. How did you get to where you are today?

My experience as a reporter was very foundational for me, both in understanding how communications works generally and what journalists need to do their jobs.  I had studied campaign communications in graduate school so it was also very instructional to see how it worked (and didn’t) in the real world.  After a couple of years, however, I began looking for opportunities to apply my interests in a more strategic way.  When I was recruited into MCI’s policy communications team (this was in the late 90s when the telecom companies were pushing hard for Congress and the FCC to let them break into each others’ markets) it seemed very natural to apply a strategic campaign approach to corporate communications.  As I added other functions such as financial, executive and product communications to my portfolio the same strategic communications principles applied – really understand your audience and objectives, carefully build the right messages, make sure you tie your plan to your organization’s overall strategic priorities and hold yourself accountable.

You’ve held various positions under the communications umbrella – journalist, PR, CEO Communications. How does your varying background help you in your current role?

Seeing communications from various angles has given me an appreciation for operating in a very strategic and integrated way.  The idea is to have all of the communications functions execute together as part of the same plan, using a unified narrative across all audiences externally and internally.  By having all communicators in the organization use this kind of campaign approach with an integrated strategic plan and message platform you naturally break down silos and drive consistency so you can communicate in a more powerful way overall.

What is the greatest challenge of your role?

The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity – make sure communicators understand the corporate and business line strategic priorities, build plans that support them directly, and operate in a highly integrated way.  That’s the only way to get away from the “deli counter” model where you’re just waiting for assignments and have communications viewed as a strategic function. I’m lucky to be part of a like-minded team of communicators at Citizens who really want to get this right, working for a very supportive management team.

With today’s changing digital landscape, what do you do to stay ahead of the curve on emerging technologies?

Whatever tool you’re planning to use, it’s still critically important to first consider who you want to reach and what you want to accomplish.  If digital tools can help you reach the right audience with the right message, as many can, then they should be thoughtfully integrated into the overall plan, just like other tactics.  We constantly monitor what emerging technologies could help us advance our brand and tap the expertise of our Digital Marketing team to be sure we’re implementing these tools in the right way.     

You have a very high-profile position. How do you manage work life balance?

I’m fortunate to be part of an organization that really values work-life balance.  No one benefits from employee burnout and it really needs to be managed.  That said, there is always plenty going on and nothing about communications is ever very predictable.  I consider myself always “on call” for priority important and my team knows to reach me when there’s a need.  Smart calendar use is obviously key and I try to structure my time to address projects in order of priority while keeping family obligations in mind.  When I can I also try to carve out opportunities to think and reflect, which is really important for keeping fresh.   

As a hiring manager, when you look to add someone to your team, what character traits do you look for in a potential hire?

Being a great team player is table stakes in corporate communications, given the increasingly integrated way we operate.  I also look for extreme flexibility, since change is often the only constant in communications.  Another important trait is business acumen – business leaders need to see that we understand their priorities and how the organization operates if we are going to be seen as strategic advisors.

What advice would you give other communications professionals just starting out?

It’s very important for young communications professionals to consider their “personal brand” when starting out – to have a view of how they want to be considered within the organization and to keep that in mind in all their interactions.  Another thing is to become as knowledgeable as possible about the organization and how it works so that business leaders will see them as credible.  Finally, it can be invaluable to find a mentor or two who has “been there, done that.”  There are a lot of professionals willing to share their hard-won experience, and who likely have contacts that can be very helpful.  However, it’s important for the young professional to take the relationship seriously and bring something to the table as well.

Why did you join IABC?

I’ve found IABC to be very helpful in terms of keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the profession, both overall and here in the Boston area.  The professional development opportunities are high-quality and I’ve made some great connections with other communications professionals.  I also think IABC presents great opportunities for communicators at all levels to give back to the profession.