A View From The Comms Team

This regular PressChoice feature, looks at the views of leading corporate communication professionals on the latest trends and insight into the industry. This month we feature the head of Communications at Nationwide

Eden Black, Head of Campaigns and Consumer PR, Nationwide

Eden Black, Head of Campaigns and Consumer PR at  Nationwide Building Society, took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk to us about how he feels the company is helping the economy rebuild in turbulent times and how, now more than ever, the comms team play a crucial role in  communicating the company’s values. 

 

By Sam Davidson

For a sneek peek - click the video below

Nationwide came out of the blocks quickly in being the first to offer a coronavirus support package to its members customers, as it looked to help to support those who were worried about their finances and homes during a difficult period for many.  The package gave mortgage payment breaks to people that needed them, while also putting the brakes on repossessions until next May.  Eden believes it reflected the mutual company’s values and ethic of care; it was, he says "an important message to ensure got through to the relevant audience."

There's so much going on in the world right now,” Eden tells us “we need to look at how we can be relevant to people's lives at what is a very uncertain time…getting and keeping a home is a basic human need but there is understandably real worry at this time. We do as much as we can to keep them in their properties, so it’s about how we can actually help people, through support and reassurance.”

 

Roots are important as a member-owned organisation, Nationwide has historically always done the right thing, Eden tells me, and he believes that the organisation behaviour is inseparable from its roots in its 140-year history. In more recent times, it reinforced an enviable reputation throughout the financial crisis, which re-emphasised Nationwide’s core-purpose of helping people into homes.  

 

Eden believes his team’s job was to ensure that there was a greater awareness of the organisation and its values within and beyond the personal finance pages.  “It’s about driving advocacy at the brand,” he tells me “Driving familiarity and favourability of the brand across different channels and recognising that there are so many different audiences…it’s about how you can essentially maximise your brand value by and actually pushing that news out to your particular audience with maximum effect. If we always remember that beneath every mortgage, savings account or personal loan is a personal story, the product part becomes very much secondary to that emotion and aspiration, which allow a story to breathe and expand beyond its core framework.””

 

Eden knows the media from both sides of the PR divide.  He spent a number of years honing his skills as a reporter and news editor across regional titles and was a journalist with The Sun and The Evening Standard. He  later moved into PR, first working with local authorities before moving to the Olympic Delivery Authority, where he ended his role as Head of Media. 

Eden has always sought the story in everything he does, which perhaps accounts for the significant growth in news and broadcast coverage since he arrived at Nationwide. Blending consumer insight with creative activations, the team have successfully driven large volumes of main news coverage that have given campaigns extra might while enhancing awareness and reputation beyond the ‘money pages’. 

 

Using his background as a journalist, he had previously used his creative skills to help raise the profile of  other organisations – for example, while at Newham Council,  who were the host Olympic borough at the time, he successfully invited Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Olympics on behalf of the Mayor and campaigned for otters to be made the official mascots of the games. Both garnered significant coverage and saw him move shortly after, to work on London 2012 – ‘probably just to stop me causing trouble”, Eden says, jokingly. 

One of the things he is most proud of, is working for an organisation that afford him the ability to broaden debate and focus, beyond the products and services they sell. In particular, things such as Nationwide’s involvement in the development of 239 sustainably built homes in Swindon that are not built for profit, but to address, in a small way, the current housing crisis.  Of these homes, 30% of them will be affordable housing and they will all be built to high standards of sustainability.  He is hoping that this venture will encourage other non-house builders to essentially do something similar, and adds that “It’s about us responding to a need - , about what we can do to make a difference, and that difference can be articulated in a number of different ways…the building of a new community being one of them,”

 

Creating A Story

Successfully told stories work when they have been well thought through and tell us something new, Eden tells me. “It’s about expanding the news rather than repeating it,” he continues “we need to challenge ourselves. Once we have the story, building on the story, what is interesting about it, the theme of that story, how does it relate to people. We need to continually raise the bar…I think the idea that you just need to pump bland news out because the business says so is a bit redundant, is a bit of an old-fashioned approach to PR. It still happens, but as professionals we need to give counsel and sometimes that means pushing back and asking the question – is it really necessary and where will it get us? And then we can present a better plan – one that will meet the objectives.”

His team are aligned with each other and that enables them to bring different skills and strengths.  He doesn’t believe they need all the answers, but collectively, they are a strong team who, he says, both like and thrive off each other.  “I actively encourage my team to make mistakes in the sense that they try something and if it doesn’t work then you know to try something differently the next time and I think it’s given us permission to be a bit more adventurous. I’m not going to shout at someone for giving it a go.”

  

This approach has proved invaluable during the COVID crisis because they have needed to respond quickly to a fast-changing situation and support each other in very different but effective ways.   

 

What makes a successful PR Campaign Strategy?

“It needs to be consistent,” - that’s one of the keys to success, he believes. “Consistency will see you through in any campaign…you want the journalist and the people at home, to understand that the brand stands for a particular thing. We can’t say it enough , be consistent and just keep driving that message because ultimately that’s what will get you recognition."

There is so much pressure on organisations at the moment to be different. Competition is extremely tight, you need to be exceptional at articulating your organisation’s story as well as the services and products that are being delivered.  There also needs to be a synergy between that and the core purpose and culture that runs through those products and services, especially in a world that is now increasingly turning to social media channels to broadcast. 

 

Doing a press release still works but we need to think more laterally. Where is the conversation heading?  

“It’s a changing world, it’s a big challenge for us, but it’s an exciting challenge as well,”

 

What would you say to your younger self?

“The biggest piece of advice is don’t underestimate yourself…I think we place limitations on ourselves either through ourselves or through other people. You’ve got to just do your best and actually try new things and be known as someone who doesn’t quit, keeps pushing,  because that’s what will get you through.”

A short social distanced film of Eden is available at the top of the page and do contact us if you would like to know more about our very affordable video production services which provides programmes for the BBC and the corporate world, as well as reputation tracking and insight report which is widely used by FTSE 100 companies and other leading brands. 

For insights and updates on our research - follow us on Twitter and Facebook