The Public Relations Strategist

Building and Enhancing Brand Character: Q-and-A With Paul Gennaro, SVP, Brand & Corporate Comms, and CCO, Voya Financial, Inc.

By John Elsasser

April 24, 2017

Paul Gennaro is senior vice president, brand and corporate communications, and chief communications officer, Voya Financial, Inc. At Voya, he oversees all internal and external communications, serving as a strategic adviser to senior management, setting the overall communications strategy, and both further defining and protecting the company’s reputation with key stakeholders. He reports to COO Alain Karaoglan.

Prior to Voya, Gennaro was senior vice president, corporate communications, and chief communications officer of AECOM. He has also held communications leadership roles for global brands such as Ingersoll-Rand, Dell and American Express. Gennaro began his career as a print/broadcast journalist and public affairs officer for the U.S. Navy.

What do you consider your top challenges today as a CCO?

Every challenge presents an opportunity, and I believe the greatest opportunity that we have — be it as a chief communications officer or a junior PR associate — is to take ownership of building and enhancing the character of the brand that we support.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” In an increasingly transparent society — and that’s a good thing — it is imperative that we build and maintain an honorable and authentic character for our brand.

Where does reputation management fall on your CEO’s priority list?

It’s absolutely a top priority for Voya Financial’s Chairman and CEO Rod Martin. At our leadership conference in February, Rod told more than 900 of our top leaders that “customers are increasingly seeking to do business with companies that are genuinely good.” He cited “our culture and the authentic character of Voya as a competitive advantage — and a differentiator — that will only become more important as we go forward.”

Rod also reinforced the valuable role that our leaders play “in advancing and protecting our culture and the character of our brand — for all of our current and future customers.”

How does the CCO work with the CEO and others in senior management to set an ethical culture?

First and foremost, Rod, our COO Alain Karaoglan, and our entire management team set the “tone at the top” for Voya’s ethical culture through their actions.

As Voya’s CCO, I see our authentic ethical culture as a valuable asset for our Brand and Corporate Communications team. An ethical culture is increasingly important with all stakeholder groups — including employees, prospective employees, customers, investors and legislators — and it must be genuine. Our communications team works with our senior management team to reinforce our ethical culture internally and differentiate our brand externally.

What are some challenges of managing a financial company’s reputation?

The opportunity that we have at Voya centers around our relatively new brand, which was launched just two-and-a-half years ago. When launching a new brand, an organization has a unique opportunity to define itself to the world. I use the analogy of an empty vessel representing a new brand. In our case, it’s an orange vessel that we have the opportunity to fill with differentiating brand and character attributes that define “what we stand for” — the true essence of Voya. Within the financial-services industry, and more broadly, we have established — and are building — our reputation and brand as a different kind of company that is committed to trust and transparency.

What advice would you offer someone just starting to implement ethics- and reputation-based communication programs?

There are some excellent materials available on best practices in ethics communications through the Ethisphere Institute, which annually recognizes the World’s Most Ethical Companies. Voya has earned recognition as a World’s Most Ethical Company in each year since it was established, and we have found Ethisphere to be a great resource. There are also excellent resources available through PRSA. And lastly, find me on LinkedIn and send me a note. I’m happy to help. 

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