📘 Executive Communications Introductions: Morgan Baden
Head of Executive Communications at Acumen | Author 📚
In This Edition
📣 How Social Media and Internal Communications can collaborate
📝 What it’s like to lead executive communications for a Founder and CEO
📖 The exciting journey of writing a book on evenings and weekends
Morgan Baden is an award-winning corporate communications expert whose work spans internal communications, social media, storytelling, media relations, thought leadership, employee engagement, and content strategy. Currently serving as Head of Executive Communications at Acumen, she has extensive experience in the publishing, education, pharmaceutical, and finance industries, including previous roles as Executive Vice President of communications strategy at SPI Group (a Ruder Finn company) and Vice President of social media and internal communications at Scholastic. Morgan previously taught social media marketing at New York University’s Center for Publishing program and has led a variety of writing workshops for teens and adults. She graduated from The College of New Jersey and now resides in Maplewood, NJ, with her family. She is also an author of Young Adult fiction; her debut novel, The Hive, co-written with her husband Barry Lyga, was named a Best Book of the Fall 2019 by PEOPLE Magazine.
What sparked your career path in communications?
I always knew I wanted to do something that involved writing. In undergrad, I started off as a Communications major, but to be honest I found the courses to be underwhelming. One day I realized the English majors at my school were having so much more fun reading and analyzing books all day, so I switched! I never saw myself in the traditional PR role, nor in the fancy magazine or book editorial gigs my English-major friends were seeking, so I did a lot of research and ultimately discovered internal communications. When I learned of an opening at Reuters, it checked all my boxes – it was writing-heavy, it was a big global company, and it was in New York City.
I stayed at Reuters for six and a half years. As a British-based company with headquarters in London, Reuters allowed me to travel the world and meet so many people and learn so much. The Internal Communications function was well-respected, comprised of lots of former journalists, and the more formalized way we operated set me up for a great experience. Over my time there, my role expanded into a broader corporate communications role, including events and media.
When social media became an important platform for brands, I was working at Scholastic as a senior writer on the communications team. It organically fell into my purview, because I was already experimenting with social and digital tools in my own time. I stayed at Scholastic for well over a decade, eventually becoming Vice President of Internal Communications and Social Media. This was such a great role bringing together two passions – communications and children’s books – and my decision to switch my major to English felt like it was paying off!
Your current role is Head of Executive Communications, what are you focused on in this position?
I now work at Acumen, a global community that’s changing the way the world tackles poverty. We invest in companies and changemakers that are solving problems in the areas of climate, energy, agriculture, healthcare, and education, and serving low-income communities around the globe. It was founded in 2001 by Jacqueline Novogratz, and in my role I direct all of her Executive Communications.
This role spoke to me for a few reasons, one of which was that the work itself is inherently optimistic – at Acumen, we understand what the big problems of the world are, and we also believe they can be solved. I also love that I get to manage so many different types of communications in this role, from message frameworks to media strategy, from speechwriting to thought leadership, from internal communications to social media.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished over the years?
I feel genuinely lucky to have worked on so many amazing projects and campaigns over the years. One of the reasons I chose to work at Scholastic is because of the iconic children’s brands it publishes, chief among them my all-time favorite: The Baby-sitters Club. I was thrilled to be on the communications team during the re-launch of the brand to a new generation of readers, and to be able to share my personal love of the series with Scholastic’s 14 million social media followers and 10,000 employees in a variety of ways over the years. And, working at Scholastic during the height of the Young Adult book craze, including when we launched The Hunger Games trilogy, married my professional and personal interests together in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of!
More recently, when I served as EVP of Communications Strategy and Editorial for The SPI Group (a Ruder Finn agency), I led my agency team on a communications and culture project for Organon, the women’s pharmaceutical company that spun off from Merck in 2021. The energy and excitement around the spin-off, coupled with Organon’s gorgeous branding and critical mission, will stay with me for a long time. I’m really proud of the work we did there in building an internal communications narrative and aligning with it a series of fresh, fun employee engagement activities.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in your field?
It might sound basic, but everything stems from a really solid grasp of writing. But a close second is having the ability to make connections. When you are in internal communications, you have a 360-degree view of the company — if you are talking to HR about a new benefits package, Finance about a corporate project and a business division that’s restructuring and reorganizing, you have to be able to make those connections so that the overall story of all those changes can start to make sense for employees and the business.
When I sit and listen fully to colleagues who need communications support for a project or initiative, I create a map in my head where I ask, what does this project have to do with the other one? What will this initiative do to employees in this particular region or group? How does A connect to B, but also to C and D? Sometimes they might not have anything to do with each other! But it’s my job to find and clarify the connective tissue so that employees feel they understand the strategy of the organization, see how their work ladders up to broader goals, and feel supported. Uncovering the stories that are below them has always been my favorite element of working in communications.
How do you continue learning about the field?
For updates and trends, I have curated a great Twitter list of industry professionals. I go to Twitter a lot to find out what folks are doing and thinking about the field.
The rise of Linkedin Groups for Internal Communications has also been wonderful to see, and I like participating in discussions there, where people are asking for advice or sharing stories.
And I also still appreciate the industry trades, which continue to do great work in uplifting and showcasing the work of communicators across all sorts of industries.
You’ve also an author. Congratulations on your most recent book launch! Can you tell us about your writing?
For years, I would spend my free time working on my own writing, starting and stopping a variety of projects. Eventually, I got a contract with a book packaging agency and began ghostwriting Young Adult novels, where I was handed a 10-page outline of a book and then had to flesh it out into a full novel in a very short timeframe. It was a real crash course in how to write a book!
But all the while I was also working on my own books. In 2019, my debut novel, The Hive, co-written with my husband, the novelist Barry Lyga, was published. (That fall, People Magazine named it a best book of the season!) After that, I began writing a YA trilogy for Scholastic called Daphne and Velma (yes…the famous characters from Scooby-Doo!). Book 3 in that trilogy, Buried Secrets, just hit stores in September. And, last spring, I had a short story published in a YA anthology called Generation Wonder: The New Age of Heroes.
I have a local writer's group that keeps me accountable to prioritize writing. Otherwise, life can get in the way. When I sit down and write fiction, the joy and energy are so sustaining and nurturing that I’m reminded how much I love it. I write all day at work, but I have to make sure to keep some of that writing energy for myself, too.
Fast forward to the future — what do you think communications at work will look like?
I really believe the future is mix-ternal communications. (I published a blog post on this topic for the SPI Group!) These days, in order to be a great communications professional, you have to incorporate all types of communications and audiences into your work – and, in a way, reverse-engineer the process by letting the message lead the way instead of the platforms or the audiences.
I think we’ll see the individual communications roles become more generalized, so that everyone’s doing a little bit of everything – intranet management and strategy, internal events, traditional and social media, PR, thought leadership, and more. That’s not to say there won’t be room for specialists…we need those too! But gone are the days where a communications leader can feign ignorance on social media, for example.
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