📥 Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Jessica Thrasher
Vice President - Products and Services, SNP Communications
I enjoyed talking with Jessica Thrasher to learn about her career path. This is her internal communications story.
Jessica loves words. And that’s been the theme for her professional career. As the Vice President of Products and Services at SNP Communications - a Bay Area-based leadership communications company - her focus is on the quality of the work, and the unique, talented, smart, nice people who are delivering that work. After initially meeting and joining SNP in 2017, she helps some of the coolest leaders communicate by leading team workshops, creating written content, and hosting dynamic conversations. And while her pre-SNP career ranged from higher education to hi-tech, the constant thread has been: communications. She’s a lifelong fan of Wonder Woman, monograms...and really bad puns. All of which seem to make their way into her work from time to time. Particularly the puns.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
Communications has always been the theme, regardless of the title. From my very first job - an Account Coordinator for an advertising company - I learned from managers that how you build relationships with customers is largely how you communicate with them. The words you choose matter, your responses matter, telling the truth matters, taking responsibility matters. And if it matters for external relationships - customers, clients, vendors, partners - it matters even more how colleagues communicate with one another and how leaders communicate to team members. So now looking back on the story: it’s been internal communications all along.
I’ve loved the functions of communication for, probably, my entire life. I've always loved writing. I’ve always loved how the choice of words and tone can change an entire meaning. I've always admired and respected good communicators, and leaders who share (what I hope is) the truth, and share it authentically. How is it that some people can give a speech on a stage in front of thousands of people, and I’m watching a video of that speech, and yet I feel connected to them? Fascinating.
And then for most of my career, I’ve needed to influence...and influence with very little/no actual power of authority. Whether it was for budget, or to make a hire, or how a process is run. And I’m not alone in that - I think we all influence much more than we believe we do. And wow: being able to communicate with colleagues sure is helpful. I’ve been quite lucky to have many fantastic managers in my career, one of whom also taught me that sometimes the best communication is by not speaking, or not writing...and taking a pause. I believe the direction was “You’re just writing at one another. Shut that email string down and pick up the phone.” Which I still hear in my head, often, and have passed on to many people. Shut that email string down.
I'm now very grateful to work for SNP Communications, a leadership communications company. When I found them, I thought “leadership plus communications?! It’s all the things!” And then I learned their mission: to search the world for the good people and help make their truth persuasive. It’s Aristotelian. Which was just a reminder that the importance and power of communication is a classic art. We might use new channels or apps or technology, but the core is classic. And at SNP, we work with high-performing teams, with a focus on internal communications. Because: just like taking a pause, shutting that email string down, and picking up the phone for an actual conversation...how we treat our colleagues and our teams is just as important as how we treat our customers. Which is: internal communications.
How do you describe internal communications to others?
This question makes me laugh. I’m terrible at describing my own work to others...and likely terrible at describing the function of the work. Giving it a shot: it’s truth and architecture.
And now realizing I just got way too simplistic: internal communications is an ability to understand your stakeholders, create a message that is relevant to them, and then deliver it in a way that is memorable. Which is also Aristotelian...which is also thanks to SNP for me even being able to articulate a definition.
Internal communications is how you make things happen. I think about a founder now building a team — you had an idea that you executed, but then in order to get people to also buy into it and be the evangelist and carry it forward, you need to be able to communicate that idea. To get people to listen and be inspired to take action.
We’ve all been reminded of the importance of internal communication this year, and the responsibility that we all have in it. Whether your title says “Internal Communication” or you lead an organization or a team or a function. We’re all responsible for internal communications. And really intentional communication has been the connective tissue of the last year.
One of the tools we have to help with stress, uncertainty, change….is communication. And there has to be intention behind it, or you’ll end up throwing Slacks against a wall and hoping something works. At SNP, we work with customers to build a communication architecture. It’s mapping out what you’re saying, when you’re saying it, how you’re saying it. And then finding the points you need to repeat, and the places in which you can repeat them. Maybe it’s a leader doing a weekly audio headliner that goes out to the team. Maybe it’s an internal newsletter. Maybe it’s a video that can be consumed at night. Maybe it’s Slack and email. Maybe it’s a combo of everything.
There has to be a strategy, and it has to start with the most important factor: truthful content.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
The last year has felt like one big project (that we’re still in?). It really put a crystal clear focus on the role of internal communications in keeping people together, informed and working towards the same purpose. I'm very proud of the team that I work with because we partner with leaders on these topics...and we’re also a team sorting through it together.
As our CEO and C-Founder Maureen Taylor says: we are in the petri dish, monitoring the petri dish, and figuring out the next petri dish...all at the same time. At the start of the pandemic, Maureen was sending out videos every single night. A re-cap of the day. New news. Or just simply: hello. It’s what we encourage the leaders we work with to do, and to be able to see the impact that had on us was remarkable. We could depend on it. We knew we’d get some SNP context everyday, outside of our individual purview (because our purview was otherwise centered on a makeshift office, a dwindling internet connection, and a lot of fear and questions).
I’m also really proud of the mistakes I’ve made - and the people who have gracefully brought a light to them, and (hopefully) how I’ve semi-gracefully learned from them. When I was 22 years old, I was in Human Resources and coordinating relocation for new college graduates. The policy said: 30 days of corporate housing. It was generous. I had just benefited from it (New York by way of Ohio). And I really like policy and rules! So when a colleague who had just moved from Austin to New York asked for one additional day (one day!), I said: no. And I then went to my manager, waxing proud at how I had followed the rules verbatim. Her response: “I think you need to put the human back in Human Resources.” There are rules, there are best practices, there are policies...and there's also working with people. All of it comes into play when making decisions. Thank you, Stephanie Nix McKee. I’ve never forgotten it. That we’re communicating to...humans. People.
I’ve messed up, big-time and little-time. I’ve misread a room. I’ve announced things prematurely. I’ve announced things too late. I’ve sent that super-emotionally-charged email when it absolutely should have been a phone call. I’ve let my ego get in the way. I’ve published things with typos (my dread!). But wow, what a way to learn. Once you step in something, you really don’t want to step in it again. Or you least look for the signs before you do. Julie Morton - who is now the Associate Dean of the Executive MBA Program at Chicago Booth - once said to me (after my ultra-mature response to feedback was “well, no one is good at that, why do I have to be?!”): It doesn’t matter what other people do. We’re not talking about them. Concern yourself with what you do. And so if I call myself one big project, I guess I am kind of proud that the project is going a little bit better every year.
You have a background in alumni relations and fundraising. How have those skills helped you succeed and what are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
The ability to suspend your own ego, the skill of interviewing, and the foundation of writing.
So if I work backwards, writing. Putting together a clear message. Know when you need to bottom line something (which is almost all the time). Know how to pull a thesis statement out of pages and pages of content. Understand the words that will resonate, the language of the company. Really appreciate the power of words.
Then: interview. The value is curiosity but the skill is being able to interview. Get to know someone’s story. Really listen. Suspend your need to respond, or show how much you researched about the person in advance (can border on creepy, right?). In alumni relations, if you want to connect with an alumnus...you have to first understand what would connect with them. I loved what University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship did under Tom Frank: they put boots on the ground on the West Coast (those boots were me) to really just capture what alumni entrepreneurs needed and wanted...and then create programs. Not start with events and hope people showed up. It was smart. It wasn’t throwing events on the wall, it was first interviewing, listening, and then creating things that people had asked for.
And finally; suspend your ego and think about the audience. This isn’t your message, it’s a message for them. That beautifully alliterative sentence may get cut. Your inside jokes may not be funny. Your pop culture references (that you’re so proud of) may not make sense. [I know this from experience, having tried to wrap Gloria Estefan song titles into an internal announcement about a new software, thinking that it was too clever to be ignored...and not thinking that this was an audience who by-in-large did not know who Gloria Estefan is. Fail. No one knew anything about the software]. So get out of your need to tell people all the things that you want to tell them, how you want to tell them, and really think about what they need to know. And for bleep’s sake, know that the most brilliant mind in the room is likely the quietest, because they are listening to everyone else’s opinion...and becoming more brilliant in the process!
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
Listening. My learning happens the most through conversations, by talking with friends, family and colleagues about how they run their meetings, how their leaders keep them engaged. I’m on a constant interview (which may actually be quite annoying, socially, now that I think about it). I’m facilitating the dinner conversations. I’m pulling your visiting family member aside to ask more questions about their city. We have so many people we can learn from if we're just open to being curious and learn from different perspectives, and if we just shut up (sorry, being honest). Stop talking. We can learn so much by just asking people questions and letting them talk. The leader, the manager, the individual contributor, the founder, the academic, the retiree, the friend, the in-law, the neighbor.
And also: you’ve already heard how awful I am about articulating my own job and role...it’s much easier to listen, to learn from someone else.