02:22 AM

Meet IBM's Jon Iwata: "Most Forward Thinking" Communications Professional...


I've been fascinated with Jon Iwata ever since he was appointed head of IBM's Corporate Communications and Marketing. It's highly unusual for one person to hold both positions and it could mark the beginning of a new trend.

As a senior VP of Marketing and Communications at IBM, the world's largest computer company, Mr. Iwata has a tremendous amount of influence within the computer industry and beyond.

It's the combination of such roles that interests me greatly because it offers the possibility of a completely new role with new vistas of possibilities. I'm curious about what this means for IBM and if such a pioneering role could be replicated at other companies.

Jerry Swerling, Director of PR Studies and the USC Annenberg Strategic PR Center, describes Mr. Iwata as a man "whose name invariably comes up when you ask knowledgeable professionals to name the smartest, most forward-thinking people in the business." (Here.)

I've spoken with Mr. Iwata and with Ben Edwards, IBM VP and Director of Digital Strategy and Development. Check back later this week for the interview.

But first, here is some background on Mr. Iwata and his leadership in an initiative within IBM focused on "citizenship" and IBM's "Smarter Planet" strategy. I include a video and some extracts from his speeches.


- He holds a B.A. from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University.

- Jon joined the communications function of IBM in 1984 at the company's Almaden Research Center in Silicon Valley. In 1989, he joined IBM corporate headquarters in Armonk, New York.

- He was appointed vice president of Corporate Communications in 1995 and senior vice president, Communications, in 2002. He assumed his current role on July 1, 2008.

Here is an extract from a speech at the Yale Club in November 2009:

(via Toni Muzi Falconi at PR Conversations.)

One day soon, every employee, every retiree, every customer, every business partner, every investor and every neighbor associated with every company will be able to share an opinion about that company with everyone in the world, based on firsthand experience. The only way we can be comfortable in that world is if every employee of the company is truly grounded in what their company values and stands for.

What are we doing about this at IBM? We have created a new discipline within my organization that puts together brand management and workforce enablement, or what we used to call internal communications. This may sound to some like external and internal messaging coming together - employee as brand ambassador. Sure, that's an aspect of it. But the centerpiece is something quite different. We call it the IBM Brand System.

Picture a framework with five columns. From left to right the columns are labeled what it means to look like IBM, to sound like IBM, to think like IBM, to perform like IBM and ultimately to be IBM.

Here is an extract from a speech on the future of PR at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism in March 2010 by Lara Levin:

"When you think about the PR profession -- what it'll look like 10 years from now - start not with PR but with the world at large; not with the decade, but the century," said Iwata, adding that a century from now, the world will look back on the early 20th century as a time when "civilization took a great leap forward," marked by "changes in what people know, changes in what people expect and ultimately changes in behavior."

Though attempting to analyze such a period of change while simultaneously experiencing it continues to prove difficult, Iwata identified new disciplines in the corporate function, emerging from an environment characterized by transparency and readily available information. At the core of these emergent disciplines is a stress on behavior management--a sense of corporate integrity permeated down to and communicated directly from the individual employee.

"Lincoln said character is like a tree, reputation is like its shadow," Iwata said. "Many believe their job is to manipulate the shadow rather than tend to the health of the tree. In this world of transparency and democratized media, it is increasingly difficult for organizations and individuals to lead double lives. There can be no image management without behavior management.

"People care about the corporation behind the soft drink, or bank account, or computer - they do not divorce their opinions of that company from the company's products and services."

Iwata went on to suggest that the behavior and subsequent image of a company goes far beyond the surface, indicating a need for the instillment of unique corporate values among all employees, as "they only matter if lived and applied consistently by everyone in the company."

According to Iwata, it is through the consistent maintenance of and adherence to a brand's values and promise that they are able to succeed in another emerging discipline--that of building constituencies. The idea of merely reaching an audience and achieving message penetration is not enough. "Pumping out information only adds to the nosie and compounds the challenge of being heard... Value will come from offering perspective and useful information and providing a contribution to our audience's knowledge."

Citing Apple as a company that does this well, Iwata suggested, "They don't just advertise, they teach. They don't just sell, they create learning experiences in their stores. They want you to learn everything their product can do, so then you will teach others... In the process they recruit new and loyal customers that become advocates and evangelists."

Crafting and disseminating a valuable message and building this constituency is no longer, however, the task of solely communications professionals. Iwata described a third and final major shift as the development of the eminence of a company's workforce--training employees to act and communicate as experts who produce valuable information for the public and extend the power of the brand.

"2010 is the year that corps grapple with and ultimately accept that their employees are engaging with social media... But simply having your people on the net is not the differentiator. It's what they do once they get there."

(Jump to about 21.00 to cut out welcoming remarks.)

I hope this has whetted your appetite for finding out more about Mr. Iwata and his pioneering work at IBM and how that might influence the broad practice of corporate communications and PR.

Jon Iwata (coastw) on Twitter