RT: You lead global reputation and corporate positioning of the Yum! Brands portfolio of restaurant brands. How has the journey been?
JG: The journey has been rewarding and enlightening. In 2011, I joined Yum! Brands as the VP of Public Affairs while the company was accelerating its growth into China, India, emerging and developed markets while deepening its commitment to corporate social responsibility and global hunger relief. Almost 10 years later, we have transformed our business model with people, social purpose and technology at the forefront, grown to four brands across 50,000 restaurants in 150+ countries and territories, and are positioned to emerge—with some hard work, investment, empathy and partnership—as an even stronger company from the most challenging pandemic and period of social unrest we have seen in recent history.
RT: What does the world of communications lack that it needs to fix sooner than later?
JG: Strategically crafted messages and ideas have the power to shape cultures, movements and even the competitive advantage or potential of a company or brand. Expert communicators and reputation-builders must always stay focused on what communications, internal communications, public engagement and social impact can do to help realise a brand’s or company’s best performance and highest contribution to society.
RT: You began your career in banking. What led you to Public Relations?
JG: My first jobs in high school were in retail and as a university research laboratory assistant, which both helped me save money to leave home in San Antonio, Texas and attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. While attending Northwestern, my first professional job was in the commercial lending division of a Chicago banking branch now known as Chase Bank. Working there, with really supportive commercial leaders, opened my eyes to a career in business when previously I had been considering a more traditional route into law school. After finishing college, I started a career in management consulting with a specialty in human capital, change leadership, communications and mergers and acquisitions at companies like Towers Watson and Deloitte. In addition to earning my MBA, these multi-disciplinary experiences led me to my next phase of learning and leadership at public relations consultancies which wanted to leverage the skills I had learned helping Fortune 500 teams and organisations build strong strategies, reputations and cultures during times of change and crisis.
RT: What role can communicators play in ensuring diversity and inclusion in the organisations they serve?
JG: Work with your board of directors, C-Suite and Chief People Officer to see and approach equity, inclusion and diversity as transformative strategies, treating them with the same rigor one would address any important business challenge or opportunity. Think about the brands that are no longer in existence because they did not adapt to changing consumer or technology trends. The same obsolescence can happen when brands fail to understand and act upon the social landscape changing right around them. Create a vision and a movement to own it, then measure and report progress transparently. Ask your firms to bring diverse account teams to your company’s greatest challenges. Resist the urge to focus only on the optics of diversity, rather than the transformative opportunity it actually offers.
RT: What should the communication professional look forward to in 2021?
JG: More pivotal moments to be of service and counsel to their C-Suite who are learning to navigate the new social, environmental and public health landscape.
Jerilan Greene is Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer at Yum! Brands and Chairman & CEO at Yum! Brands Foundation. She is a Keynote Speaker at SPECTRA.
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