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Budding role of IT communications director helps IT deliver its message

Beth Stackpole | July 7, 2015
As CIOs face rising competition, they are creating a new, dedicated IT communications role to help promote the IT brand and coordinate messaging.

At the time, the Applied Materials IT organization was in the midst of major transformation, and Ford was sold on playing a key role in developing a message that would introduce the new strategy to internal employees while nurturing the IT brand. Shortly after Kerley came on board, Ford says his job was elevated to a director level position reporting into the CIO, which gave the role even greater influence.

"It's much easier to be the voice of an organization if you have background, context and relationships," Ford says. "Many times when teams come to me for support, I have already been briefed on the project in staff meetings and can jump right in. Other times, I will have an insight or additional information the project or service owner may not have, thanks to my participation in the IT leadership team."

Patrick Graziano always felt like a bit of an odd duck in the world of IT, having spent his whole career in marketing for consumer and healthcare products. That changed about two years ago, when he became director of IT marketing and communications at pharmaceutical giant Merck -- a position in which he serves as the bridge between IT and the business.

"There's always been a gap between the way IT speaks and the way the rest of the business consumes. IT is very technical and tends to speak in its own language, which doesn't always translate well," says Graziano, explaining that his experience in marketing and communications helps bridge that gap. "People call me the translator -- I can go in and speak on both sides, marrying up the consumer need with an IT offering that we have."

Graziano's skills came into play late last year when Merck was rolling out a series of major changes to its communications platform and network over the course of five months. In the old days, IT would have sent out a notice after each change, and those notices would have gone heavy on the technical details without much explanation in plain English for why it was happening. That approach sparked a lot of user complaints.

In contrast, Graziano's strategy was to create a marketing campaign that spelled out the entire program before it launched. The effort included posters placed in common areas and digital signage that popped up on laptop screens. "It helped people realize why we were making changes," he explains. "IT organizations tend to talk about things they stand up or things they launch, but they don't always get to the value."

Thanks to the marketing effort, Graziano says there were fewer calls to the help desk during the transition, and Merck rolled out changes to 60,000 users in just three days. "We even got compliments on our messaging," he recalls. "When does that happen when you roll out an IT program?"


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