🛫 Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Gina Laughlin
Managing Director – Employee Communications at Delta
Gina Laughlin leads Delta’s employee communications strategy as Managing Director at the airline’s world headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. In this role, Laughlin leads an incredible team of communications professionals to inform and inspire Delta people to be their very best for our customers. Together, they create communications and engagement strategies and tactics that promote transparency and build trust among employees and leaders.
A long-time champion of Delta’s enviable culture, Laughlin’s career also includes a role in the HR organization during which she built the company’s first Employee Engagement team, including the company’s global recognition programs, employee engagement survey, employee-funded Care and Scholarship 501(c)(3) organizations, and HR Communications. In that role, her team launched Delta’s first internal social media platform. She also spent three years in Delta’s flight attendant organization where she led business programs that were driven by frontline employee participation, including flight attendant hiring and onboarding, global crew layover hotels, uniforms, a peer support program, the Employee Involvement Group and Delta’s employee town hall program.
Laughlin began her Delta career in the Corporate Communications department, with experience in media relations, crisis communications, CEO communications and operations communications. She led employee and culture integration efforts during Delta’s merger with Northwest Airlines and also played key internal and external communication roles in the company’s bankruptcy reorganization.
Prior to joining Delta, Laughlin led executive communication, employee communication, and crisis communications as General Manager – Corporate Communications for Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA), a Delta subsidiary.
Laughlin began her career in technology public relations at Lois Paul & Partners, a Fleishman-Hillard company. She graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications with a dual degree in public relations and political science. She is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America and is a former PRSSA National President.
In addition to her love of airplanes and travel, Laughlin is a competitive equestrian and mom to a house full of boys – including her two-legged and four-legged “children.”
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
I feel very fortunate that I have had a lot of wonderful experiences at Delta across all facets of communications – internal, executive and crisis communications and media relations.
Halfway through my Delta career, I started to have a much deeper appreciation for helping employees love what they do and helping them feel very connected to the company and its leaders. The last 10 years of my career have leaned more internally.
It’s very fulfilling when you can see the results of the team’s work. You meet the employees you are supporting – you feel their pride when they recount the stories that we’re telling. To know that we've played a role in creating, amplifying and improving this feeling is incredible.
Delta has such a special culture; it is very employee focused. I love connecting employees to the organization's purpose. We play a key role in helping them feel good about the company and their careers.
How do you describe internal communications to others?
As communicators, trust is our currency. The job of an internal communications professional is to build trust between the employees and the organization. This means trust among co-workers, trust between an employee and their direct leader and among the broader leadership team.
We use really sound communication strategies and tactics to build that trust and nurture it along the way. For my team, our North Star is to both deepen and broaden the emotional connection that employees have with the leaders and with the company.
There's a business impact to having more engaged, connected employees. There’s a direct connection between the trust employees have and the output that our customers see everyday.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
For the airline industry and much of travel and tourism, we immediately took a massive hit in the spring of 2020 and had to radically change our business. We were faced with operational changes with new policies coming out of the World Health Organization and the CDC that impacted how employees did their jobs. There were also structural changes that needed to be made; we became a smaller organization and had to prioritize differently.
We had to communicate a lot of complex topics very quickly and on an increased cadence with a lean communications team. I'm incredibly proud of what the team has been able to achieve by leveraging existing channels and taking a few risks to try some new strategies. Pre-COVID, our communications audit told us that our employees were experiencing volume overload, so when COVID hit we had a choice to make - whether to communicate more or keep trying to reduce the volume. We decided to communicate more because the situation was changing rapidly and employees needed to hear from their leaders. Our employees stuck with us – communications ranked among the highest survey scores in our quarterly pulse surveys.
I’m also very proud of the team’s work to vaccinate as many Delta people as possible – 95% of our entire employee population is vaccinated, without a mandate. We started the vaccine efforts in February 2021 and our goal at the time was 75% because that was the number to reach herd immunity at that time. There was a lot of misinformation and a highly segmented distribution process that made communications a challenge. We created and implemented an ongoing education campaign leveraging influencers who are connected to our audiences. It was a team effort across the company, but I truly believe the communications strategy was an integral part of our success.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
Internal communicators should have deep knowledge of their audience. It's important to have an appreciation for your audience, know the demographics and put yourself in their shoes with empathy. When you do, it makes you a far better communicator because you're managing both the company's overall storyline and what you want your employees to know and feel.
You also have to really understand what your employees need from you as a communications team. In some ways, we are the keepers of the employees' experience and their attention span. We have to protect that.
Strong internal communicators also are good writers, writing well across different mediums; they are critical thinkers who are able to connect the dots at the 50,000 foot level and at 5,000 foot level!
Curiosity also is at the top of my list. Some of the best storytelling and strategic counsel come from being really curious and asking tough questions; it’s also how we best connect the dots.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
Our profession is directly correlated to what happens in the world – socially, economically, politically. We are constantly called upon to stay connected. A trait of great communicators is a natural curiosity which ensures that we never stop learning: about best practices in communications, about how business works, what’s happening in the world and learning as much as possible about our organization.
To that end, I like to go out and experience what my employees are going through; I like to spend time in the field.
I also like to read about developments in PR, Communications and Marketing. I leverage best practices and conversations with peers, and I try to build a strong network of PR leaders to learn from. Finally, I like to stay engaged with PRSA - it was an important part of my student experience and today continues to supplement my career journey and provide professional development, networking and leadership opportunities.