VISA CCO, Paul Cohen, on Experiential Communications and the Importance of Overcommunicating to Employees During Covid [Episode 31]

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Paul Cohen joined Visa as Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer in 2017, coming from a similar role at PayPal. At PayPal, he spent two years setting up the company’s first corporate communications function and overseeing communications about its separation from eBay. Before that, he’d been with Visa for more than a decade, serving in his last position as Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Marketing for North America.

His time at Visa has been marked by, among other notable accomplishments, overseeing the company’s record-setting initial public offering. Before Visa, he was in-house at AT&T and also spent time with Fleishman-Hillard and The PBN Company agencies. Paul has been identified by PRovoke as one of the globe’s 100 most influential in-house communicators multiple times, most recently in 2020.

Here are some key takeaways from this interview.

When communicating with employees around major shifts like the overnight switch to working from home, transparency is the key. Over-communicate and make sure employees feel cared for and safe. And come at it from a variety of angles. Visa not only connected employees virtually with doctors who could explain health issues but also with psychologists who could provide expert insight into coping with the changes. The company also connected employees with each other through an intranet that facilitated activities from swapping recipes to exchanging homeschooling tips.

Traditional advertising that disrupts consumer experiences is being replaced by experiential communications. We all know consumers won’t tolerate long commercial breaks in the middle of a television program. So what marketers do instead is embed messages in ways that feel more natural. Communications can help here, with more engagement on social media and though events. Visa, for instance, is a sponsor of the Olympics, FIFA and the NFL. The expanded importance of experiential communications is here to stay while traditional advertising’s days are very much numbered.

Measurement is critical when interacting with business leaders, but so far AI isn’t making much impact. At Visa, a longstanding challenge has been to transition the brand's image from that of a credit company to that of a payment technology company. Reputation is also a focus. In both areas, measurement of communications impact is vital. Visa is increasingly investing in more reputation measurement type tools, including pulse polling done periodically as well as spot polls on current issues to guide decisions about whether to engage or not. AI and predictive tools, however, haven’t proven themselves at this brand.

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