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“PR to the Front, Please”

Columbia SPS Strategic Communication lecturer Matthew Sawyer presented to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) on effective PR, brand and product marketing, and corporate communications in February. Attended by more than 300 people, Sawyer’s webinar, “PR to the Front, Please,” outlined the reasons why PR and communications people should be included at every level of decision-making—or “be in the room where it happens,” as he put it

Sawyer teaches the Industry Insider and Practicum courses for the M.S. in Strategic Communication program. Industry Insider is a required course for full-time students, covering a broad introduction to the world of marketing and communications. Practicum helps students succeed in internships and grow in real-world experience. 

Sawyer, in addition to his role at Columbia, is the managing director of Rocket Market Development LLC, a boutique strategy consulting firm. He also teaches business strategy and marketing classes at NYU. Last December, Wiley publishedhis book Make It in America—How International Companies and Entrepreneurs Can Successfully Enter and Scale in U.S. Markets. 

Highlights from his webinar:  

Public Relations

Successful PR professionals create stories rather than just telling them. For example: the viral media campaign created by AMC to promote a new season of its popular show The Walking Dead. The campaign used video of New Yorkers reacting to actors dressed as zombies jumping out from subway grates. The panicked reactions of New Yorkers, who pride themselves on their stoicism, not only made the rounds on social media but also were picked up by local and national news. The PR team invented the story that could be used to promote the show and capitalized on social media, the news cycle, and cultural tropes. In other words: free publicity. 

Brand and Product Marketing

From a brand and product marketing perspective, Sawyer provided examples from his own career with consumer product companies. He explained how successful brands are based on a compelling story or message. As a product manager at BIC, he created a Tough Beard Shaver with a unique promise for tackling men’s heavy beards. This message was delivered through advertising, PR, and the sponsorship of a professional soccer team. While at Snapple, the PR team added value with fun facts printed under the beverage cap. In these and other cases, the marketing and communication people were at the lead from the beginning.

Corporate and Internal Communications

Sawyer stresses the importance of integrating communications into decision-making and leadership of a company. Colgate-Palmolive’s corporate communications team partners with its CEO, division leaders, and human resources on both strategy formulation and execution. They are driving transformation and culture throughout the organization, as evidenced by their having a director of corporate purpose. 

Sawyer also showed how getting communication people involved in all aspects of a business can help to solve issues before they become a crisis. Americares partnered with PR agency Ketchum to develop a crisis communication playbook for dozens of scenarios. Internal communications, too. IBM, along with the Integral agency, was able to implement a massive transformation with well-planned internal communications.

About the Program

The business world’s around-the-clock communications challenges are demanding a new level of strategic thinking. Columbia University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication graduates emerge equipped with all the essential skills and tools for a successful career in a wide range of communication fields. The program is available in three formats for professionals of varying experience levels and locations: the Executive M.S., for experienced (6+ years) communication leaders (36 credits in 16 months for degree completion); Full-Time M.S., for early-career communication professionals and career changers (36 credits in 12 to 16 months for degree completion); and Part-Time M.S., for working professionals looking for flexibility (36 credits in 24 months to 3 years for degree completion). 

Application deadlines for fall 2023 enrollment are quickly approaching. Visit the admissions deadlines pages for your chosen format for dates: Executive M.S.; Full-Time M.S.; and Part-Time M.S.