Tips for Building a Kick-Ass Communications Department

Amanda Sims Issue 10 - March/April 2014, Marketing & Sales Leave a Comment

Kofax Vice President of Corporate Marketing Colleen Edwards shares her approach to creating a high-performance communications department.

By Amanda Sims

Edwards_Colleen_quoteColleen Edwards, Vice President (VP) of Corporate Marketing for Kofax, expects her communications team to kick ass. That is the broadest possible takeaway from her team’s mission statement, aptly titled Kick-Ass Communications—the core principles of which Edwards brought to Kofax in 2012 after seven years spent leading her own marketing and public relations (PR) firm.

Edwards, who has more than 25 years of experience in marketing, said she was not seeking other opportunities when Kofax recruited her, but she saw an opportunity to optimize a team with potential and create a high-performance group that delivers real business results. Now, she has a group of 10 direct reports who oversee PR, Communications and Creative Services.

Developing the A-Team

Kofax specializes in computer software, like smart process applications that simplify and streamline the business-critical First Mile—a term trademarked by the company to describe a customer’s first interactions with a business. It is appropriate, then, that Edwards would do the same with her own team. To create a quality group of communicators, she wanted to make sure the right people were on board, which sometimes meant finding replacements.

Edwards made it clear while interviewing candidates that people must be eager and willing to work hard, especially during periods when workloads are substantial, and do more than meet the daily minimum.

“I’m looking for the kind of professionals that want to win the Super Bowl, which not everyone does,” she said.

Edwards then analyzed the different functions of her department and backed away from areas where she identified strengths, trusting the leaders to manage the details and keep her informed.

“Everybody knows that they are going to be held accountable to the same level of performance,” she said. “There’s a level of trust that I can count on my teammates to deliver in this way.”



Standards & Seeing Through Them

With a Super Bowl-ready team in place, Edwards made her standards clear: She expects employees to produce high-quality work, deliver on time, stay on budget and, above all else, achieve meaningful business results. In other words, kick ass.

“I think a well disciplined organization is a higher-performing organization,” Edwards said. “You have to have self-discipline, and you have to live by the same rules.”

If something crosses her desk that does not meet the agreed upon standards, it is promptly returned with a reminder: “Let’s live our mission.”

There are several levels of oversight that help Edwards keep her group focused. Team members submit weekly status reports to detail their goals; Edwards meets with her direct reports every two weeks; and she presents her team’s key priorities to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and executive management team during 30-day cycles of companywide business reviews.

Honesty & Transparency

Edwards approaches the mentorship of her senior direct reports with 100 percent honesty and transparency—something she learned from two of her greatest mentors. The first is Ted Smith, Founder of and former CEO of FileNet, who she described as a “gentle genius” who was very generous with his time, especially when Edwards decided to start her own company.

The second is Mike Simmons, a former Marine who served as CEO of IPNet Solutions during the four years Edwards spent as VP of the company’s Marketing Department. Simmons was a turnaround expert, she explained, who took the struggling company and made it successful.

Simmons told Edwards: “When you’re in the foxhole sleeping, you need to trust the guy standing guard.” The significance of trust still resonates with her today, both with her team and her gut.

These CEO mentors taught Edwards to trust her instincts and to be decisive about business challenges and opportunities.


Rebranding & Results at a Fast, Controlled Clip

One challenge facing the Kofax Communications Department is crystallizing the high-level messages the company wants to share with its customers—often a difficult task at technology companies where stakeholders are understandably proud and want to share in great detail.

“As expert communicators, we need to communicate a clear and crisp message to our constituents,” Edwards said. “Trying to distill [a detailed message] into something that’s simple, bite-sized and easy to digest is part of our responsibility.”

Edwards also had to overcome a “very entrenched brand image” while implementing changes at Kofax, which has expanded its capabilities well beyond its leading document capture software to include major new products like the Total Agility 7.0 program, a fully unified smart process application platform released this past October.

“One of the challenges is getting customers, prospects, partners to understand that Kofax can be much more strategic to their businesses than how they once perceived us,” Edwards said. “Sometimes it’s easier as a marketer to start with a fresh slate, so creating a brand perception from nothing can be easier than shifting a well-established brand.”

But with a team focused on kicking ass, Edwards is confident she continues to foster a successful, top-performance group of individuals who deliver high-quality business results on budget and on time. She often compares her team’s efficiency to the controlled swiftness of FedEx drivers.

“Kofax is a high-volume place. We are humming everyday,” she said. “I like to call it the FedEx pace because FedEx trains its drivers not to walk leisurely, not to run like they’re panicked and sweating, but to always be moving at a fast, controlled clip. That’s the pace that we operate at here.”

Amanda Sims is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

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