Listen, learn and adapt

By Yvette Martinez, Strategic Communications Director

Yvette Martinez, former Assistant Commissioner at TN Department of Veterans Services, speaks a Memorial Day Event.

Credit: State Photographer’s Office-State of Tennessee

“Good and slow.”

When I was an executive leader with Governor Bill Haslam’s Administration, this was the feedback we received from Tennesseans about the performance of state government. It wasn’t a glowing recommendation, but it was a solid place to start in the transition away from “the ways things have always been done” to transformational customer service. We used this constructive criticism to establish transformational and strategic initiatives such as performance management, leadership development, accountability metrics and enterprise thinking across 23 cabinet level departments.

Governor Haslam traveled the state to gather feedback from educators, business leaders, advocates for children, military and law enforcement personnel, as well as healthcare experts to develop his strategies and priorities. As a Tennessee native, he didn’t ask questions to develop talking points but had a genuine desire to learn and improve how he served.

“We have to be about finding long-term solutions to our biggest challenges,” said Haslam. These were all great lessons for those of us watching to learn how to turn stakeholder answers into transformational solutions.

After the Administration changed hands in 2019, I transitioned back into the private sector after nearly a decade in public service. I quickly learned the jargon in the marketing and public relations space had changed quite a bit over the years, but I hit the ground running to get up to speed. I was definitely feeling “good and slow” as I learned new terms and practices, along with the metrics and software used by my new colleagues.

In state government, many media outlets are going to cover your stories in the majority of cases because citizens want to know what their taxpayer dollars are doing to improve services or raise awareness. However, the art of media pitching in the emerging energy space takes an incredible amount of technical knowledge, perseverance and creativity to find ways to connect client value to fast-moving reporters.

Once I got my feet under me, it became much easier to incorporate what I had learned in state government, along with my previous careers in television news and the U.S. Marine Corps. Although the terminology and digital landscape of communications has evolved to reflect several generations of communications experts, the purpose of strategic communications has fundamentally remained the same. It doesn’t matter which sector, organization or role you are navigating, enthusiastic and humble learning fueled by intentional listening will produce engagement and results. The most effective strategies are developed by listening, adapting and possessing an unwavering focus on the objective.

Thankfully, my desire for transformational change remains a firm commitment. However, my ability to conceptualize, propose and implement solutions goes much faster in the private sector. Press releases and talking points still exist, but social media now carries the same weight as a well-staged press conference. This is both exciting and cause for trepidation as we thoughtfully consider each word and its impact as we move messaging at the speed every available platform now accessible to anyone with an agenda. The goal is to remain agile in this rapidly changing space, while listening to the evolving needs of clients with a desire to engage a rapidly moving audience.

Find out more about Yvette Martinez, Piper Communications’ Strategic Communications Director, here.