As senior director of corporate communications at NetApp, Jodi Baumann is charged with - in her own words - “making storage sexy”. To accomplish this, Baumann recently led a year-long exercise to implement a new global awareness strategy. In a wide-ranging phone interview with the Holmes Report, Baumann explains why she wants her agencies to take risks, her initial shock at NetApp’s open culture, and what the “scariest” part of her job is.

Let’s talk about the year-long exercise you recently undertook to implement a new global awareness strategy. How did you conduct this?

It was something that my CMO approached me about last Fall. It was kind of interesting as someone who runs comms to hear your CMO say: ‘We need an awareness strategy.’ When I took a step back and looked at the types of stories we tell, they were great but they were all-inclusive of themselves. They were not connected particularly. For example, here is a great story on cloud and here is one on our financial results. And we hadn’t tied them together. So what I set out to do is to really change the industry conversation in our favour. How do we take all this great focused content and make it more relevant?

The problem was we weren’t really utilising all of the vehicles at our disposal. The first thing was let’s make sure the stories have more longevity across the buyer’s journey. And that they are touching all of our audiences. Then we looked at how we take that content, which can be technical, and up-level our messages to be more relevant to more audiences. We’ve been conducting training for four months with everyone in marketing, and with our PR agencies, to teach people how to do two things. One, if you are developing content, how do you make sure that what you are talking about is relevant to your audience? And two is vice-versa. If you are in an interview situation, how do you make sure you can lead people down the path to make it relevant to NetApp and make it relevant to them as well?

How big a factor did social media conversations about NetApp play in figuring out this strategy?
That’s just an ongoing dialogue. If you are writing a press release you have time to prepare. If you are in a live conversation, you have to already be thinking about this. We’ve got to get in front of our bloggers and Twitterers - most of the folks we use at a blogging or Twitter perspective are still technical. And a lot of the social media audience is technical, but how can we help them engage in more conversations?

Netapp wants to make storage sexy. Is that really possible?

I think it is. In the comms world, we like that. It’s a cool mantra. We always are asking how can we be bolder, more provocative? I take time in my staff meetings to say that every time you are given something to tackle, there are two things I want you to do: One, implement the awareness strategy. The second thing is, say how can I make the most impact with what we are trying to announce? For example, we were going to put this in a release but now we are going to make a landing page in a website. How do we take some of the platforms we have for our key spokespeople and make them bigger and better? How do we take our existing speaker’s bureau and make it a little more sexier? Maybe it’s a different type of audience, but we can expand their speaking charter.

So do you want your PR agencies to take risks?

You know, we do. We use the best of breed in every country. We allow individual countries to pick the agency that best meets their needs and I think that allows a lot of innovation. It’s a tough model to manage - people would say why do you have 15 agencies around the world? But what you get out of it is innovation. Because you allow the agencies to map to each country’s specific needs, and that breeds innovation.

NetApp is regularly ranked one of the best places to work. What role does internal comms play in this?

I have a team of people and HR also has an internal comms function. It’s a partnership, a roughly 50:50 split where we work together on projects across the company. Two years ago, for example, we implemented NetApp live, which is our intranet, giving employees an opportunity to dialogue. We take content, and allow employees to talk about it. I firmly believe that one of the reasons Netapp does so well is the company is extremely open with their employees. When I first arrived here seven years ago, I was frankly shocked. I could not imagine the information the executive team shares with its employees. But it makes for a more open culture, because employees feel engaged and empowered. As the company gets bigger, we have to make sure we maintain that. Our CEO has actually put a taskforce together to maintain the culture that we have - it’s one of the top business goals of the company.

Why are other companies less open?

I think it often depends on the size of the company. Once you are a public company, there is a hesitancy in terms of regulations, being careful in terms of information you share - if it gets out it may be detrimental to stock or growth. My first employee all hands meeting was on the second day of the job, and it was a culture shock. I was really surprised at how much they were willing to share. We actually feel there is transparency in the business, and it makes people better in their jobs. The biggest mantra is creating 11,000 advocates of the NetApp brand and in order to that, you have to give them information.

What is the toughest part of your job?

First is the scariest part of my job. Part of my job is crisis comms - and thinking about all of the things that could go wrong. I have a lot of peers in the industry, and we tap each other all the time - and I know what could go wrong. I take seriously my job of protecting the reputation of the company. We are fiercely loyal, and I take the reputation personally, and I want to be able to do anything I can to help the company and overcome something that might go wrong. That’s the biggest thing in terms of keeping me up at night. The second thing is as we get bigger and bigger, making sure we maintain the culture, and also making sure I can help people continue to think about all of the different audiences and help the market understand that storage is sexy and can actually help accelerate the business.