Untraditional Narratives: Why Cognite Ventured Outside of the C-Suite to Identify Spokespeople and Stories to Win Global Press Coverage

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

Creating visibility in any market is not an easy task and can be even harder when trying to execute on a global scale. One way the PR team at industrial software firm, Cognite, approaches this is by having a deep bench of non-traditional spokespeople. This enables them to uncover story ideas they might not have spotted only speaking to the C-suite. It also allows them to ascertain the impact, collect materials to illustrate a story, and identify the best spokespeople. Their secret sauce? Attending meetings across all business functions to keep abreast of internal developments that could drive strong coverage.

In today’s episode of Growth Hacks, Katja and Kunal are joined by Michelle Holford, the global head of public relations at Cognite. When Michelle first started at Cognite, she knew that she had to create visibility for her MarComms team to the broader organization. Doing so wasn’t simply to let everyone know there was a new media sheriff in town – Michelle and her team focused instead on building relationships with leaders in the company who would come back to them with story ideas. One of the first things they did was hold meetings to explain to stakeholders how PR worked, what the Cognite brand meant, and how her team positioned the company. “I like to show up where people are and go to the robotics meetings and go to the engineering meetings. People start to raise their hand and say, ‘I might have something to offer,’ says Michelle.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to identify and media train non-traditional spokespeople for creative storytelling. Many organizations rely on the C-suite to sell their narrative in the press. Michelle and her team expanded their aperture, knowing that non-traditional spokespeople can tell stories from a different and complementary perspective. Cognite’s MarComms team is always on the lookout for interesting spokespeople – across the organization. They work with senior executives and junior employees as storytellers. “[We have] individuals that are just starting that are concerned about energy transition and want to talk sustainability. We’re always looking for opportunities to connect Cogniters to best tell the Cognite story,” explains Michelle. 
  • Effective strategies for story mining throughout an organization. Michelle’s top tip for identifying stories is to go where your stakeholders are. If an employee is working head down in robotics or engineering, it’s unlikely that they pick up the phone and let the PR team know what they’re doing. Instead, Michelle and her team go directly to meetings and offsites to ask questions and learn about their remit and the types of problems they’re solving. They do so by putting their reporter hats on in the meeting. Says Michelle, “Ask them questions like you’re the reporter. ‘Tell me more. What does this look like? What’s the impact? Do we have images? Do we have B-roll?’ You have this bank of information that you can think about creatively, to weave together stories to tell year-round.”
  • Cognite’s strategy for running media tours. The first question that Michelle and her team ask when setting up media tours, is “What are you trying to communicate?” This helps them plan how to establish impact and create “a story in a box” ready to go before the media tour happens. As crucial, however, is having pre-existing relationships with journalists already cultivated, to ensure that the media tour gets the right reception. “[When] reaching out to journalists, that should not be the first time they hear from you. Do your homework ahead of time and create relationships with journalists locally and internationally to make sure that they know who your company is and what you’re about, so that when they get an invitation to a media tour, it’s not cold,” says Michelle.
  • The unexpected storytelling benefits of developing Cognite Radio, a news channel with updates for employees. When Cognite first headed into the pandemic, the company decided to create Cognite Radio, an employees-only radio program that helped keep the organization connected around the globe even while all working from home. While the primary goal was to make sure Cogniters didn’t feel isolated during the pandemic, an unexpected benefit was that it helped create visibility across the organization about what was coming down the pike and allowed for more creative storytelling on the part of the PR team. Says Michelle, “It was a way to make sure that we weren’t working in siloes, so that we could innovate in the best way possible…to really create a culture and excitement around what was going to happen next.”
  • Michelle’s must-haves for running a healthy global PR function that is aligned across all forms of earned and owned media. For a team as large as Cognite, managing the relationship between its PR agencies and its in-house team is crucial to make sure that all stakeholders are aligned. But it’s not just a well-heeled PR team that keeps a global PR function operating as it should. Michelle’s strategy of building visibility for the PR team to the greater organization is critical here, because it allows for knowing what the company’s sales and marketing goals are, in order to help drive success through storytelling. “We’re setting the strategy, but we’re making sure we’re connected to the company goals, sales goals, marketing goals, and at the same time, trying to be as creative as possible with our storytelling.”

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Expanding Your Slate of Storytellers: How Cognite Uses Talent Across its Organization to Drive Global Visibility and Media Coverage


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