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.

Year in review: Piper Communications 2020

By Cortney Piper

It goes without saying that 2020 didn’t turn out like any of us expected it would. Right before the pandemic hit, Piper Communications had one of its best years ever. We were looking forward to building upon the momentum we gained in 2019. 

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, ravaging every corner of American life and we — like every other small business around the world — had to think critically about what our next steps would be. We had to learn to navigate the “new normal” when no one knew what was coming next. It was time to pivot, strategize and be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. 

To face this uncertainty, I drew from lessons I learned as an NCAA Division I athlete at the University of Tennessee. As a distance swimmer, I understood that no matter what, you must keep moving forward. You might be tired or having a bad day, but you must find the strength to keep your body moving and finish the race. 

I started this company in 2008 with the same level of determination. Our goal is to deliver results to our clients. Period. We are problem solvers, subject-matter experts and trusted members of our clients’ teams. In this pandemic, we have been extremely fortunate to be able to keep our heads down, roll up our sleeves and get our work done. So many other small businesses and major organizations did not have this option.

In the field of public relations and strategic communications, we have the privilege of being able to innovate and think outside of the box. Once it was unsafe to work side-by-side in the office, we transitioned to working from home and holding Zoom staff meetings. When we realized in-person events weren’t going to be a possibility, we  held an entirely virtual Innov865 Week for the Innov865 Alliance, launched the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council’s Advanced Energy 101 Series and so much more. We continue to find new solutions and rethink the way “things have always been done” every single day. I believe many of us now have a greater understanding of technology and how to use it more effectively moving forward.

This year has made me realize that many of us (myself included) have taken face-to-face interactions for granted. I’ve learned to be more intentional and make time for even the smallest of conversations that used to happen organically and randomly. It might take more time, energy and focus, but these kinds of interactions help us all do our jobs better. 

This year, our clients worked hard and discovered new ways to tackle the unique challenges. In Tennessee, the advanced energy industry has kept its eye on the prize, identifying the need for more robust and modernized electrical and transportation infrastructure. TAEBC and other clients operating in this sector have recognized this need and doubled down on their missions, which gave us more opportunities to work with them and amplify their efforts and message.

We are also fortunate to work with the Innov865 Alliance on developing Knoxville’s entrepreneurial strong and viable economy. This year, many entrepreneurs either directly contributed to COVID-19 relief efforts or pivoted their business models to help fight this pandemic. Working with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, we have had the pleasure of sharing the vital work of incredible innovators who are working hard to further their fields and help others in need every day. One of these creators is Dr. Peter Tsai, the inventor behind the filtration media in N95 respirators, who came out of retirement to fight COVID-19. For his courageous efforts, he won the Innov865 Impact Award at Startup Day 2020.

We have also had the pleasure of working with forward-thinking clients who seek to change the way business is traditionally done. This year, our team enjoyed promoting the research and ideas of Wärtsilä’s Path to 100% initiative to help identify the fastest, most affordable and reliable ways to reach a 100 percent renewable energy future. Working with Edge Greentech, we have learned an innovative approach to risk financing for greentech projects. With Coquí Pharma, we have been amazed at their dedication to create a commercially scalable and reliable supply of medical diagnostic and therapeutic radioisotopes in our country. Overall, we are proud to work with all our clients who consistently challenge the status quo and reimagine new possibilities and futures for their employees, industries and world around them. 

Moving into 2021, I know that I and many other small businesses owners believe that without our teams, none of our success would be possible. At Piper Communications, our team has embodied and exhibited the core values of our firm every single day and kept moving forward — even when it would have been easier to tap out of the race. We persevered through this tumultuous year and I am extremely grateful to each and every one of them. Thank you to my team, our clients and the Knoxville community for making Knoxville the best place to live, work and play — even during a global pandemic.

Find out more about Piper Communications, how we got our start, our growing team and expertise in this month’s Startup Knox Podcast.