Communicators Conference Recap: Frank X. Shaw

Modern Communications: Evolution & Revolution

By Emily Skeen

Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president of communications, is always trying to come up with a good answer to the ever-present question, “So what is it that you do, exactly?”

As any good communicator knows, this can be difficult to explain to the average person. Answers like “Well I’m in PR,” will suffice, but people are often found still wanting. Lucky for Shaw, and all communication professionals, AMC’s hit Mad Men brought the American public a bridge to understanding. Instead of vague answers and confusion, Shaw’s conversations now go something like this:

“You’re in advertising? Oh, like Mad Men?”

“Yes, exactly like Mad Men.”

Well, sort of. Shaw, as dapper as Don Draper in his burgundy sweater, spoke to the challenges that communicators since Draper face: “Communications in a new era.”

Today a communicator’s landscape includes many facets that the Mad Men of the past never dreamed of. Influencers, analysts, digital media, online, employees, partners and the ever-changing world of social media all must be taken into consideration when deciding how to best communicate with publics. With so many options for sharing, the question must be asked, “Is it communications?”

Through compelling examples of different types of communications, Shaw proved that it doesn’t have to be an article in the New York Times or a text-heavy press release to be considered real communications.

After Google published false information about Microsoft’s bids for patents, Shaw demonstrated that you can drive a significant and positive news cycle through Twitter. Less than five hours after Google’s blog post went public, multiple online tech publications, including GeekWire, started telling the story from Microsoft’s perspective, thanks to a couple of choice tweets sent by Shaw.

Media weren’t interested when Shaw’s team originally pitched a story of research conducted and changes made on the 88-acre Microsoft campus. Instead of giving up, they put together a multimedia, interactive story, 88 Acres, How Microsoft Quietly Built the City of the Future, and posted it on Microsoft Stories. Journalist interest piqued after it was published, and the story that Microsoft told “their own way” was picked up by multiple publications, several that originally passed. This proved Shaw’s point that “if you have unique content that is good, the media will use it.”

Were these tactics communications? Absolutely.

These are only a couple of the intriguing examples given by Shaw on Friday morning. We enjoyed several other takeaways, including this rule Shaw received from his wife:

“No tweeting after two glasses of wine.”

This of course isn’t quite as Mad Men as his snappy outfit and bold approach to communications, but—as any Mad Men fan knows—it’s definitely advice to live by.

Follow Shaw on Twitter @fxshaw, and make sure to visit Microsoft Stories to get a peek behind the scenes at Microsoft.