Using Internal Communication to Drive Enterprise Alignment

Episode 286

May 7, 2024

The Kula Ring is turning its focus to internal communications this week. We are sitting down with the great Tom Kehoe. Tom has brought a collection of expertise from his varied career in marketing and production to the internal comms team at his organization which has fostered growth, greater alignment and transparency across the enterprise. Tom walks us through the birth of some of these initiatives and how being proactive in your problem-solving is key to success.

Using Internal Communication to Drive Enterprise Alignment Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: I’m doing well, you know, happy to be here. Per normal.

Jeff White: Yeah, me too. Yeah.

Carman Pirie: Excited for today’s conversation?

Jeff White: Yeah. I think it’s interesting. And I’m not only saying that because the person we were chatting with has a similar background to mine, so I feel, you know, a kinship.

Carman Pirie: Oh. Oh, You’re trying to get some vicarious street cred.

Jeff White: There’s only so much to be found.

Carman Pirie: That’s true. That’s true. But, you know, it’s funny because, you know, sometimes marketing organizations just don’t seem to scale as fast as the organizations they serve. And in some ways, they don’t seem to. You know, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. So that is the crux of today’s conversation. I’m interested to dig into it.

Jeff White: Yeah, know me as well. So today we’re talking to Tom Kehoe. Tom is head of Creative Services and Digital Communications. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Tom. 

Tom Kehoe: Hey, great. Thanks, Jeff, and Carman, great to be here. 

Jeff White: You’ve come from a creative background. You’re now more of an internal comms kind of person. Tell us a bit about kind of how you got there. And because it is not a common journey. I mean, one thing I found with marketers within manufacturing distributing organizations is that they pull marketers from everywhere. It could be engineering, could be design, could be what have you. You know, it’s not necessarily just sort of the pure-play marketers who studied it in university. 

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, I mean, let me backtrack and my career, I guess as I started in and post-production in the Chicago market, which did anything from high-end corporate to the Oprah Winfrey Show, we used to do show opens and promos for them. They were a client whom I was assisting. And we did the movie review show called Siskel and Ebert Weekly. I was an assistant on that and realized that the product, the post-production world of television is more of a lifestyle career than a career career where you can kind of balance your family and such. So I jumped ship on that about two and a half, three years into it, and then went corporate. And when I went corporate, I went B2B, because B2B just offers so many different challenges of making what you would call kind of a snoozy snooze fest product. Interesting, right? So I started with cable ties and, and network products and got all the way. But there was one point where I was designing battery testers and designing media that marketed them. And this small stint in plumbing supply is now into chemical distribution, right? So when you get into B2B going, coming from a post-production television, high-end corporate world, the resources are there, right? You have a plethora of people in teams that you can put on the smallest things. What I realized getting into B2B was all of that is kind of put on you. Okay, so you’re a producer. You’re a director. You’re also the editor, and you’re taking something from concept into completion and you’re just basically leading that, that whole project. And that can be highly rewarding when you see something in the end. It’s I look at it as not only when you’re getting into non-linear editing for all the editors out there, you start with your timeline does nothing, right? You’re looking at and by the time you’re done with your production, by the time we’re done with your video, I always kind of look at my timeline and I go, Wow, look at all the layers. Look at all the effects I did. Look at how this lines up in the end. And that is really what’s required of you when you become a marketer or a production person in the B2B corporate world. I have friends who stayed in television and when they got out of television, they realized that when they tried to go corporate, they weren’t as desirable because they basically they knew how to just edit, right? Or they knew how to just run a camera. They didn’t know everything. And that, you know, when you when you’re coming into this world, that’s what they’re looking for. When you’re when you’re applying for some of the positions. So it becomes challenging in the end. Yeah.

Carman Pirie: It’s almost funny to imagine it in the reverse, right? You can almost imagine somebody coming from who was born and raised in the B2B space. And then if they showed up, you know, on one of, you know, one of what you experienced, one of the, you know, the Siskel and Ebert show or what have you, they’d be like, what are all these people standing around doing? Like, I didn’t know that this many people could show up at a meeting.

Tom Kehoe: Yeah. And that’s that’s so true. I mean, one of the highest rewards I got from this is being versatile like this. And I didn’t really realize the versatility because it was just kind of something that had to do, right? There was a time I was just working on websites and I wasn’t doing production because really my background was in video production and video production graphics because that’s where the opportunity presented itself to me. So, you know, I worked for a company called Midtronics for years, who was eventually my division was eventually bought by Franklin Electric, but animatronics. I worked with a lot of engineers and you talk about bringing engineers into the marketing space, right? Well, the engineers brought me into the engineering space, so it kind of works both ways. And I started doing product design with the CAD engineers and worked out of the casing, and they used to do the key parts for their testers. And that got me a couple of patents, which I never would have expected in my career to be, to have patented any type of design. But they found it important to do that and I’ve had engineers come up to me in the company going, you know, I work all my life. This is what electrical engineers strive to do, is get to get on a patent and you’ve got to and you’re not an engineer, right? But, you know, frankly, one of them’s ornamental because it’s based on that design. Right? It’s based on how he designed the tester. It’s based on the keypad, on the tester being pretty unique. And it’s also based on not getting copied from the competition because, yeah, a lot of people, you know, these are expensive products and other markets would copy the look and feel to try to sell them at a cheaper rate. So yeah, it’s that versatility and moving forward of being asked to do things that you really have to base a career in marketing, production, comms, whatever, wherever they put you in a company. Okay, Because I’ve been in marketing, I’m in comms now. We partner with marketing wherever they put you for your unique talents, right? That versatility has to play through.

Carman Pirie: But how do you? I mean, it’s one thing to in some ways embrace your own versatility and the multiple skill sets that you can bring to a role. In my experience, some people are a little bit more open to leaning into that than others and maybe develop it a bit more naturally than others. How do you tend to think of it in leading an organization or bringing people into the team? I guess how do you encourage that same level of versatility and exploration with newer team members who maybe don’t bring the same experience that you bring?

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, You know, number one, there becomes a certain interest, right, of going beyond what your job is for some people and then there and other ends there becomes skepticism that you can actually do it okay with people that are inexperienced. I’m going to take an example of one of our latest examples. Okay. I was given the challenge of cost savings, which is really the top but top selling point of what I do, right? Being versatile saves companies money and keeps me active and keeps me happy, frankly, is that, you know, we do a lot of live streams for top executives. We have we have fantastic leadership. I say that wholeheartedly and I say that genuinely is that they care and they really want to communicate everything that’s going on to the employees. So when I started there two and a half years ago, we would hire an outside service to do it. And, you know, that gets being, you know, you’re familiar with the cost of doing that. It’s very expensive. It’s in the tens of thousands of dollars every time you do it. And it’s, you know, it kind of hits home. So I was given the challenge, how can we save on this? And, you know, and we have an up-production background and I’m like, well, we can do this, but it’s just like playing an instrument or something, right? I could buy the nicest bass, and if I don’t know how to play it, it looks great right? Here it is. I could look at it. But if I don’t know how to play it, it doesn’t do much. Well, you could buy all this video equipment, but if you don’t have people running it, what good is it going to do to you? It doesn’t run itself, right? So that was the skepticism given by some of the some of the producers that we had. Is that great? But they bring in a crew of like five people to run these, to run cameras, to one to be the technical director around the switcher, a true director and such. So basically I had to say, well, they can take every resource we have and get them into something that they may be interested in and subside the skepticism a bit and do some training. They may have some interest. I approach it in a very open way, a very exciting way. I took our digital marketer, I need to train you on our podcast equipment. Well, that translated into when we’re doing livestreams. Hey, guess what? You’re going to run audio. When we do these, you’re going to be our audio engineer and I’m going to train you on the basic things that you need. And she just embraced it hook, line and sinker. Right? It’s just another skill because I think people today, you know, you could talk about Gen Z and millennials and all of them not wanting to do things. But I do think when you give them versatile challenges, that keeps their interest. And that’s what I was doing at that point, was giving them the younger people on and on our staff some just versatile challenges and they really took to it. So it’s just a matter of, you know, bringing down the skepticism, staying positive, showing that it can be done and doing it. To be honest with you, the biggest challenge we had when we did this was the stream connection and working with IT, you know, getting through, getting through any challenges that buildings block and making sure we have the right, the right bandwidth to get to all of our sites.

Jeff White: I find that really hard to believe. I mean, it is never a roadblock for anything. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I’m just curious how long have you been doing it internally versus running it externally?

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, we started last October was our first stream. So last year that was my big project, right? I took about, I literally took about three months to research and the right way to go equipment-wise and get everything into place. I went with the hardware solution because going with a computer software solution at a big corporation, you know, you don’t want to do that. IT will block a lot of computers, so. But yeah, we did the research and we did it. I would call it a success. We broadcasted it we noticed some things with our signal that had to change. We had to upgrade because we’re a team platform and Teams isn’t the best for streaming, but that’s what we’re on. So we’ve upgraded our teams to premium and that went through. Then we did the next. So there’s always a challenge with these right? Because I built a studio and the next one was in New York. Well, when we set this up, we never set it up to travel. Okay? We set it up to travel within a building. We never set it up to travel in shipping. Now, I did set it up in rack cases. I did set it up. We know there are casters and rack cases and everything, but it’s great when the CEO says he wants to do it, we do it. So the next one was in New York and we did it from a meeting room in a Hilton and again, went over fine. So I’ve done four streams so far. Our next one’s going to be in Texas now because we have an office in Texas. 

Jeff White: Oh, so you get you can move it to New York. Well, guess where else we’d like it to be, sir? 

Tom Kehoe: Yeah. So it’s. Yeah, it’s you know, I don’t take it as a negative, right? I just take it as the next challenge. Right. It’s a challenge. And that’s where you can find fun in B2B comms and B2B marking as you look at it and you go, okay, let’s do it again. And you know, it’s two people on my team in Texas, so that’s easy, right? So let’s get that over. Let’s get to the meeting room. I was there last week scouting the room and I’ll be there. I’ll be there at the end of the month doing the actual broadcast. So there you go.

Carman Pirie: Now, I admit I’m asking somebody who may be a little biased here, but if you had to kind of step back and look at the last four that you’ve created versus the previous four that were done externally, do you think that you’ve hit the same quality mark? Do you think you’ve surpassed it? Do you think you still have some work to do? I appreciate there’s going to always be some growing pains in getting this going, but you’re going to see those more than your audience.

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, I mean, great question. Thank you for asking it. You know, our service did a great job. The service that we hired was nothing on them that that we discontinued with them. And in fact, there are backups if something happens. Right. And I just talked to our producer last week, actually about all of this. I would say we’ve surpassed it basically because of service, they have their way, they have a formula and they run that formula every time we switch the room around where we used to broadcast, we made we shot towards windows basically and made canvases that went in the windows. We did a better set. And there are just more things in your control when you’re doing this. So if I set up the studio in our biggest meeting room and it’s set up in there for a month, we close that meeting room down for a month, that becomes a big political issue at times. But you know, you take one of the meeting rooms out, but you set it up and then you have time to go in and really fine-tune what you want to do to where you’re setting up a service. They come a day before the production. They set up a rehearsal. The next day you do a show, they break down the equipment, and they leave right. Here we’re trying things. Where? Rehearsing. We’re thinking about other things they could do because there’s a studio setup we have. It’s like having a lab as a chemist, right? I’m going to go into the lab and I’m going to. 

Carman Pirie: Experiment with some things.

Tom Kehoe: Experiment, right? So we experiment and I say we surpassed it and we definitely surpassed it because we have more control. 

Jeff White: The one thing I find really interesting about that, you know, you talk about the speed and efficiency and therefore cost of an outside provider. You know, you’ve had you’ve been challenged with cutting costs overall, but you need to spend more time to kind of elevate it to the level that you’re really happy with, especially if you’re producing it yourself. Were you able to achieve the goals that were set out for you, even with the extra effort from the internal team? 

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, unbelievably, yes, we were. And there’s more reward to it than than originally predicted because the reward to it is that as a comms team we all we all get along. We all work together, but we don’t work on every project together. Right. We’re always doing for a lot of us are doing separate projects for one another. That’s how that’s how all the projects lay out. This is the one project that we all do together. So the teamwork aspect of it, right, and the positivity that came out of it is, it’s rewarding. It’s ultimately rewarding because it just helped us grow. You want to talk about a great team-building activity. This is one and this is one that’s valued, right? It’s not like we all went axe throwing and, you know, and figured out how to be a team because we’re all throwing axes or something. Right. That’s one of the great team-building activities right now.

Carman Pirie: Which by the way, is really quite fun. Oh, okay. Carry on.

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, it is fun. Yeah, it is fun. But this was something that you learned. You learned a skill that’s worthwhile in your career, right? You and I now have trained somebody on audio and she can go and do other podcasts If she wanted to someday write you alert, you got a skill out of it.

Carman Pirie: It’s a great free prize inside. There’s no question that I can see that team building aspect to bringing everybody into that makes total sense. I wonder if there’s no way I can ask this question without imbuing it with a level of self-reference criteria. So I’m going to be more explicit about my self-reference criteria. As a result, I used to work for a large power utility and in a shared services organization. And, you know, we saw a lot of our values early on, I think, as the people that could come in there and do it cheaper. Um, and then I think after a while there was a bit of a switch that we encountered where we’re like, Wait a second, it’s not about us doing it cheaper. It’s actually about us doing it better.

Tom Kehoe: Mm-hmm. 

Carman Pirie: Um, so I, I know I’m kind of putting words in your mouth, potentially is teeing it up that way, but I’m curious. Have you seen a similar progression? Because when you were talking about versatility, it felt to me like a lot of that was, you know, we can do it cheaper because we’re more versatile. But I kind of really like the fact that you told me at the end ended up doing it better.

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, well, I am a quality-minded person, highly, highly. You could take that as a great interview question like when they ask you what are your, what’s your downside, Right? You know, it’s like you don’t think of yourself on a downside. But I will tell you that I’m a perfectionist and quality means a lot to me, right? We, as part of my job, I’m the brand champion for our solutions. That’s part of this role. And we run our brand guidelines. And, you know, that’s that’s a tough job. And any organization, big or small, because there are people that just go off-brand quite a bit because they want to be creative. Everybody wants to be creative. You know, that’s something that is clear and passionate and very close to my heart. I used to teach classes in branding, and when I see something fall off, I get I, I get upset, Right? And that’s the quality of it is that, you know, it affects me when I see something like that. So if I’m putting out bad work, something I don’t see as high quality, it affects me. And when I’m leading a team or I’m training somebody, I spent 14 years as a teacher as well, teaching college-level students. If I don’t see quality, if I’m not if I’m not pushing through what I feel is high quality and getting them ready, I’m not doing my job right. And it’s it’s a sense of pride for me, right? So, yeah, do it, do it cheaper, do it better. There are ways. That’s why you read my profile on LinkedIn. I’m a versatile problem solver. That’s how I define myself and uhh that just brings so much pride.

Carman Pirie: I’m imagining a scenario two years from now where the argument is or what’s being proposed to the executive is we actually want to spend 2x what the external people were charging, but we’re going to do it 10x better. I feel like that’s there anyway.

Tom Kehoe: Yeah. Yeah. Well, if they told me that, I’d say okay.

Carman Pirie: So I mean, I appreciate that’s not the reality of corporate America. And 2024 is, is not about tripling budgets, it’s about cutting them in half.

Tom Kehoe: So yeah, right, exactly. But I still say, okay. 

Jeff White: Tom, what’s you know, as we wind down the show here, you know, you’ve been growing the skill level of this team and finding ways to get them on board with the sense of quality and everything that certainly in your ethos where are you going next. 

Tom Kehoe: Yeah. What’s next? Oh, God. What has to be exciting is there’s always something unpredictable coming in. Okay. You know, the New York one that was unpredictable, shooting in, going to Texas at our office in Texas was unpredictable. Right, where can we go with it? I don’t know. It’s really it’s hard to say what’s going to come our way next. But that’s what makes it exciting, right? I mean, I could foresee I can predict that we’re actually going to build a permanent studio at some point because it makes it more flexible. That’s something we’re pursuing right now, is finding a space we’re probably going to move out of our office space, and that’s going to be a plan to put something permanent in there. So I’m not rolling my rack cases all around setting up for more locations. We’ll probably do one out of the country at some point, So that’ll be another challenge that comes our way from a strange side and from a podcast side, more podcasts and whatever technology comes into play, right? Well, let’s see how AI plays into this. I don’t know. I’m not a huge fan of AI, but it’s there. And even though you’re not a big fan of it, you have to embrace it because that’s what it is.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, it doesn’t seem to matter or care whether or not you’re a fan of it. That’s it.

Tom Kehoe: Yeah. Yeah, it is what it is, right? It’s hard to tell you what’s coming when things come at you and you can’t predict them. So I can predict some, but the unpredictable. I’ll just keep saying yes, and we’ll just keep moving forward. Right. That’s what it’s all about. It’s evolving, becoming, becoming versatile. That’s that’s what a career in this is.

Carman Pirie: I look forward to continuing to watch it. It’s a fascinating story, and I just think that such a small, high-impact team, it’s a really great story of exceptional impact. Thank you so much for sharing with us Tom. It’s been great to have you on the show.

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, thanks for having me on and discussing this. It’s that’s rewarding as well. So thank you for letting me talk about my team and talk about this situation because it’s the nearest and closest thing to what’s going on. And in my versatile career right now.

Jeff White: I’m reminded of a tweet I saw last week from Barack Obama. And I don’t think it matters what side of the political spectrum you fall on. And given the Chicago connection, I thought it would be worthwhile to share it here. But he was talking about how, you know, the people who succeed in life are the ones who, when presented with a problem in you know, in a work type context or whatever, are the ones who look at it and say, huh, I don’t know, but I can figure this out and I can solve that problem and move on to the next thing. And I think I shared that with my kids. And I just find that anybody who can kind of look at something like that and say, hey, you know, I really haven’t done that before or I’ve played around with something on the periphery of that, but I’m willing to figure that out and to pass that thought process and that desire and that interest level of problem-solving and being that versatile employee is not the right word, but team member maybe is. I think it inspires a lot of confidence in those that you’re leading. So I applaud you on on bringing that to them. It’s a it’s a pretty inspiring story. Tom, thanks. 

Tom Kehoe: Yeah, thank you so much. It’s truly what I live for, really, other than family life, right? It’s it’s truly what I loved. That’s truly what I love to do. I’ll put it that way, right? You could have a career in anything, but if you’re asked to be a problem solver and you can do it, it’s one of the greatest rewards and brings you one of the greatest sense of pride when you see it done.

Carman Pirie: Very cool.

Jeff White: Thank you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at that’s  K-U-L-A partners dot com slash the kula ring.

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Tom Kehoe Headshot


Tom Kehoe

Head of Creative Services and Digital Communications

Self-described as a hands-on, versatile collaborative problem solver with a reputation for consistently exceeding expectations, Tom welcomes creative challenges of all types. He has a high comfort level and an excellent track record of positively impacting businesses in roles directing projects from concept to completion.
With a background in video production that started with assisting on television shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, Siskel and Ebert, A&E specials as well as commercials and corporate work for large companies like Frito Lay, Coca-Cola, and Cisco Systems, Tom utilized his experience and training to shift and make an impact in B2B marketing and communications.
For the past 27 years he has had opportunities to produce and execute deliverables ranging from animation, large format graphics, interior design, product design, software interfaces, and more. His versatility has earned him two patents in product design and function as well as an ANA B2 award the podcast Smart Acids, in which he co-produces, engineers, and edits. Tom has also had opportunity to teach and mentor at the college level for both students and instructors.
Tom’s advice to those in creative careers is not to simply look at the subject matter that you are developing and promoting, because let’s face it, B2B usually does not produce the most exciting products and services, but to embrace the challenge and excel in your results.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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