Meet W2O Group’s Gary Grates
Gary Grates is a globally renowned, recognized, and respected expert in corporate and change management communications, internal communications, employee engagement, and corporate strategy execution. He received his Master’s from the Newhouse school and was named one of the school’s top “40” graduates. He has been referred to as the “thought leader” in change management communications and effective employee-management relations. In addition to being the principal at W2O Group, Grates is an adjunct professor in the Newhouse school, teaching a senior/graduate level course on strategic organizational communications. He is also the director of the W2O Group-SU Newhouse Center for Social Commerce.
W20 Group is the parent company of WCG, Twist Marketing, W20 Digital, and BrewLife. They are independent, complementary firms that offer integrated communications, marketing, business and technology solutions to organizations in diverse industries worldwide. W2O Group came to Newhouse this week for #SocialCommerce Days, and we had the opportunity to meet with Grates for an exclusive interview.
A: Public relations at its core affects every single part of the business. It is the ability to inform and impact how an organization operates from the way it plans its strategy, engages with its audiences, organizes its management model, directs its workforce, produces products, innovates, and collaborates. Every facet of the business is touched by public relations. If you feel like you can actually have that much of an impact on a business, I think that’s what makes you get up in the morning.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Public relations allows you to see the world through people and through human behavior, so that is a motivator because it’s not about a process or a set of rules. It’s about people, and that’s the key.
Q: What has been your proudest moment in your communications career?
A: I don’t know if there has been one moment. Any one of the positions I’ve held have been memorable for a number of reasons. I remember very early in my career having an opportunity to talk with somebody who had been with a company for many years, and I was able to develop a relationship and got a better sense of how much the company meant to this person and his family, and how the company acted and behaved. Just experiencing those kinds of things makes you think about what you do and how you do it. Also, seeing a lot of students I teach move on to have great careers and see them constantly learning and keeping in touch with me.
Q: What qualities do you think make a student successful?
A: The biggest qualities are the things you can’t teach. You can teach students communications and public relations, but you can’t teach them how to be curious. You can’t teach them passion, how to collaborate, have a thirst for learning, or take the extra step. You can’t teach someone to finish something and then say, “It’s not quite right. I have to take it to the next step.” When you are in college and looking at your career path, you have to know the basic nuts and bolts of any career, including public relations. But things to pay attention to are how much you really want to understand the profession, and how much you’re digging deep and pushing yourself.
Q: What qualities do you think make a person successful?
A: You have to have respect for other individuals. You’ve got to be able to relate to other people and be empathetic. You are dealing with multiple audiences, and they are seeing things through a different lens. You have to be able to understand how they are approaching things, and that helps you understand how you need to articulate something. You have to be able to listen with intent, and be able to understand how important context is in developing a position or argument.
Q: What is social commerce?
A: I think social commerce is the ability for an organization to basically understand that technology has given everybody a voice and a right to participate in the organization’s business. We always say in our firm that companies don’t own their brands anymore. Consumers now own the brand. Consumers will drive how the brand translates from one generation to another. Consumers direct product innovation and the way a company has to interact with its communities and constituencies. I think social commerce is this enveloping methodology and concept for how a business operates in an environment where everybody has an ability to have a voice. You have to build systems to deal with that. You have to be online and offline, and make sure it is a seamless situation. You have to be sensitive and savvy about how you use data and analytics to understand where conversations are taking place and where the marketplace is, and you have to have a very inherent understanding or self-awareness of where your company is as it evolves. Are you at an inflection point? Do you have to rethink your business model or strategy? Social commerce is kind of an overarching way of looking at all of that. Using technology as a catalyst for all those types of things.
Q: How far do you think communications professionals should take their education in social media?
A: You can’t now say social media is a course or a module. Social media is basically enveloping, just as social commerce is, everything that a communications professional is doing. Every facet is now part of a social environment. It is something that people now have to see through that lens. This is changing everything. It’s changing the way we gather information. It’s changing research, case study, curriculums, relationship building, content curation and development, and brand development. It is no longer, “Well, we have to get smarter about this.” Social commerce and social media are now how we are doing business. Just like how everything was digital a few years ago, and that kind of went away because digital just became a part of the business model. And I think the same thing is happening here.
Q: Do you have a personal message for Newhouse students?
A: Newhouse is a phenomenal place on a number of levels. Not just the education part, but the networks and relationships. You should use those to your advantage at all times. Secondly, the biggest thing you can have, putting aside social media, social commerce, and public relations, is to develop, at this age, a point of view. As you get into your career, your point of view is what differentiates yourself from everybody else. That’s something nobody can mimic. Your point of view is basically a set of all your experiences and how you hone your thinking. It’s how you approach problems, interact with people, think about things, gather information, and how you distill it. If you don’t make it something that’s in your conscience, you basically become like everybody else, and there will be no distinction. You have to say to yourself, “ Every time I have an experience, an interaction, every time I learn something new, I need to put that into my construct and figure out how does that make me think, and am I projecting that properly?” People hire and retain people they want to work with, and they want to listen to people that have a distinct point of view. And that means there is going to be some people that quite frankly don’t agree with you and that’s fine. I’d rather be distinctive and work with people who I can get things done and differentiate myself in the process. I think if you want to have a career that you’ll find to be something that is seen as of value, having a point of view really counts.