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Minds and Machines: My Q&A with GE’s Deirdre Latour

Photo Credit: General Electric

As one of the world’s most recognized business conglomerates, GE is the quintessential example of a brand that has completely transformed itself inside and out. Today, GE classifies itself as a digital industrial company, with more than 300,000 employees worldwide and an impressive presence in more than 180 countries.

I recently sat down with Deirdre Latour, Chief Communications Officer, GE, who shared her take on building a modern communications team and to understand how GE empowers its employees to be its most powerful story tellers for the brand.

Aaron Kwittken: After working at an agency for eight years, you joined GE as Chief Communication’s Officer at one of the most interesting and exciting times. Looking back, how did you arrive at the company? What changes have you experienced in your role as the worlds of paid, owned, earned and sponsored further collide?

Deirdre Latour: I’ve worked at GE for 13 years and have been Chief Communications Officer for the past two years. It’s an amazing time to work in communications. When I was recruited to join GE, I was initially unsure about the opportunity, given the location and my lack of familiarity with what GE did. After gaining a deeper understanding of the company’s mission and the brand’s future direction, I got the job. Now, thirteen years later, my job is completely different from where I started. We’ve gone through a financial crisis and various political cycles, and through it all, the transformation of GE and communications more broadly has been amazing to witness. When I started here, we were a tiny communications shop in Fairfield, Connecticut working on financial communications and issues management. Now, we’re a diverse team of more than 500 communicators who work in a fast, digital and social environment in more than 180 countries.

Kwittken: How have you built a modern communications team? Where do social, digital and marketing lie in terms of GE’s communications structure?

Latour: We view communications as completely boundaryless. There are no internal communications and external communications. Other companies tend to have corporate communications and organizational communications. At GE, we call it culture communications. The explosion of digital and social has changed the way people receive messages and how many messages they get. Companies can no longer communicate one way internally and another way externally. Internal communication is inherently external. There are no boundaries anymore.

In building a modern communications team, my mission was to “set our people free.” By that, we emphasize that GE is 300,000 people strong worldwide and we see our people as our biggest and best advocates and story tellers. We encourage them to go out into their communities, share our story and discuss the impact the company is making. Setting your people free can be scary for many companies because you can’t easily set strict rules on what employees can and can’t share. Instead, you have to hope your employees understand how to tell a story and can use social channels appropriately.