👗C-Suite Conversations: Meet Tiffin Jernstedt
Senior Vice President, Chief Communications Officer at Neiman Marcus Group
In This Interview
📝 The ways the C-Suite partners with Internal Communications
🌵A strategy to approach challenging projects
💬 The power of authentic networking
Tiffin Jernstedt is Senior Vice President, Chief Communications Officer for Neiman Marcus Group. She previously served in leadership roles at PVH, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren. With over fifteen years of experience leading global fashion and lifestyle brand communications, Tiffin sits on the Group Leadership Team where she helps build, execute, and amplify communications across the organization. Tiffin received her degree in Communications at Southern Methodist University.
What sparked your professional path into Communications?
My passion for communications comes from my father, Rich Jernstedt, who is very well known in the PR industry. He made a name for himself, particularly through his leadership roles at Golin Harris and Fleishman Hillard.
From a young age, I knew I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I used to listen to him on the phone and ask him constant questions about the industry. I chose to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas, because they were one of the earliest colleges with a dedicated focus on a PR degree. I often look to him and the career he built as my source of inspiration today.
Can you walk us through your career path?
I have built my career path on my own drive, gut instinct, and fearlessness in the face of challenge. But, and probably most importantly, I’ve always had a rule that I had to enjoy myself and continue to learn along the way.
My first job was in fashion PR at Tommy Hilfiger. It was an incredible entrance into the workforce and the fashion industry, and I immersed myself in the brand's events and initiatives. After three years I joined HL Group, which was at the time a start-up agency. I believe everyone in communications should have agency experience at some point, because the energy and pace of working on so many initiatives at once forces you to grow and learn in an incomparable way. From there, I moved back to Tommy Hilfiger and led the launch of their first global Communications function — in Amsterdam!
My biggest career leap (professionally, not geographically) was next, to PVH — the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. I was hired to focus on internal communications, which I did not know much about at the time, and the term was still relatively new in the fashion industry. But I took on the challenge, and quickly fell in love with this side of the industry. I then decided to go out on my own as a consultant, helping people and brands better tell their stories. That experience brought me to consult at Neiman Marcus, where I most recently joined full-time as their Chief Communications Officer!
I believe Communications is an incredible industry because it offers so much opportunity. From events and project management, to research and analysis, experimenting with new media and technology, the game is ever changing — which is what keeps me excited. There is always something new to learn in this space.
How do you describe Internal Communications to others?
You are ultimately the corporate publicist. You represent every person in the organization, at every level and every discipline. It’s quite powerful when you are that connected to your employees, engage with them, hear their feedback and influence tangible change as a result. We are in the business of making real magic happen in a company, from the inside out.
How do you collaborate with Internal Communications in your leadership role?
Integrating internal comms throughout the organization and with leadership is crucial to maintaining a strong connection to the business and creating a compelling communications engagement strategy. As the bridge between Communications and the People Service group, I also work very closely with the Chief Human Resources Officer and their team.
I also believe in empowering others around me. I have a leader who runs Internal Communications, we set up one-on-ones with leaders to understand their initiatives and how they connect with the larger strategy, and we also attend many meetings to stay informed. As the voices of the business, we are sometimes pulled in so many directions, so it is critical for me to build a team I can trust to keep the momentum going.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
In my first few months at Neiman Marcus Group, we accomplished a huge win that brought together all my prior experiences, and also taught me some new lessons. We executed a communications blitz, rolling out over 20 major projects in just 3 months, including an intranet, a new Town Hall program, branding a new corporate narrative, articulating our CEO’s growth strategy, and securing incredible press features that touted our company’s successes. Keep in mind, this was all with a brand new team, working remotely on an incredibly tight deadline!
When I was a consultant, I observed that NMG had been working on a lot of important initiatives, but hadn’t been able to focus and share them to earn credit for the work. When I came on board, that was my first priority. This blitz was a true communicator’s dream because we amplified so many messages across the board, touching all audience groups. It was incredible to see it all come together so quickly, especially considering the pandemic’s impact on retail.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
I was technically trained to communicate and engage with press. It’s a different, very instinctual ability to learn to communicate with your peer group. It requires a connection to people’s opinions, an understanding of the business strategy, and the ability to break down information into a tone that communicates your goals in a way anyone can understand.
I have always said, to myself mostly, if you are leading a project and don’t understand it, then you are the very best person to share this because you will put in the work to make sure you — and everyone else — understands it. I lead with that approach in everything I do, and encourage others to do the same. Don’t ever be afraid if you don’t know something. The important thing to do is to ask the hard questions, figure it out, and break down the vernacular. Similar to people who speak multiple languages, the ability to translate is a critical part of being a communicator.
How do you continue learning about your field?
I am a huge cheerleader for networking because I learn best by talking to people about their experiences. In this new world we live in, the days of walking into a room of 300 people isn’t a daunting hurdle anymore. Zoom meetings have become the great equalizer — everyone can see each other, and everyone has the power to speak up.
Heard something that interested you, or someone you’d like to get to know? You can just contact someone on LinkedIn! I believe in learning from everyone you meet, at all levels and stages of their career. Just reach out and make the connection. I have joined network groups like The Conference Board and The Page Society, which have made me who I am today.
Most importantly, you have to throw your hat in the ring and take on projects that you’ve never done before. Learning is about growing, and growing requires stretching yourself beyond what’s comfortable. I am never afraid of doing something I don’t know how to do. After all, that’s what communications is all about!
☎️ Every edition of The Switchboard is personally curated by me — Julia Levy. This post is based on a live interview conversation and edited for publication. Learn more about why I write.