Ally Bunin is an exceptional communications practitioner leading in her field, winning both the PRSA Silver Anvil and an IABC Gold Quill awards. She also serves as the chair of Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Programming branch, and previously served as the chair of the Employee Communication branch. Before Ally became the Vice President of Strategic Communications at Brighton Health Plan Solutions, she was leading Organizational Communications for the largest employer in New York, with over 61,000 employees, 21 hospitals, and 450 outpatient centers.  


Chuck Gose:
So as we do this chat, you’re on your way to the airport from a Ragan conference.

How was it?

Ally Bunin: It was a really good conference. I found the topics of internal comms related to culture and the employee experience very relevant. Many speakers were of high caliber. The attendees asked great questions.

CG: What was the name of the conference? And which speakers stood out?

AB: Ragan Internal Communications & Culture Conference.

Salesforce’s head of Employee Onboarding had a stellar showcase of what it’s like to join “the best workplace” as named by Fortune’s 100 Best Places to work.

Aon's Head of Internal Comms shared how they're engaging Leaders during their cultural transformation. Really valuable stuff.

And REI’s head of Internal Comms Diana K. showed how they use employee stories to live their EVP (Employee Value Proposition).

CG: I want to go back to an event that’s very near and dear to our heartPRSA Connect. At last year’s in Denver, the topic of comms planning came up and you raised your hand.

Communicators should know it’s important but why are you so passionate about planning in communications specifically. You said you had a simple one-page plan that you stick to.

AB: I believe in being a strategic business partner, not an order taker.

To build an effective comms campaign or program you need to be thoughtful in how it's planned. It requires discipline.

It's key to not only to get buy-in from leadership, but more importantly, get them to own it. I'm past buy-in. I want leaders and others to OWN it. I'm a partner.

"We’re all in more control than we think."

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CG: Why do you think so many in comms do a poor job of planning?

AB: It’s a combination of reasons:

  • Limited time
  • Limited context
  • Lack of resources

It's easier and more time effective to “act” rather than plan. Of course this limits our effectiveness. 

I suspect if we had more lead time and could be more proactive versus reactive, the tables would turn...

CG: Rather than waiting for the tables to turn, should communicators do the turning?

AB: We’re all in more control than we thinkso yes, don't wait around to show you can be a strong strategic business partner.

My one page planning template is an example of a resource that can work without spending a ton of think time.

"I think a lot of people have the need for community and I get that, but, I don't think FB is an authentic forum and that's why I left."

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CG:
Can you share the basic structure of it?

AB: Yes!

  • Summary of business problem;
  • summary of proposed comms solution with a statement about the intended outcome;
  • key audiences;
  • three key messages;
  • measurement.

Then I do a separate tactical grid which lays out all the details with a timeline and ownership.

CG: We need to come up with a sexy name for this plan. Slap on the Chuck Chats logo and make a bajillion dollars.

AB:  Ha! Sorry to say, it's “basic”.

CG: Well there goes the lake house plans.

You also have a bit of an axe to grind lately with LinkedIn.

"When a channel loses authenticity, you've lost me."

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AB:
I sure do! LinkedIn's new algorithm seems to limit who can see posts and published content. It also has become more of a Facebook in terms of people using it for personal content and opinions unrelated to business.

I've been on a personal hiatus from Facebook and Instagramapproaching my year anniversaryand now LinkedIn is falling victim to some of the same issues.

Bummer. I love some of the content there but wonder how this algorithm is affecting my news feed. If people aren't seeing my content as they used to, then what else is impacted?

Another big complaint is that LinkedIn removed the feature that allows authors to see WHO shared their content. This was an important feature and I miss it.

"Employees mostly need the same things: connectivity, recognition, and purpose connected to their work."

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CG: I’m always curious about the hiatus. But first, thanks for not making it a “hey everyone I’m leaving Facebook” kind of thing. Do you feel like you’ve missed out or have you gained by not being on there?

AB: I've gained so much perspective by not knowing every detail of my “friends” lives on FB.

Most of all, I’ve learned that I too was someone who needed constant validation through positive likes and comments, which is really a hidden issue about something else.

I think a lot of people have the need for community and I get that, but, I don't think FB is an authentic forum and that's why I left.

For marketers and brands, FB remains very important. But when a channel loses authenticity you've lost me.

"We’re not just 'doing' communications we are helping to shape the employee experience and drive engagement."

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CG:
It’s such a filtered/charmed view of the world.

Have you seen the photographers who expose what you don’t see in Instagram images?

It’s fascinating. I love the “husbands of Instagram” stuff, too. 

 

AB: Not familiar with husbands of instagram, but I love the “real” photos. The brave models and fitness gurus who post their real bodies are inspiring. That's a whole other topic: what social media is doing to our young kids. Don't even get me started!

CG: I think I do want to. I like getting people started.

AB: thanks for putting that song in my head: let's get it started ah, let's get it started in here (can you hear it)?

 

CG: Black Eyed Peas for the win!

Let’s talk a bit about what you’re doing now.

AB: Would love to talk about that. Shoot.

CG: You were in IC at a big healthcare company and are now at a small startup in healthcare. What was that transition like?

"Budget allows for more action. I like the action."

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AB:
Going from a company with 61,000 employees to a start up with 250 employees is a huge transition. I underestimated it. But fundamentally the work is similar.

Employees mostly need the same things: connectivity, recognition, and purpose connected to their work.

Also I've found myself to be more of a consultant for employee engagement. We’re not just “doing” communications we are helping to shape the employee experience and drive engagement. I love that.

CG: Everybody thinks they have it harder. When you talk to big company communicators, they “wish” they would have a smaller employee base. And when you talk to small company communicators, they wish they had the big company resources.

AB: The grass isn't greener. Well, except for budget. My budget at the big company was far greener. I miss that, not going to lie. Budget allows for more action. I like the action.

"There's free comms tools and plenty of channels to use, but in my experience the biggest and best things I've done required substantial investment."

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CG: I had a great discussion once with Alan Oram from Alive With Ideas about budget. People like to use it as an excuse as to why they can’t do anything but we argue that creativity is free.

AB: That's a great point.

Creativity is free but you still need to execute on your creative ideas. Yes, there's free comms tools and plenty of channels to use, but in my experience the biggest and best things I've done required substantial investment. CEOs and CHROs who get that make investments. And they usually see bigger returns.

CG: And how did you get those investments?

AB: By partnering with the business. Looking at business problems that require people to be engaged. Each business has its own challenges but at the core, it’s people who need to take action.  

CG: I have two questions left for you. If you could share one closing piece of advice for communicators, what is it?

"If you deliver what [Employees] need, you will be more successful. You have to figure that part out."

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AB: Don't focus on what you think employees want, give them what they need.

Your comms should address business problems and oftentimes employees don't know what they “want” so if you deliver what they need, you will be more successful. You have to figure that part out.

Focus groups, pulse surveys, polls on social media will help you get there.

CG: And my last question: express your thoughts and feelings about internal communications using only emojis.

AB: ✔️👊🏼💪🏽👁👩🏻‍💻🙋🏻‍♀️🤳🏻🌍🔥☀️🎤🎢

CG: That’s a lot of emojis!