Best Buy CCO, Matt Furman on Storytelling Over Data & Championing Truth in the DEI Discussion [Episode 32]
Welcome back to damn good brands that firm and serves as chief communications and public affairs officer at best. Buy where he's been since. Two thousand twelve matt is responsible for communications both internal and external as well as government affairs. Cssr and community relations. In addition matt manages event. Planning best buys in house production studio before joining the minneapolis. Retailer matt held the vice president of corporate affairs position at mars chocolate earlier. Gigs included communications leadership positions. At google and cnn matt worked in the administrations of bill. Clinton and rudy giuliani as well a graduate of the american university school of law. That is a licensed attorney and has been a member of journalism and mass. Communications adjunct faculty. At the university of minnesota this conversation matt gets into why storytelling more important than data as well as the importance of championing truth in matters of i all of this and so much more on. Today's episode of damn good brands now but further. Ado please enjoy this conversation with best. Buy see ceo. Matt furman in conversation with libby taylor. Ceo paul dyer. Hello and welcome back. This is ball dyer with libby taylor and i'm joined today by matt. Furman matt is chief communications and public affairs officer. At best buy a position. He has held for the last eight years matt. Thank you for joining us here today. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me so mad. I wanted to actually Jump in by connecting this conversation with a really interesting conversation on this show just last week with jeff. Jeff is the chief communications officer bentley motors. He spent his whole career in the automotive industry so he emphasized the importance of getting to know the business you am and he actually de emphasized the importance of the general communications industry gatherings like the author page summit. Things like that. You're someone who has worked in a wide range of industries. You've cnn. Google mars chocolate now. Best is very different industries some curious for your thoughts on the importance of pan. Communications industry learnings versus really focusing on the industry. You're part of. I think you have to be knowledgeable in the industry. You're part of. I don't think you have to be that way on day. One so if i was encouraging people on what kind of communications experts to to higher i would take people who showed the ability to adapt to multiple surroundings multiple cultures and proxy for multiple industries. I would do that onto basi's wanted show that they had the capacity to learn which no matter what industry you're they always change and therefore you need to learn and the second is that he could adapt to cultures reason. That's important as my experience. Perhaps yours is shown. The person you come to work for is not always the person you wind up working for which means you have to be able to adapt to a different culture or different leader and multiple industries the ability to move one another demonstrates that in culture is something that's been brought up a lot this year as companies have been tested in terms of how they indicate employee's manage their culture through all of this change in difficulty one of the common themes. We've heard a lot on this podcast has been communications leaders. Emphasizing the importance of internal communications has that changed in terms of your overall prioritization as well this year or is it something. that's always been top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts on that. At best buy is a company. That's always endeavoured to be a good place to work in fact at a investor day late last year. We laid out three goals for twenty twenty-five to wall street. One of them was to be named one of the best companies to work for which demonstrates more clearly than anything that we've cared about our employees in therefore internal communications that has not changed through covert. It's just become more complicated more complicated. Yeah absolutely so. You're based in Minnesota minneapolis minnesota is the majority of your team. There with you in person or are they spread around. The world has as we are a north american company and vast majority of the team or based in minneapolis near is a smaller team based in canada and they work directly for the canadian business leadership. In one of the things. We've noticed as been the move to remote work. In many cases has been more challenging for companies that were not Dispersed to begin with right for companies that were accustomed to being in person together in the office. So how is that transition. Ben for your team is just the opposite in an odd way i would say the friendships and relationships in comfort that we had with each other. Were we working so closely together. Have endured to our benefit in a virtual world where all still very close and the familiarity and the the ability to finish each other's sentences has served us well in a virtual world. That's great in that word. Relationship is really important. You know when you think about culture written employee engagement etc. What about the relationship with marketing. So on the agency side or seeing it's a complete everything is getting blown up right now right so the pr and communications firms In many ways are doing better than they ever have while the advertising side of the business is forecast to lose over sixty thousand jobs in the next three years so a lot of this relates to the changing and convergence of the media landscape. What is it. Like if as by harry is structured in hasn't been in influx recently or something. You guys had already sort of had figured out so. The osceola has several direct reports on one of them The head of marketing best buy reports up to the chief administrative officer And so we are Separate in that regard and have been for my entire tenure. Before i arrived at best buy that was not the case but upon my arrival. That was With that said. I've never seen a company. I worked in a company where communications and marketing are more seamlessly integrated not integrated by hierarchy org chart but by common purpose and really buy friendship. We all like each other a lot. Respect each other lot. Understand each other's jobs and able to support each other in ways. That i just have not seen any place else. It's great to hear and speaking of hearing. I'm not sure if you're hearing right now. But of course there leaf flowers in my background. Aren't there all he can never. You can never forecast when that's going to happen except if you're going to be recording something So you mentioned The relationship and the friendship there. But also you know. Ios speak about or larger responsibility for communications as a catalyst fraction within organizations. And that's really been brought to the forefront during this time period of curious about your perspective on how the role of communications has changed. And how you've been able to act as a catalyst or the broader organization. We've taken as one of our primary goals as a function to protect and enhance the reputation and best buy and at the essence of that. You're talking about issues. Management the ability to address known issues in ways that mitigate the risk of the company or better yet enhance the stature of the company and just as importantly anticipate reputation issues. That may be coming. I've a small team devoted doing just that helping guide through current issues and see the issues around the corner once you do that. The communications followed pretty. Naturally the hard part is understanding. What kind of mess. You're in or could be eh or better yet understanding how you come out of it with a greater sense of respect from your customers and your employees in. Oh that's great. It sounds very clear and simple when you say It probably doesn't feel necessarily so simple. Sometimes when you're in the midst of it you yourself have worked in the belly of the beast when it comes to crisis. Not just i in particular working as an advisor to the governor of louisiana during hurricane katrina so first of all. Can you just tell us what that experience was like and then had loved to talk more about if there's any sort of universal frameworks are principles. You'd like to buy crisis but i will just. What was that experience like. Sure so early. In my career. I worked in the government. Both restrictions of then mayor rudy giuliani and former president clinton on been too many many different kinds of disasters. Many of them complex at large and awful. Nothing compared to katrina katrina was devastation. On a scale we had not ever seen thankfully have not since the The thing that i learned there was that the ability to communicate was as important ability to make the right decision. The governor in that case wound by the number. I'm kathleen blanco. Made the right decisions time and time again. But her ability sadly to communicate. Those decisions was very limited and as a result she was not perceived to be strong leader in the wake of katrina even though her decisions were truly remarkable and almost always right so the ability to make the right decisions isn't always enough. It's also something really interesting in the coming down of the sort of traditional walls that separated the audience is we would communicate to say back when katrina happened. There were certainly stronger. Walls between your investor audiences your employees your customers cetera versus today. When everybody can kind of hear the same thing you have to pretty much plan that anything you say is going to be repeated to your audiences. How has that changed. You know in in your experience a three year career the way that you think about communications planning. It's interesting the thing that seems to most of my views that there was a day when you could convene practically speaking all the people that matter tell them your story and whether they believe it or not they were transmitted in some form. You could reach scale. Now because the is so scattered in so balkanised scale very very hard to achieve. If you think about trying to put out a fire viral storm it is whack a mole times tan in a way that it didn't used to be so what you hear from people like myself when i talked to colleagues around the country about how do you deal with viral store often. The answer is you. don't you simply duck and wait for it to go away. That would have been unthinkable at a time of hurricane katrina two thousand five now is a very viable strategy. So let's talk about that a little bit more of of crisis in the corporate seven is made with the corporate setting. Are there any frameworks or principles. You like to apply broadly or you have to just take each as ups. I think there's a few the first is understand. The facts understand a source of facts. When i've come to learn. Is that the people who tell you what the truth is. Sometimes a really telling you they're truth. You have to understand that i've watched companies. I've watched myself get the short end of the stick. Because i relied on something that i believed to be factual when really it was more hope than it was fact. That's the first thing they second thing if you speak two hundred people a third of didn't listen a third of forgot what you said in the third didn't believe you and so you got to speak you gotta speak again in. You gotta speak again in the effort to reach scale as i just referred to what you really have to rely on his repetition more than anything hots and finally understanding that as it unlike was in my early career where. You really focused almost entirely on the media. Now first and foremost we think about employees. If they're not with you if they don't believe you. It doesn't matter whether you win the battle externally you've lost internally. It's you really need to make sure you understand what their concerns are needed to address them. And you need to be truthful. Those are actually really a lot. It's more than i have ever hoped for in terms of simplicity and clarity. Although i'll say that your third third third model is a little bit. Disheartening there You know in terms of people who like to communicate according to the script and things like that so can use. The script is going to keep using it. That's fair that's fair. So what's i guess. Talk about a way in which we are. Many in many ways being asked to change the script marionette is the communications functions role when it comes to diversity equity and inclusion for the broader organization. it's a big theme is around the companies who are doing the work here is to be more transparent talk about where they are in the journey and then served their money where their mouth is when it comes to decision making and things like that. Can you talk a little bit about your strategy has been you know in this area and Are there any sort of more. Broadly applicable earnings. From that. you're keeping with the admonition that most of all you need to be truthful. We've found that any discussion about race needs to start there. And of course given the fact that the leadership of most organizations companies but organizations around america is largely white being truthful starts with understanding that you've by definition almost certainly not in every case but almost certainly have fallen short and so at best buy took a very truthful very straightforward approach. Which is we care about this topic but we acknowledge we need to do better and what that does is it gives you two kinds of freedom. I it puts everything on the table. In fact we said that in the letter to customers from our ceo. Everything is on the table. It also gives you permission to answer the question when confronted with some failure or shortcoming which all too often occurs is to acknowledge. We said we need to do better. It allows you to stop being afraid of your shortcomings in your failures and begin to embrace the possibilities. It's really well said so shifting gears a little bit retail has historically been seen as a leader in the field of data analytics. Do you feel like that extends to the communications function as well as a first part of a two parter i personally i've taken a very different approach. I think the vast majority of my peers. I've resisted data analytics. I i don't have any illusions that we are a science like marketing. I think the sentiment now assists is much harder to achieve our in our sphere. And i have taken the view that a good story as well known well understood and a bad story is to generally speaking people know when a crisis has been well while handled and they generally understand when it has it and no data is going to support or refute that view. And so i have not tried to engage deeply data we do at the level that it matters but it is not the bread and butter on which rely to your point of us. Starting with honesty. I think that that's probably the honest with a lot of your peers. No matter how they have actually answered the question of you than me. i don't know about that either. I think that that's exactly the truth. Where you just said so What about when it comes to report to. The ceo rights evaluated on the overall success of the communications function. So how would you describe the way in which the function is measured in the eyes of ceo. Well i'm fortunate enough to have a portfolio broader than communication tasks on public affairs. So there's that although i would say the answers roughly the same I think first and foremost our ceo cares that our employees are Well-cared-for that is they know what's going on and we know what they're thinking We conserve appropriately as a canary in the coal mine. So we're giving advice. We're giving warning when we think things by be going awry over-celebrating early successes while they may not be well see. I think that's the first thing secondly externally on they want understand at our message is being told well and consistently with effect We try to actually move the needle. We have review that. We can actually help the business. The business thinks of us out that way when there is something to be said that can actually grow revenue or looked upon as a resource. Which i think is a great place for communications to be in is not is something that's earned not giving And then finally on this reputation mattis perspective on what the ceo in the cedar leadership expect. As do i is that my department serves as a early warning of things to come so that we can brace for adapt or actually We could actually take advantage of circumstance. It's coming our to actually. I'm glad you open. That door is well because a lot of the conversation so far has Centered around the communication job in protecting the brand versus promotion publicity. So is that by. Design is is brand protection. Sort of first and foremost what you wake up in the morning thinking about promotion. Come second or is it. how do you think about those two things. no. I think we have the capacity. We've demonstrated the capacity the best bide. Actually there's a move the revenue needle on a very consistent basis. We're earned media that we know works. That's why it was invented and that's why it stayed around longer than half it works. The vast majority of the resources are devoted. Their vast majority of my time is spent their the vast majority of the benefits of the company. Is there however you always need to have a fire department because sometimes things catch fire And so we have a very good fire department. It's cross train so the very people pitching are also the people putting out fires but that's a secondary job most of the time much much smaller group of people dedicated to seeing the horizon and in dealing with things as they are developing as bubbling when they pop everyone rushes. The fire puts it out and then goes back to try and driving rubbing scrape. There's there's been a large as big theme in the communications industry right now around the creatives right. Which is the idea that you can come up with ideas. Inactivation campaigns are themselves. Just sorta so you know so witty so clever that they spun their own news coverage. You've obviously now also reference. You have people in your team that they they know the press and they know how to just through relationships drive coverage curious. Your thoughts on those two things in the role of earned creative is that is that a fad. Is it something you're focused. On versus sort of the more tried and true relationship building earn creative is not afraid that her before. But that's a perfect description of what we endeavour to do. We have lots and lots of stories to tell we. We sell products that people love that. Give joy real entertainment real connection real productivity Our mission as company is enrich people's lives so jack nods and we have the ability to tell that story we do it by actually telling stories A measure of success for us is Is one can that. Can those stories pop externally the second one which is really delightful. Is that very often now. A couple of times a quarter. The stories that we find in tower actually used by marketing colleagues in paid marketing. That's great now. I gotta tell you. I'm going back a couple of a couple minutes ago when you told me that there is there was no science and what we do like arisen marketing and everything you've answered since then feels like there's some science to but so completely different direction now. Maybe maybe i'm the one who's just not a scientist about that right So this has been a tough year for for a lot of people in america right. A lot of people even in our industry have ended up at work and one of the questions that comes up frequently is as we're talking about increasing the appeal of our of our industry in bringing more people of color in and things like that as we're talking about getting people back to work conversations around reskilling and developing into sort of more higher rebel. You know employees. So what advice would you give to people who are trying to make themselves more marketable as a candidate. More higher -able communications so people who are card communicators. Or people who want to be communicated which one good clarification. I was thinking current communicators. Who are who are out of work. You know but for ways to make themselves more more higher. While so i i've limited In type on offer what. I have what i've seen largely. Is that their division. Among communicators that's been established or being established and that is those who consider themselves communicators in the social sphere and those who consider themselves to decatur world call traditional here I would say first and foremost if you Choose one. You should probably cross train or cross-referencing being offering diversity. Being able to do both simply makes more sense in the time of limited resources. I can hire one person to do two jobs for one individual. That's the first thing i think. The second thing is as always the ability to right. If you're not a good writer now's the time to become one like any skill you can learn how to write and then finally i think the thing that is Always in short supply at least in companies like ours. I should have said at the very beginning. We don't have any. I don't outsource my work I know have any agencies working three in source at all. And i think that's increasingly becoming the case at least in different industries the ability to actually manage media to have media skills. So if you've done that at any point in your career emphasizing that in your resume on your conversations i think is particularly useful given resources are limited than we'd be nice about it. Hire someone right at actually also managed media as great in while you're right. The insourcing trend is certainly been in more prevalent in the last handful of years than it was before. There's a lot of brands out there. They're trying to wrap their head around. How far should i go. Should i in source everything. Are there only certain. Pieces of initiatives or sort of is there other things that are more valuable outsource etcetera so for those brands. It's pretty rare. Probably for them to hear from somebody who's been able to so completely manage all the capability in source everything. What's your what advice. would you give what. What are your thoughts on some maybe the pitfalls or the opportunities from insourcing the function. Yeah when joining the best. Buy years ago. The company was on a downward slope and might have died and so our decision to in source was instigated out of necessity. I simply how to cut money now. It was consistent with my view. That if i was ever given a chance i would try and build a team that could do what agencies could do a better and cheaper on it turns out. That's exactly what we did but it began this acidy the the advice i would give you is whatever money you're giving back in my case or over money. You're trying to negotiate. Make sure you get some money to hire. You can't do it without more or better headcount more or better or both. You need the right people. the second thing is you of course have to invest a lot of time in their training now. This is not something that comes quick. You're not going to a higher and eighteen off the bench right away. you're gonna hire a c. or b. players in the development. And then finally you want to begin to devalue speed more than you do now for those companies that are relying on agencies what they will have gotten used to a slower speed than you will have if you have it in house if you have it in house you say it happens and now you lustig who learn eludes some experience. You lose Feet on the ground you lose some muscle but you gain experience it really becomes the gain speed and so it just becomes a matter of what you value more by vices begin to value speed a little bit more than you did. It will diminish the disappointment. He might feel elsewhere at least initially eight years later. We have in house agency that can do anything and there is good as a one. So i'm not given up anything shorter by it's really really insightful. You're reminding me there's Woman becky brown because the number two in marketing at intel and she's been pretty widely known for saying fast in good enough bead slow imperfect every time so the the emphasis on fast in good enough is both taken there so just one final question here is is. It's sort of broad but if you think about the mindsets right so you've talked about hiring people in training them but there's something is a mindset right in terms of how you get people doll row in the same direction are how you want them to to view the work together. What are the. What's the mindset that you think is most important for success right now. i think there's two and i don't know about how it works other people tell you within my team the first this resourcefulness. We're not very we're fortunate one hundred But we're not a massive team compared to many of our peers. You need to be resourceful. What does that mean. You need to be willing to take on jobs that you haven't gone before motto your behavior on what you've seen and then learn how to do it yourself. So for instance. All of our spokespeople are my team. We don't have other people doing when we do tv interviews. It's my team off. Twenty three year olds broadcast television The first five times are not great at it so we start him out in small markets by the time. They're pretty good and they're doing the today show. So that's that's the first thing you had to be resourceful. You got to be willing to try. And then secondly and this one is much more theoretical. But i think it's important of a strong view that a job is more than a paycheck which means we come to work for things more than just the money we make. We come to work for experiences and opportunities and relationships and so i think you need to have a mindset. That tells you that. I'm here at best. Buy or fill in the blank and the other company to get something more than just the money i want to be enriched by it it sets the right tone it puts you in the right position. It makes you open. The possibility might have otherwise than output old mad. I can't imagine a better place to end the conversation of that. So thank you very much navy. That was purposeful a great place to end. Thank you very much for all your insights here. Today it's great seeing you guys all right. Here's always some key. Takeaways from this conversation with matt furman number one consistency is the key to communications matt very elegantly stated if you speak to one hundred people. A third of them didn't listen a third of them for god. What you said and the other third didn't believe you so you've got to speak and you've got to speak again and you've got to speak again. The statement speaks for itself and it's a true testament to how the job of a communicator is. Never truly done. And how calms workers need to take note of this. Repetition is the key to scaling the efficacy of any communications campaign number two not everybody's convinced data and analytics essential role to play. Matt has resisted the prevailing industry view. That communications can be understood. Scientifically the way that marketing can which is why he employs data in a limited fashion at best buy. The main reason he says is the difficulty of measuring sentiment in the communications context for him. When a good stories told well it'll be recognized similarly when a crisis has handled well or poorly people will know it and they don't need data to convince them number three with matters of. I put everything on the table the road to better. Da standards and practices can be daunting but the best and arguably only place to start is with your own company's truth stating up front where you know you need to do better not only inspires trust and faith in your employees and customers but allows you to not be paralyzed by the fear of your own company's shortcomings since you owned up to them upfront. It may be uncomfortable but any discussions that lead to lasting change. Have to start with the truth for guardless how hard it may be anyway. Thank you as always for listening. Damn good brands. If you enjoyed this episode why not share it with your friends and colleagues on linked in don't forget to follow the show on instagram at lipa. Taylor that's l. i. P. p. e. t. a. y. l. o. r. and to learn more about our agency visit us at libby taylor dot com. Thanks again for listening.