Corporate PR Breaks Barriers Between Company & Customer

A guest post by Scott Gulbransen, Senior Manager of Public Relations/Social Media at TurboTax.

When Todd Defren asked me to hammer out a post for his blog while he’s basking on a sun-drenched beach somewhere, I was honored … and also disturbed that an image of him running down a beach in a Speedo popped into my head. I am not sure what that means, but, please trust that our relationship is purely platonic!

Being a corporate PR professional, the use of social media has changed our day-to-day job in a way that is transformational. If you had asked me five years ago about dealing with customers everyday on Twitter, I would have scoffed at the notion. But here I am, engaged in helping customers understand what we do, helping them solve problems and thanking them personally for being our customer.

While many large companies get heaps of praise for spending millions of dollars on “social media campaigns,” public relations professionals have a much different and, in my opinion, important role in shaping the future of social media.

We live in a time when customers demand more from us. No longer are monolithic corporations and the products they produce enough. Consumers today demand more attention, more of a voice and clear action when demanded. Companies and their PR staffs – and agencies – can no longer hide behind the media or behind closed doors in a high-rise.

The customer is knocking at the door and they demand real, one-on-one conversations.

In my view, there is no one better than in-house corporate PR staff to help drive culture change and remove the barrier between the company and the customer. It’s not just a function of customer services reps or phone centers to deal with customer complaints or issues. It’s not enough to have an email link where customers can send suggestions and comments that get lost in the bureaucracy. As professional communicators, we have to step up and lead the way.

It’s the role of PR in today’s socially minded companies to push the business toward change and open itself to more transparency and interaction with the consumer. As many a social PR guru has said in the past two years, it’s about putting the public back in public relations.

Companies and agencies that are doing social well, and in a deeply meaningful way, understand this and it’s producing bottom-line business results.

The question is: do you work for one of them? If not, how will you make your business become one?

Scott Gulbransen, when not listening to Van Halen or AC/DC loudly on his iPhone, is the Senior Manager of Public Relations/Social Media for Intuit’s TurboTax. In his role, he doesn’t get to live out his inner Eddie Van Halen much but he does lead social media and other communications efforts for the brand. You can follow him on Twitter @prgully, and his personal blog is found at

Posted on: February 15, 2010 at 11:00 am By Todd Defren
4 Responses to “Corporate PR Breaks Barriers Between Company & Customer”


  • steve defren says:

    Todd Defren in a Speedo is not a pretty site I can assure you. Terrific kid though :-)

  • Caite Vatcher says:

    Currently, I am a university student majoring in journalism with an emphasis in Strategic Communications. At this point in my college career, the pressure to find an internship is crucial. So, right now I’m working on introducing social media to a company in order to reach a different demographic. I completely agree with the idea that the PR staff in a corporation can drive a culture change. For the particular company that I’m partnering with, there is a huge disconnect between the European headquarters and American marketing. At times, European marketing and PR simply do not translate well to an American market. Likewise, this company wants to branch out and reach a young, female demographic. Yet, if they’re not online, there’s no hope of effectively reaching that demographic.

    For the up and coming college graduates who plan to go into the field of PR and marketing, our emphasis truly is on social media. If a company doesn’t have it, they need to get it soon. You’ll notice that several current corporate PR/Advertising internships are being “created” by students themselves to implement social media into the culture of a corporation. That’s my challenge right now and hopefully, my contribution will bring in results.

  • Humm…never thought that the problem was any ‘barrier’ between company and consumer, but rather the mindset within organizations that leads them to propagate useless branding and corp comm hype instead of truth. Social media doesn’t make truth-telling any more likely or accessible, though, and it promotes a lot of rumor and misleading information. Let’s start listing the corp comm departments that are really and truly speaking truth to the world, irrespective of HOW they do it.

    Here’s my entry for the list…er…um…I can’t think of one. But boy, a lot of them are very active in social media!

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