The work of communications professionals has gotten tricky in this unprecedented time; yet its power has grown as well. At its best, corporate communications is a force for helping people navigate the challenges and changes brought on by the pandemic.
To gather insights on the craft of communications generally and within the current economic and medical landscape, I connected with Parker Trewin, a veteran communications professional with a varied background building brands and creating brand awareness. In his role as VP of Corporate Communications for Freshworks, the customer engagement software company, Trewin works, as he puts it, to “bring the vision of Freshworks to the world and the role that our people and products are having as companies look for better ways to engage with employees and customers.”
Micah Solomon, Senior Contributor, Forbes: How did you arrive in current role as VP of Communications?
Parker Trewin, VP, Corporate Communications, Freshworks: I majored in communications at the University of Washington and completed my graduate studies in marketing and finance at the Kellogg school at Northwestern University –I guess that makes me one of the rare people who actually use their college degrees professionally. The critical thinking and writing skills that I honed in those programs have served me to this day. I think of myself as a storyteller, working closely with our executives, PR team, employees, partners, and customers to make our story powerful, authentic and compelling across all of our channels. I love crafting and telling stories and bringing to life what people (and companies are made of people) are doing to influence how we live and work today.
Solomon: Can you share the particular principles that guide you, in good times as well as bad, as you carry out your work?
Trewin: Corporate communications is about people communicating with people. If you throw the “corporate” part out, ultimately we’re talking to human beings. The two questions I always ask are:
Who’s your audience?
How does your communication add value?
Also, delivering value has become more important than ever on a lot of levels—from the value of your product to the value of what you’re saying. So here’s another question I use to focus our communication:
Why should we expect our audience to pay attention to this particular message?
It’s my job to ensure that everything we say is useful and approachable, so it will resonate with its intended audience, while tying back to the business.
Solomon: And have you been developing a set of principles specific to the COVID-19 environment?
Trewin: Communication is particularly challenging when we don’t know when and how people will return to their daily lives. Despite the circumstances, we should be present, authentic, empathetic, and as transparent as possible. Even if your news isn’t great, people respect you for that.
Especially in the current environment, people need their basic questions addressed around their lives and livelihood, like, How will this help me at work? What products do I need to do my job better? When will services reopen? How can I be safe during this time? How do I get help if I need it?
It’s helpful to provide important information via a wide variety of channels. With Freshworks’ Business Continuity Plan efforts, for example, we use emails and blog posts to ensure that prospects, customers, partners, and employees are quickly updated on how we are managing the pandemic. We use text messaging, collaboration tools, and web conferencing to update employees, partners and customers on other initiatives and projects.
And don’t forget to look for silver linings. We’ve found that we have a resilient, sustainable business and an experienced executive team that can provide valuable information about how companies can and should move forward. Those are also important stories to tell. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed us forever. Yet, from adversity there can be opportunity. In meeting this challenge it has forced us to be better. There are new innovations that will stay with us long after the crisis has subsided. I’d also like to think that our communications have become more empathetic, thoughtful and helpful.
Solomon: Along those lines, could you share with me a story of something Freshworks has been doing that is powerful during this time of crisis?
Trewin: In healthcare, it’s been heartening to watch our technology have a tangible impact. In India, we are providing our help desk technology to an NGO, StepOne which is enabling doctors to connect with isolated patients through telemedicine so they receive the appropriate level of care. It’s a tremendous effort. We help enable 6,000 doctors who are fielding over 30,000 inquiries a day. In the first month, there were over 1 million inquiries. I’m so proud of the extra effort from the entire Freshworks team and the impact it’s had. It’s extremely gratifying.
And on the economic front, to soften the economic blows that small and medium businesses have been suffering, we’ve offered free versions of several of our products, including Freshchat and Freshcaller. We know free services can be a real lifeline in these challenging times as companies look for better, more efficient ways to conduct business.
Solomon: I know you spend your days sharing other people’s stories. This is your chance to share a few about yourself that most people–even people who’ve been following your career–don’t know.
Trewin: A fun fact that most people don’t know about me is that I was the product manager for the iconic Easy-Bake Oven [now part of Hasbro]. In that job, I learned how to differentiate and protect the brand from competitors–and competitors are pretty fierce in the toy business. I also learned that work should be fun, even in fiercely competitive environments.
Another is that I always wanted to be a scriptwriter. My favorite movie as a kid was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I was fascinated by telling a tale on an epic stage, not to mention winning a closetful of Oscars. That said, I feel like developing an epic story for a company is equally exciting, as we directly affect the livelihoods of many people. And, I love how we’re making real progress in making service more useful. Now that’s a story I can get behind.