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IBM Engages with Strategic Communication Students in Matthew Sawyer’s Industry Insider Class

Carrie Altieri, VP of IBM’s Strategy and Communications, and Rachael Morin, IBM Global Advertising Manager, recently visited Matthew Sawyer’s Industry Insider class, the first in a series of virtual workshops. The course, for first year graduate students in the Strategic Communication program, examines the rapidly changing marketing, media and communication worlds. A valuable part of the course is providing students with inside looks at important industry players.

The IBM speakers discussed the challenge for communications professionals: how do you manage corporate messaging, which you can control, with your corporate reputation, which you often cannot? Specifically, the guest speakers presented how IBM pivoted their internal communications to support the 350k employees who transitioned to working from home during the pandemic. 

The speakers also discussed how IBM reinvigorated employee engagement. By bringing employees into strategic discussions, such as the ideation stage for a new performance review process, IBM’s leadership is able to win over their employees’ trust and confidence. This also leads people to be more engaged at work and more likely to recommend the company to their networks. “Employees can be your greatest brand champions when appropriately informed,” said Altieri. 

“If you show your employees you can listen and act, you will go far with maintaining trust,” said Altieri. She showed the class the “IBM Work from Home Pledge,” which was created by employees this spring and went viral on the company’s internal Slack channels. The pledge was a wake-up call to management—employees needed additional support in their new stressful environment of balancing their work and home lives. 

The Communications team recommended CEO Arvind Krishna respond personally to IBM’s employees, give his advice and offer additional benefits that spoke to these needs. Read Krishna’s response to his employees on LinkedIn. 

After the IBM presentation, students were tasked with devising communications plans for a diverse set of corporate crisis and disaster scenarios, and presented how they would approach the messaging and the reputation management for each. Altieri and Morin gave practical feedback to each team. 

Students found their first virtual workshop insightful and practical. The online experience allowed for a dynamic workshop, as Altieri and Morin alternated between presenting and answering questions and engaging with students in the chat, and teams worked on their case studies in breakout rooms. 

"IBM has been a pioneer in cloud-based services, cognitive computing and roping in innovative technology,” said Pallavi Das, a student in the class. “It is remarkable to see how they have steered through various challenges and kept creative despite hurdles. This can be attributed to their culture of transparency, trust and co-creating with employees. It shows they are a company with a conscience. It was an absolute pleasure to learn about their best practices and watch their story unfold." 

“Listening to professionals on the field is always a privilege, however, speaking to them, presenting and hearing their feedback went beyond expectations. Having the ongoing conversation throughout the workshop was great,” said Celine Fort.

“It's challenging and also interesting to be involved in a virtual case with other team members. It feels like we are discussing and demonstrating for a real case at work,” said Wangwei Cao.  

"I felt the exercise was very relevant to concepts we'd discussed in class and that it gave us the opportunity to apply our knowledge in a meaningful way,” said Joobin Bekhrad

Sawyer’s popular Industry Insider class has a new format this fall. Guest lecturers from companies including Mastercard, AT&T, and Landor will be visiting the online class and engaging with students throughout the semester. 

Learn more about the M.S. in Strategic Communication program