ThoughtSpot’s Ryan Mattison on Effective Communications During COVID-19

Editor’s note: This interview is part of Mission North’s Communications Pathfinders series, an ongoing forum with communications leaders who are sharing their perspectives about adapting to a new reality.

This has been a year like no other for communications professionals. With the coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, the election and more occupying much of journalists’ time and attention, thoughtful and authentic storytelling has never been more critical. At the same time, employees at many companies are working from home feeling isolated and uncertain, making internal communications equally important.

We sat down with Ryan Mattison, director of content and communications at search and AI-driven analytics company ThoughtSpot, to learn how smart communications professionals are navigating this environment. Ryan stressed the need to respect reporters’ time even more than usual and communicate transparently internally, and he shared with us which other companies’ communications strategies he has admired this year. 

How did COVID-19 impact your communications plans for 2020? What programs or initiatives did you need to rethink and what lessons can you share about the experience?

Like many B2B organizations, we’re focused on awareness, lead gen and deal acceleration. Those focus areas didn’t shift because of COVID-19, but the way we tackled them did. 

For example, events such as Gartner shows or the big Collision conference are important ways for us to get in front of potential buyers and show our product. We had to rethink our approach there, which meant reallocating budget to develop new types of virtual events that approached customer acquisition in different ways, and continuously reevaluating those efforts to determine which were working.

One of our most successful campaigns was The New Decision Makers, based on a report we produced with Harvard Business Review about how more companies are empowering their frontline workers with data. Having a compelling piece of original research that could fuel an entire campaign, including a microsite, webinars, white papers, blogs, customer stories, press, and social allowed us to cut through the noise and land a coherent, compelling message across a variety of channels.

How have you managed to engage reporters while respecting their more limited time and focus?

We’ve found that a campaign-driven approach is helpful, because a story that has depth and multiple elements to it can still break through and be appealing. For example, The HBR report had a tight focus and included new, valuable data that’s relevant to what businesses are going through right now. Reporters could see that it was worth shifting from their usual day-to-day coverage to explore it, because they could apply the data to the broader themes they were tracking.

Another way is through impactful customer stories that link the value of our product to the very real challenges businesses are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, with concrete examples. Mission North helped us secure a Wall Street Journal feature about how one of our customers, Canadian Tire, is using our product to navigate the pandemic. A story like that is a win at any time, but doubly so now because the retail industry is having to deal with so much change. The story created value for our customer and for us — but also for the reporter, which is important.

“A campaign-driven approach is helpful, because a story that has depth and multiple elements to it can still break through and be appealing.”

How has ThoughtSpot adapted its internal communications to maintain trust and engagement for its employees?

We’ve always been committed to transparency with our employees, and that’s really paid off during the pandemic. Whether an employee wants to look at data around our pipeline, or our customers wins, we make so much of our company data available through our own instance of ThoughtSpot. Having that visibility is reassuring when times are so uncertain. We’ve also been holding All Hands meetings much more frequently to ensure everyone feels connected and informed.

People also miss the water-cooler conversations they normally have, so our CEO, Sudheesh Nair, started hosting virtual coffee chats for 30 minutes where anyone could hop on and join him for some conversation. We’re doing what we can to recreate those real-world interactions in a virtual setting.

How have the disruptive events this year changed how you think about KPIs for a successful communications program?

The core metrics we track – quality, volume, message pull-through, social and organic online presence – haven’t changed much. But there are two pieces of advice I would call out for other communications professionals.

One is adding a layer of analysis around whatever campaign is most impactful for your company right now – whether that’s a report, customer stories, or something else. Look at what a specific campaign is bringing in and how it maps back to your broader benchmarks and goals. 

Another is that quality has become so much more important than volume. People have less time and less mental bandwidth than they did a year ago. They don’t have as much time to engage, so you may only get one shot to reach them. For us, that means tracking quality metrics more closely, whether that’s publication quality, message pull-through or other qualitative KPIs.

“Quality has become so much more important than volume. People have less time and less mental bandwidth than they did a year ago. They don’t have as much time to engage, so you may only get one shot to reach them.”

Can you think of any other B2B companies that you feel have communicated well during this challenging year?

Zoom has done a good job navigating this period. They grew 30-fold in a year, became a verb and evolved from a B2B company into the de facto video conferencing tool. All that early success came in the midst of their security challenges, like “Zoom bombing.” Being so successful in spite of that really speaks to the effectiveness of their communications. They essentially said, “We recognize these problems and we’re taking ownership and laying out a clear plan to fix them.” Giving Zoom to schools was also really effective PR.

Also, Dropbox had an internal campaign called Life Inside Dropbox which they made external during the pandemic. It’s impactful because it works just as well externally and it shows a human side of the company – like this profile of a Dropbox in-house chef sharing his favorite paella recipe. They’ve done a really nice job telling those stories.