📹 Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Eric Gonzalez
Internal and Executive Communications Manager, YouTube
I enjoyed learning about Eric Gonzalez’s career path. This is his internal communications story.
Eric Gonzalez is an Internal and Executive Communications Manager at YouTube, where he spends time helping employees understand company strategy and feel inspired by the work they do. He also supports Neal Mohan, the company's Chief Product Officer, to foster strong connections throughout his organization and craft compelling stories that celebrate the magic of YouTube. A longtime tech enthusiast, Eric's career has offered opportunities to launch major products and initiatives for Samsung, Amazon, Microsoft, Canon, Visa and more. Outside the (remote) office, Eric is an avid sports fan (Yankees, Knicks, Giants, Rangers, Liverpool FC), occasional purveyor of the arts, and enjoys long walks to Brooklyn Bridge Park with his rescue dog, Casey. He also has a hard time passing on dessert.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
At some point, I realized my childhood dream of becoming a meteorologist just wasn’t the right path for me (either because of my hesitations in front of the camera or my lack of starting a career in a small market thousands of miles from home). I knew my skills as a people person could be applied behind the scenes and ultimately that sparked my interest in communications.
I studied PR at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, but at the time I wasn’t fully aware how my career would unfold (which is something I remind lots of people entering post-academia…It’s totally fine not to have things figured out in your early 20’s, but it’s important to get a good mix of experiences to know what does or doesn’t speak to you).
Like lots of PR pros, I went the agency route, building my chops with tech clients, but it wasn’t until I moved in-house about five years ago that I became attuned with how important internal comms was.
As the only PR person based onsite, there was a natural inclination to have my ear to the ground. We were a startup under the wings of a large media company and naturally there was curiosity about where things were headed. I knew that listening and understanding my colleagues’ feelings would be something senior leadership would appreciate beyond the standard cadence of coverage updates. More importantly, addressing those feelings through internal moments — whether that was celebrating team milestones or sharing important business updates in monthly newsletters — felt like something I could tackle with my writing and storytelling skills.
I spent a good portion of my time naturally juggling internal comms work with my external PR responsibilities, but when I saw the job posting for Internal & Executive Communications at YouTube I knew that was my calling (I applied for a job at Google several years prior, but didn’t get it. So I was motivated to pursue this opportunity and prove my worth). Now, 15 months onto the job and I can confidently say there’s no place I’d rather be.
How do you describe your current work in the field?
The job posting painted a pretty accurate picture of the responsibilities, from working cross-functionally to share compelling stories with internal audiences, to crafting executive messages and communications materials (kudos to our HR team and my Comms teammates who on-boarded me without surprises!). But, I should probably give a better sense of what it’s like in the weeds, right?
The pace of internal comms at YouTube is fast — and I’m just focused on supporting the Product organization, which includes all of YouTube’s products and the policies that govern them (engineering and our business teams are outside my purview). Being able to have a pulse on the major happenings across each of these areas is super important to avoid that feeling of always playing catch up. I usually take time in the mornings (while the majority of the team, which is based out in California, is still asleep) to browse team newsletters, skim important meetings notes from the week prior and organize my calendar to prioritize upcoming tasks.
The other adjective I would use to describe my work is fulfilling. I feel like I always have a seat at the table and it’s great as internal comms pros to be in-the-know so we aren’t blindsided by sudden change. I also get to work with incredibly driven teammates who want to see the collective group succeed in every way possible. The (virtual) room is always full of people I can learn from, and it’s great to have people as supportive as the ones on YouTube’s internal comms because not only do they come up with amazing ideas, but they know how to help us reach our potential. Every experience or project we tackle is measured and we’re always thoughtful about thinking through areas where there’s room for improvement. It’s what keeps us hungry and coming back for more!
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
Where do I start? There are so many, including some flashier ones like supporting our company’s 15th birthday celebration (I worked on a trivia game that celebrated 15 years of YouTube for the whole company, which was a fascinating trip down YouTube memory lane!), but I think my proudest accomplishment isn’t a single project. Instead, it would have to be helping our organization transition to a completely virtual world when Covid hit last March. Prior to this, a lot of internal comms happened in person and so this was a big change to help our workforce adapt.
Figuring out ways to keep people engaged virtually has been a challenge, but part of working on internal comms is getting feedback from employees, measuring performance and being flexible enough to pivot and make things better the next time around. I feel like I’ve been an important contributor in this transition and it continues to be my job to make sure people are feeling engaged and inspired by the meetings we produce. By now, we’re feeling tired of interacting with colleagues confined to tiny boxes on screens, but that’s the reality of the situation we’re in.
We’re working through a period that’s going to be in the history books, so when push comes to shove, I think just about any task we can see through to completion is noteworthy. Chalk up the smallest victories because they carry more weight than you can imagine (especially in the context of what’s been an incredibly bumpy ride the past 12+ months).
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
So much of what we do, even in the day-to-day, is deadline driven. There are yellow colored post-it notes slapped across my desk reminding me when to draft that newsletter for review or when to share the first iteration of an internal comms plan with my manager.
Things sometimes get pushed and we can’t control that, but at least for me, it’s always helpful to have my dates organized and within plain sight. Someone once said, “if you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time you’re late. If you’re late, don’t bother showing up.” It’s a decent mantra to live by if you ask me — but especially so if you come from a background in sports where being late usually meant extra laps around the ball-field. Do it now and it won’t become a thorn in your side later.
A lot of companies will have employees take strength-finding tests, which I think are a fantastic way to help us not only figure out our strengths and weaknesses, but how to mesh better with teammates who might not share the same outlook on things we do. I’m pretty open with folks about how I work best, so it’s genuinely helpful to know how others function too. It’s a disservice to ourselves when we have to guess the best way to deliver an important message to a teammate — should I email that? Ping? Set up a quick video chat? Instead of guessing, set guidelines or “rules of the road” to operate around and find alignment so you can move forward together. This is critical in internal comms when we all need to operate as one team in service of the rest of the company.
I also can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sound judgements in our business. A lot of that factors into the counsel we provide to our internal stakeholders (e.g. senior executives), but it also applies for smaller, everyday decisions as well. It’s never easy, but with experience you start to build that reflex and decision making becomes less laborious. Throughout my career, (occasionally) being on the wrong side of decisions (i.e. “I should’ve done it this way instead”) was the best way to coach myself toward better, more satisfying outcomes.
When information is bombarding us from every which way, we have to know what’s urgent and what can wait. It’s a skill I’m always looking to refine, but it’s great to know there are people on my team who can be a sounding board when needed. When you have that kind of dynamic on your team, you know you’re in the right place.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
Peer-to-peer information sharing is king! The broader YouTube and Google comms teams have offered incredibly helpful materials, whether those were key learnings from a virtual event, or managing comms through a major business reorg. Chances are, no matter what level you are, someone has been in your shoes, so it’s always helpful to ask. Plus, I think people genuinely like sharing experiences, especially if it offers a sense of support or help for someone else.
Schedule a virtual coffee chat with someone, bring one or two questions to the meeting and actively listen to what they have to say. It can validate your own experiences and uncover new ideas. Also, find a mentor both inside and outside the company who can give an honest perspective of your work. I was fortunate to find one at my first fulltime job and we’ve stayed in touch ever since (going on 10+ years!).
I’m also a fan of outlets like Forbes (Leadership), Inc., Harvard Business Review and others where people cover internal comms campaigns, share insights, challenges and more. When you read about successful internal campaigns and how people approached different situations, it really gets the brain churning. Steal those tactics proudly and apply them in your settings if it makes sense - that’s why they were shared publicly to begin with!
I’m also a big advocate of self-help literature. Not so much to get ahead, but to stay sharp, motivated and help me think of different ways to solve problems that come up (especially if they’ve surfaced more than once!). These aren’t directly focused on internal comms, but they offer great advice on skills that can translate for anyone in our line of work:
And of course, my favorite YouTube channel: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Because news can also benefit from a small dose of levity.