About Susan Butenhoff

Susan is the founder and CEO of Access Communications as well as the Global Technology Practice Leader at Ketchum. She has assisted major national companies as they have navigated challenging corporate reputation issues and looked to create positive visibility to help grow revenue and market share.

Time for Attentive Listening to our Global Humanity Issues

Time for Attentive Listening to our Global Humanity Issues

“Attentive listening reveals a common thread of humanity at the heart of the human condition…” — Sting

This last week I attended a global leadership conference in Dubai where 2,600 chief executives from nearly 100 countries gathered to hear content that could make them better business leaders and global citizens. I was ready to learn how I could take back important business tips that would help my agency and my clients. And while the speakers provided expert opinions on everything from innovation mindsets to 21st century challenges for global businesses, for me the most compelling insight did not come from an author or business expert, it came from a musician.

Grammy-award-winning musician and philanthropist Sting shared his opinion that “attentive listening reveals a common thread of humanity at the heart of the human condition, creating empathy, sympathy, understanding and compassion that are the only hope for world peace.” As someone who has worked in the communications industry for multiple decades, Sting’s belief – that storytelling is more important than ever because it allows us to step into the shoes of others – struck a deep chord. This is especially relevant as more media time and social chatter are being spent on political rhetoric and parlayed insults between American presidential candidates than on the fact that one in 12 people today is a refugee. This lack of attentive listening is sadly evident with many of the global issues addressed at YPO Edge, hosted by Young Presidents’ Organization.

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan challenged the world’s indifference to the plight of the Syrian refugees, pointing out the historical amnesia that European countries are demonstrating given that many European residents during WWII were dependent on the goodwill of others when they were refugees. The question he posed was how could Europe, with a population of 500 million, not spread the burden and coordinate a collaborative solution for one million refugees living in the most inhumane circumstances with nothing but the clothes on their back. He warned us that by lacking empathy and compassion, and by being deaf to the major tragedies of humanity defining our times, we are negatively and destructively shaping our futures.

Human trafficking is a “global shame resulting from ignorance and indifference” requiring a focus on prosecution and eradication of the crime syndicates that profit from it.

— Nancy Aossey

Another story that needs broader telling and better listening is the global issue of human trafficking, a well-organized $70 billion dollar global business. Investigative journalist and President of International Medical Corps Leadership Nancy Aossey led an expert panel that passionately addressed how human trafficking exists in every nation and ranges from sex tourism and child soldiers to organ trafficking and ritual abuse torture. While extremely sympathetic to the plight of the victims, calling it “a global shame resulting from ignorance and indifference, ” Aossey emphasized that the major focus needs to be prosecution and eradication of the criminal syndicates that institutionalize and profit from human trafficking. The surprising information was that ISIS participates in multiple forms of human trafficking as a way to generate huge amounts of money to pay for its terrorism.

Mina Guli, a lawyer-turned-activist who is CEO of water conservation non-profit Thirst, showcased another global crisis – the abuse of our resources. In February, Guli committed to raising visibility about the global water crisis by becoming the first person to run 40 marathons across seven deserts on seven continents in less than two months to raise awareness. She is running more than 1,000 miles to bring to the world’s attention that by 2030 there will be a 40 percent greater demand for water than supplies available. Last year the World Economic Forum ranked water scarcity as the #1 risk facing society. Guli took a break from her marathon efforts after braving the treacherous Tabernas Desert in Spain, the Arabian Desert in Jordan, and the harsh conditions of Antarctica and Africa to share with us the physical challenges of her endeavors and the need for everyone to become a lot more aware of the issues. Her goal is to educate all of us on the toll that agriculture and manufacturing are taking on water supplies and how water scarcity is an overlooked global crisis.

I traveled to Dubai to become a better business person, and learned valuable leadership tips that I will share in an upcoming blog. However, the most surprising takeaway was  that the greater value of this conference was in learning about issues that motivate me and hopefully many of the attendees to be  more attentive listeners to global issues and look to become more meaningfully engaged in issues that threaten millions of people and our world’s resources.

We are Access Emanate Communications

We are Access Emanate Communications

When the senior teams of Access and Emanate first met with each other in New York this summer, there was an immediate buzzing energy that filled the room. “These people…these people are just like us!” I remember thinking as brazen ideas, bold curse words and contagious laughter coursed throughout our initial meeting. It was the start of something truly special.

That leads us to today and perhaps one of the biggest announcements in Access’s twenty four year history. Access and Emanate are merging to create a power boutique agency — an agency entrepreneurial in spirit and iconoclastic in attitude — able to provide the integrated communications services clients need today. Most importantly we know that the Access Emanate combination will deliver on Aristotle’s quote “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and that together we will be even more innovative and competitive that we could be individually.

Together we are creating a 200 person mid-size agency while keeping the shared values and passions that made our agencies unique in the first place. Our family of creative risk-takers, swat teams of media assassins and razor-sharp media strategists just got a lot bigger with greater scale and expanded skill sets while remaining committed to our scrappy and contrarian DNA.

Through our new combined offering, we will be better together with expanded digital and social offerings including new video capabilities, and a broader bench of senior management who can uniquely combine our market-leading innovation expertise with Emanate’s big brand knowledge developed from working with clients that include Philips, Nivea, Lysol and more. Additionally, by integrating with Emanate, Access will now be able to better serve clients in expanded geographies including our first entry into EMEA with a London office. In the U.S. we will double our presence in New York and strengthen our West coast presence with a Los Angeles office.

Access is excited. Emanate is excited. Get ready to start playing with us on an entire new level. We’re together. We’re better. We’re Access Emanate Communications.

Download the full press release here (PDF)

Future-Proofing Your Brand Means Changing Today

Future-Proofing Your Brand Means Changing Today

This was one of those weeks that reminded me why I love my job so much. In my new role as Global Tech Director for Ketchum, I had the opportunity to moderate a thought-provoking session at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit at the Ritz Carlton, San Francisco. The session,  “How to Future Proof Your Brand,” focused on how the social web and integrated communications are redefining the ways in which brands connect with their target audiences.

I was joined by Andrew Bowins, senior vice president of corporate reputation and engagement for MasterCard, and Jonathan Martin, the chief marketing officer for EMC (client). While they are in very different industries, both agree that marketing is going through the biggest change it has seen in a century, and the distinction between B2B and B2C for marketers needs to be forgotten — as today, everyone is a consumer. Furthermore, the notion that a brand can control what is being said about it is dated — it just isn’t possible anymore. The Holmes Report captured an excellent summary of the session and I’d like to build on it with three additional insights.

Content Pollution

Keeping in mind that every 60 seconds, 1,500 blogs are posted, Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content, Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times and YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video — the sheer volume of content being produced by people, brands and publishers is creating an era of what Bowins describes as “content pollution.” This makes it critical for brands to carefully listen to what people are talking about on the social web and then evaluate how to meaningfully engage in conversations with the right audiences.

MasterCard’s solution to this has been to instill a philosophy of “listening twice as much as we are talking” and to develop the MasterCard Conversation Suite – an engagement platform complete with values and metrics to analyze conversations. As Martin noted, “The best content inspires, educates or makes people laugh. If you’re not doing one of those items, your content will fail.” Creating content and an engaging narrative have always been the heart of public relations, but public relations professionals need to have a wider definition and wider set of skills. Today, they need to know about big data, metrics, content creation, digital and social.

Breaking Down Silos

Martin and Bowins provided excellent insights about how we need to reframe structure to achieve success. Both agree the silos that exist between marketing, public relations and digital need to come down and operate holistically. The companies who are doing it right have moved beyond the turf wars and are fully integrated and working as one team. Furthermore, Bowins recommended that public relations step up and take a leadership role and not be bullied by their marketing counterparts, which typically have larger budgets and bigger teams. He warned, “We are in a Golden Age for communications, but are dangerously close to messing it up if we don’t adapt to changing landscapes.”

Measure for Value, Not Volume

In the wider world of content reach and amplification, there are always questions about how to measure for value, instead of just measuring for volume. Brands need to get much better at understanding who is consuming their content, along with when and how they’re doing so. There is no point in producing a ton of content and throwing it out there without a clear idea on who the target audience is and where they live online.

As Martin said, “A volume metric without insight lacks credibility. So moving forward, instead of measuring tweets and likes, we should be assessing what the data means to the business, identifying data that confirms that a brand is effectively interacting with key influencers and that brand messages are resonating within conversations.”

We know that a company’s brand is its most important asset, yet at the same time, it is its most fragile. We live in a Moore’s Law world of communications — where twice as many influencers seem to have twice as much impact on brands in half as much time. The days of controlling a brand are over, but through collaboration between marketing and communications teams who are committed to careful listening, relevant and engaging content and meaningful metrics, we can help to build strong and sustainable brands.

–Susan Butenhoff

Re-defining PR in the Age of the Narrative

Re-defining PR in the Age of the Narrative

If we don’t change, we will be displaced. So when we talk about innovation, it’s not just a shiny marketing concept. It is a business imperative.

Innovation has never been more important to the communications industry than it is today. This is why I am so pleased to be a part of the upcoming Holmes In2 Innovation Summit. Our industry is undergoing tremendous changes, not just in how we do things, but in what we are supposed to impact.

It’s about more than earned media and measuring impressions. We need to demonstrate that as communicators we can effect lead generation, drive sales, and identify and manage third-party influencers who have assumed a greater role in a brand’s interaction with its target customers.

Two of In2 Summit’s featured speakers, Andrew Bowins of MasterCard and Jonathan Martin of EMC, come from very different industries, but the one thing they share in common is their belief that it is time to challenge the norms and do things differently. I will be talking to them both on Tuesday as we engage in a discussion on Future-Proofing Your Brand.

The reality is that public relations is not what we do any more. It is a dated concept. To be truly effective we need to redefine ourselves as integrated communications practitioners. Our DNA is rooted in effectively creating stories. In this Age of the Narrative, we have never been so valuable, but we also need to stretch beyond our traditional tools and expertise.

The In2 Innovation Summit is a great opportunity to explore new approaches when it comes to digital and visual narratives, engaging audiences through social media platforms, and learning how brands need to be relevant and be part of the dialogue and not control it.

As an industry we need to step up to this challenge and reinvent ourselves to accommodate the rapid change taking place. If not, instead of being leaders of the new era of communications we will be destined to be followers, and worse, we will be marginalized.

— Susan Butenhoff

Embracing change with an eye on the future

Embracing change with an eye on the future

For me, one of the most powerful quotes I have tried to live my life by is from John F. Kennedy:

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Change can be hard, especially when we believe we have mastered what we do, who we are and where we fit in the world. But there comes a time when the opportunity to step up and change the status quo, start a new chapter and embrace new challenges is so right that you wonder why you had any hesitation.

The time for change is now and it is exciting – not only for me as the founder of Access 23 years ago, but also for everyone who works with the agency. While I will continue to be CEO of Access, working with our key clients and senior management team, I will also have a new role as the leader of Ketchum’s Global Technology Practice. As someone who strongly believes that technology has the power to change everything we touch and do, I am so excited about taking this passion to a global stage. I will earn lots of frequent flier miles and passport stamps working with 200 of the practice’s technology specialists around the world to bring Ketchum’s offering to the next level. Six years after the acquisition of Access by Ketchum, I look forward to closely integrating the collective expertise of both agencies to develop an unbeatable service offering for tech brands in the U.S. and beyond.

This new role for me wouldn’t be possible without the strong senior management team that we have developed at Access. The majority of our senior team has been with Access for more than 15 years, working collaboratively to provide unparalleled client service and a staff-first environment. I am so proud to announce that a leader of this team, Matthew Afflixio, who has been with Access for more than 20 years, is succeeding me as president of Access. In his new role, Matt will assume the day-to-day responsibilities of leading the business. Anyone who has been lucky enough to work with Matt knows that he is one-of-a-kind – a creative genius, a master of the PR craft and a supremely smart and strategic bundle of energy who clients love and staff love even more.

Every founder will admit that the day they hand the day-to day-reins to someone else is a milestone that many dread. I can honestly say that I consider myself one of the luckiest executives in the world to have a person as remarkable as Matt to take on, build and make his own mark on an agency that I will always love. With this change, our future is sure to be even brighter.

– Susan Butenhoff