Thought Leadership

IHG’s Michael Torres on Communications and Leadership

The impact of the digital revolution on the traditional communications profession has been well documented. The 24/7 news and information cycle has radically changed with the ability for anyone with a laptop or mobile device to influence with a simple finger stroke on a keyboard, touchpad or a ready-set-go image or video.

This democratization has opened up an entire new world of opportunity for everyone to engage, consume, share and break news. And for communicators, the opportunity to credibly engage is boundless.

With this digital transformation continuing to evolve and shape the communications landscape, as outlined by Michael Torres, vice president of corporate affairs, The Americas, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), it presents professional communicators with incredible new channels and engagement strategies to grow and expand their capabilities as leaders.

Torres, who spoke to members at the PRSA Georgia Chapter monthly meeting in Atlanta on Oct. 12, has witnessed the world move from analog to digital throughout his more than 20-year career in corporate communications, which includes previous roles with PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch, AB InBev and Fleishman-Hillard, where he led strategic communications for some of the world’s biggest and most recognizable brands.

Applying critical analysis skills

A central theme of Torres’ discussion centered around the abundant means by which we can source contextual insights today. Data and information have become ubiquitous in this day and age, but Torres charged that communicators still need to apply critical analysis skills to synthesize the abundance of data available, stressing the importance of being deliberate and strategic in leveraging this information with key clients and stakeholders.

For Torres, when delivering data and making recommendations, it boils down to the fundamental question — what’s the objective? Once you’ve solved that question, then determine how to best deliver those recommendations using data as the guide to formulate insight and smart strategy that can be deployed. He advises that the data will inform better decision making.

“Sound data analytics create the insightful truths that set us free from making emotional decisions,” he said. “Let the data drive the debate.”

In a similar vein, data also can be used to unlock new ways of approaching conventional methods. For example, IHG has moved from the traditional coverage model to an influencer model to further contextualize its strategic media relations approach.

Rather than solely viewing successes through the lens of impressions and audience calculations, the influencer approach maps out all the connections with whom a reporter, blogger or social media influencer is interlinked. This approach takes into account the interconnected sphere of influence associated with each conversation network — placing priority on high-value targets and contextually relevant content over mere impressions totals.

“What value do millions of impressions have if the vast majority of those numbers aren’t who you are trying to reach? If we can engage high-value news media reporters, bloggers or social media influencers that are connected to other target-right peer influencers and audiences, we create a rich, highly engaged, positive cloud of commentary. I’d place my bets on the impact of this highly contextually relevant engagement versus a larger total where we might not have the same quality of interaction,” he explained.

Retaining the seat at the table

The conversation then shifted to the importance of not only having a seat at the table, but also retaining a seat at the table. Torres advised communicators to become a “go to” person in their organization, not a “go do” person. To retain that seat, today’s professionals must be unafraid to provide a strong point of view. Don’t be a silent partner, because your point of view matters, and you matter, Torres says. This brought him to the topic of challenging status quo.

When he first joined IHG two years ago, he found himself in a position to take a calculated risk. IHG’s legacy employee communication platform had extremely low engagement. Torres came into his role and immediately asked himself and the team how they could enhance it. He knew it would be cutting against the grain, but the outcome could be just what the company needed.

Using data to drive the discussion, it was clear that a shift to an Outlook-based communications channel was necessary. Torres worked with the internal communications team and stakeholders to successfully reimagine the company’s internal communications approach, creating a new “AMER In the Know” e-zine pushed via Outlook with an infusion of more snackable content — stories, videos and photo collages. Since its inception, engagement rates jumped from 4 percent to more than 20 percent, with each unique visitor spending on average nine minutes on the site.

“Risks can lead to great rewards, but you won’t know until you try. I tell my team all the time to charge the hill. Sure, you’ll take a few hits and stumble in spots, but it’s what you learn and the insights gained from the persistent attempts that make you stronger, smarter and more strategic-minded,” he shared.

Rounding out the discussion, Torres ended with one of his most important leadership philosophies — it’s important to force failure. While it may be uncomfortable to stray from the comfort zone when you have the pressure of direct accountability, doing so from time to time will provide real, insightful learning and growth opportunities.

“So push yourself and force failure, because you can’t have breakthroughs without pushing breakdowns,” he said.

Claire Kudlata joined the communications team at IHG following her graduation from the University of South Carolina with a degree in public relations and a minor in hotel, restaurant and tourism management. She previously interned in corporate communications at Arby’s Restaurant Group and at several Columbia, S.C.-based agencies.

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