Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Laura Hunter
Senior Director, Executive Communications at Pure Storage
I enjoyed talking with Laura Hunter to learn about her career path. This is her internal communications story.
About Laura Hunter
While I'm a multi-tool communicator (speechwriting, advertising, PR, internal, marketing, social media, etc.) my real passion is leadership communications, because it brings together so many of those different disciplines. I've been so lucky to learn from some of the best, and the challenges of both communicating at scale and incorporating the need for hyper personalization in today's leadership and media environment keeps every day interesting.
I’m not a California native, but rather a happily transplanted Midwesterner. I love to go hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains and to the beach with my husband, identical twin girls and my mom. I volunteer at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art, cook without recipes, bake elaborate birthday cakes, and do my best to keep my garden under control. I can’t be happy unless I read, write and travel as much as possible.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
It was a happy accident. The only place where I've solely focused on internal communications was at Google. All of the other places where I've worked, internal has been a portion of my work.
For example, when I was in marketing, I looked at employees as brand ambassadors so I thought a lot about what they needed to know in order to evangelize our brand.
Mostly, I specialize in executive communications. No matter who the audience is, I strive to ensure that [the executive is] understood.
How do you describe internal communications to others?
It is the spikiest communication work because it has the potential to be the most fun and the most demanding!
I really like the dichotomy of internal comms. There’s a need for clear, persuasive and structured information flows. And there’s also a need for empathy, creativity and personality.
Executives, employees and spokespeople can really be themselves, be humble, and vulnerable. But, because people really know the people speaking to them, they have really high expectations of what you deliver.
Employees give these comms extra scrutiny, they expect more authenticity and transparency, but there are still really high expectations of executives and experts to be putting their best foot forward all the time and that can get hard for everyone involved.
It can feel very high wire, for leaders, employees and the communications teams. I'm always surprised by leaders that I know who are busy and focused on a million things, but that make the time to really dig deep and understand the importance and impact of being really human and vulnerable. That’s work that makes you feel proud to be a part of it, that gives you the sense you did something really good.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
One of my favorite projects at Google arose from internal communications. I was focused on communications for Google’s Employment Brand, working with the Recruiting organization. The insight that came back from our recruiters was that we needed to ensure the brand felt cool.
A really disparate group of people came together, including social, communications, marketing and engineering teams. We came up with a new coding game as part of the recruitment strategy. We had to really listen to the engineers and the recruiters who had very different ideas of what success looked like. Getting the buy-in from senior people to invest in that project and keep it going flexed every internal communications muscle.
It was also very confidential. We didn’t talk about it publicly, we kept it quiet even within Google. It turned out to be really fun. There were people we found through the game who didn't graduate from college, but did an awesome job solving the coding challenges. Then, after some successes, we were able to tell the story to Googlers and eventually externally as well. It was very interesting, very different than anything I’d ever done before.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
The foundation for any communication is listening. It’s important to understand someone else's perspective. Then, applying empathy and deploying your ability to switch your own perspective to someone else's. Last are the mechanics, the cascade of being able to write quickly, being great at design, being a good project manager and being able to run meetings. These are some of the tactics that make someone great at internal communications.
Beyond those basics, the key to really succeeding in these cross functional roles is be nice to work with, prioritize relationships, get your job done, but do it in a way that makes people want to work with you again.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
In order to communicate well, you have to understand what you're communicating about. For example, when I was at McDonald's, I learned a lot about food systems and the global supply chains of ingredients like apples or tomatoes. That type of research has always been really fun . you never know where the interesting story is going to pop up or where you’ll find that amazing spokesperson who has a delightful new perspective.
I always learn more from the people who are excited. That’s who you have your eyes out for as an internal communicator: who else can tell this story and engage people and get them bought into the company’s goals and help convey why this action is important.
I’ve certainly learned more on the job than I did formally, but it was really fun to go to graduate school and meet other people like me who share that sense of common purpose. Some communications professionals might be better served to get a certificate or degree in a certain area such as Data Science.
It’s really impactful, as someone trying to lead and influence within an organization, if you find a trend line by listening to different sources that might not be talking to one another regularly, and taking just a little time to dig into those similarities. If you can find a number and make that the headline of your story, there isn't any executive who wouldn’t be excited about that. You can see this for example with employee survey data to determine people’s level of happiness or areas that you can focus on improving. I can’t think of a time that a leader hasn’t been laser focused on understanding the story behind those kinds of numbers.
Is there something I should have asked you, but didn’t ask you?
I was recently talking with an early career mentor. She was the first person I worked with where we really wrote together. It reminded me of the importance of having a colleague who really works alongside you, who understands what you’re going for and can give you specific feedback.
Finding a partner who pushes you in that way is so important - sometimes I needed a writing partner, sometimes I needed someone who was an excellent project manager. That sense of connection and of working together is what makes communications roles so fulfilling, regardless of whether it's internal or not.