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Communicators need a PR agency with Dawn Buzynski | On Top of PR podcast

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Collaborating with a PR agency with guest Hy-Vee’s Dawn Buzynski and show host Jason Mudd episode graphicLearn why corporate communicators should collaborate with a PR agency to better share brand messages with Dawn Buzynski of Hy-Vee



Our episode guest is Dawn Buzynski, Director of Strategic Communications at Hy-Vee. She oversees the communications initiatives designed to promote and elevate the brand.



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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. The benefits of the having a PR agency mindset while working in corporate communications 

  2. How to highlight employees at your company  

  3. The difference between working at a PR agency vs. a corporate communications role

  4. What are pros and cons of working with a PR agency vs. working with an ad agency with a PR department 

  5. Why corporate communicators need a PR agency’s help


  • “Having a learner mentality is important if you decide to transition your career to the agency side.” — @dawnbuzy

  • “Having category expertise is the primary area you need to consider in your search for an agency.” — @dawnbuzy

  • “If you don’t have a PR agency helping you communicate during a pandemic, it’s not too late, hire one.” — @dawnbuzy

  • “Communicators need to be at the decision-making table.” — @dawnbuzy

If you enjoyed this episode, would you please share it with others and leave us a review?


About Dawn Buzynski:

Dawn is an accredited public relations practitioner (APR) with more than 20 years of experience in communications and marketing. Her expertise encompasses public affairs, media relations, social media, and digital communications. She has experience in both B2B and B2C communications in various sectors, such as government affairs, education, nonprofits, real estate, and industrial manufacturing.


Guest’s contact info and resources:

Sponsored by:

  • On Top of PR is produced by Axia Public Relations, named by Forbes as one of America’s Best PR Agencies. Axia is an expert PR firm for national brands.

  • On Top of PR is sponsored by ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.

  • We are thrilled to have Burrelles sponsor our solocast episodes. Thanks to Burrelles for its support. Burrelles has a special offer exclusively for On Top of PR fans. Check it out at burrelles.com/ontopofpr.

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Jason Mudd's image

About your host Jason Mudd

On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.



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- Hello and welcome to On Top Of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd with Axia Public Relations. Today we're talking to Dawn Buzynski with Hy-Vee Supermarkets. Dawn is gonna talk about how she's recently transitioned from agency world into a corporate communications role with Hy-Vee. And she's gonna share some of her advice to going about hiring an agency, working with an agency and the importance of being with an agency during this pandemic. Beyond that, though, she's gonna talk about food insecurity and other timely topics that we think you'll find really interesting as you are on top of PR.


- [Narrator] Welcome to On Top Of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.


- Hello and welcome everyone to On Top Of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd with Axia Public Relations. This episode is brought to you by our friends at ReviewMaxer. I've got today with us Dawn Buzynski. Dawn is with Hy-Vee. She's recently transitioned from working in the agency world into working in corporate communications with Hy-Vee Supermarkets. Dawn, welcome to the show. We're glad you're here.


- Hi, thank you for having me.


- You're very welcome. It's an honor to have you. I'm glad you're here. And I think our audience is gonna be glad that they tuned in. I wanna introduce you briefly and then kick it back to you to introduce yourself a little bit more. But you and I are both Accredited Public Relations Practitioners and we are practicing in corporate communications. We both seem to have about 20 years of experience in communications and marketing. Your expertise is public affairs, media relations, social media and digital communications, both in B to C and B to B space in a variety of sectors including government, education, public affairs, real estate and industrial manufacturing. Did I capture it all?


- Yeah and now you can add grocery.


- That's right. Yes.


- Food and grocery.


- Food, beverage, grocery, retailing. You do it all, Dawn. Yeah.


- All right, so tell us a little bit more about yourself.


- Well, you hit the high marks. I would say that in my career I've had an opportunity to not only as we were talking about working in the agency side, but I've also worked on the nonprofit side. And corporate side now. I was a corporate for a hot second about 10 years ago and then went back to the agency side. So most of my time has been with the agency but I have spent quite a bit of time in almost every sector having a communicator role within whatever that role or that company or organization was. And really the role is just slightly different. We have the same principles, the same foundation on strategic communications but it plays out a little differently depending on where you're at and what that organization is. For instance, here at corporate, I have a very defined role and although the team, we all jump in and we help each other out and we're very collaborative, I still have a very specific defined role within the organization. And then on the nonprofit side, when you work for a nonprofit, you're wearing a lot of hats. So you're not only the communicator but then you're also doing event management and then you're doing some fundraising as well. You're involved in the fundraising. And you're probably doing the newsletters and having to really learn digital and learn the marketing side of things as well. So all of those experiences has always led me down a path that just made me a stronger, better communicator and has always served me well in the next role that I took.


- Yeah, that sounds great. I came up in a tech startup space and then went non-profit and before that worked nonprofit. And so I like to tell people, I learned from nonprofit and startup world to be extremely frugal and extremely resourceful and to use your tools and relationships to get as much value and outcomes as possible for my clients and the companies that I've worked with. So, Dawn, what is your exact title and role there at Hy-Vee?


- I am Director of Strategic Communications. This was a new role. It's a new position. And how this came about is again grocery business. We're grocery. And we operate in eight states, eight Midwestern states. And so we are an essential business. And when the pandemic hit, the communications team which it's fairly small considering how large our company is, but really the senior vice president and one of the other directors in the department, they were just in crisis communications mode. The whole team was in crisis community implications mode. But as the pandemic had continued and they realized it was gonna be very much a long game, there was a need and they defined an opportunity where they were on the defense and then they needed to build in offense on communications. So they determined that they wanted to create a director role where the focus is elevating the brand. So there's another director in our department and then our senior vice president, is really primary focus is defending the brand right now and just focused on those crisis communications points and just staying ahead of things and where my role is to find those opportunities where I can elevate the brand. So for instance, that is really focusing on our corporate social responsibility initiatives. So the event that I was at before, food insecurity is a big part of that. It's a very big pillar of our CSR initiatives. And so doing events and doing communications around that. Also making sure that our brand story and the storytelling aspect of communications is coming out very strategically and integrated across all of our channels, media relations, but also how are we telling our story on social and how are we engaging with everybody on social? And then also with our digital platforms and our e-commerce. And then also internal communications. We have 88,000 employees. So those are people that need to know what's going on and we want them to know what we are doing to keep Hy-Vee moving ahead and being innovative and really taking care of our customers and taking care of them and our customers during the pandemic. So it really is a... It's like I'm still in an agency because what I tell people is I have clients, I have stores and they are my clients because I'm helping them communicate in their communities. And then I have the other departments as well and they are my clients. I'm helping the marketing team. I'm helping the loyalty program team. I'm helping the e-commerce team. So really that agency mindsets has been very, very beneficial as we really bringing this position into life and seeing where it really plays the strongest.


- Dawn, I'm exhausted. I think I need to take a nap. That is a lot of work that you're doing. And holy cow, good for you. So Dawn, you've mentioned several things that I thought were very interesting for our audience, including life at an agency versus life on client side and how you are acting like an agency internally. You've got a lot of hats that you're wearing, et cetera. But first, you mentioned earlier, food insecurity. Let's talk about that for just a minute. Paint a picture for me what that's like and how you're trying to solve it.


- Well, food insecurity is always been... It's been a problem in our country for a very long time. But at the start of the pandemic, what Feeding America has told us is food insecurity has risen 55% since the beginning of the pandemic. It was a big problem before and now it's another epidemic. And so what we want to do, Hy-Vee wants to do in the eight states that we operate, it is our goal to eliminate hunger in those communities that we serve. Now, that's a very aspirational goal but we know that if we put our resources, our supplier relationships and then our communities partners and then also our employees, we know we can make a difference and be part of making that trend go down.


- Excellent. Well, I'm all for that. And thank you for your efforts there. And you've said earlier, you mentioned you've just gotten back from an event and that was a feeding event where you were offering food to the community. That's great. I think one thing that we didn't cover and I think it's very important that we do is let's establish Hy-Vee where it's located, you mentioned the number of states, which states, how many locations and what makes Hy-Vee unique. Clearly there's some big fans out there but there's gonna be some people in our audience who have never been to a Hy-Vee before.


- Okay. We are Midwestern based supermarket chain. We have 275 locations across eight states in the Midwest. We began 90 years ago in Iowa. And so our home base is in Iowa but we also have stores in Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. I hope I got them all.


- Sound like it.


- We are 275 locations, 88,000 employees. But what really makes us unique is that we are truly employee owned. So we have employees that have been with us for 40 up to 50 years. When we were celebrating our 90th anniversary last October, we found, we didn't find, but we highlighted one of our employees who was celebrating 90 years the same year. He was born the year that Hy-Vee started. And so it was fun to just celebrate that he had been a Hy-Vee employee for, I wanna say more than 50 years. So it's really that employee ownership mentality that really makes a special. We really feel strongly that we are a part of the community and we have responsibility to the communities that we serve. And every employee that comes in and has a Hy-Vee tag on it really feels that and lives that.


- Well, that is an incredible story. That person still working for the company or had already retired?


- Well, I think he was getting ready to retire and hang his hat up. His name's Denny. And I think he was in the... I believe he was in one of the Sheraton, Iowa stores.


- Okay, very cool. That's great. Well, PR is all about great storytelling and conversations. And so to bring somebody into the spotlight for that commitment with the company and that timing of being born the same time the company was launched is pretty impressive. Hy-Vee has a great reputation and that played a big role in you deciding to take this opportunity.


- Yes, it was. I had been in agencies, working for agencies for 15 years. I worked for three different agencies. And I always thought, that's where I'm gonna be, that's where I thrive and I never wanna leave agency side. But I always said, if I was to leave the agency and go on the client side, it would be for one of two companies here in Iowa and Hy-Vee was one of them. So when this opportunity presented itself I jumped at it and it's a good fit. So the timing, it was just everything aligned with that. The position itself was almost written for me. I felt like I was stepping into a role where I was already doing on the agency side but I get to do it on the client side. So with what I'm doing here, it very much feels like I'm still agency side, but I get to focus on one brand. And then that allows me to really dig deeper and to really get into some storytelling. One thing about the agency side is the diversity of the different companies and brands that you get to touch and to elevate. That's exciting. It's new. You get to learn new things. Whenever you have a new client you get to learn their industry. But sometimes I always felt that I just didn't get to dig deeper into their company, their brand story for various reasons, times, budget mostly but here I get to really dig deep and it just allows the creativity to flow better.


- Nice. Dawn, we're gonna take a quick break and be right back with more. So stay with us and our audience stay with us as well. Before we do that we just wanna give a shout out to ReviewMaxer who without their support this episode wouldn't be possible. So thank you for ReviewMaxer who provides monitoring and managing of your online reviews. Check them out at reviewmaxer.com/ontopofpr where they have a special offer for our audience.


- [Narrator] You are listening to on top of PR with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.


- Welcome back. We're finishing our episode here with Dawn Buzynski with Hy-Vee talking about her new position there. And we're about to start talking about client and agency relationships and so much more. So glad you're still with us. And here we go. We're gonna jump right back in. So Dawn, you have had the pleasure of working a client side as well as agency side. I'm thinking about the audience that is tuning in that has never worked agency side or maybe only worked agency side and not client side. So in just a brief response, can you just give us some insight into what's the difference between the two employment opportunities and what should those individuals be looking for as they're making a decision if they wanna go agency or if they maybe wanna go corporate? What do they need to know?


- Well, let's first talk about somebody who's agency side now and is considering corporate. What I would say is, especially now with the pandemic, no matter where you are at, where you're working, if you are a corporate side now or your agency side, having that agency mindset is critical for anybody who's communicating during a pandemic. That is something that has served me well. And in this transition I've really had to keep that agency hat on for a while just because we've been pivoting so quickly on things. And even though we are doing strategic planning the pandemic is really driving a lot of how we need to communicate. So we have to stay agile. We have to move quickly and we have to communicate quickly. So having that agency mindset is something that I don't plan to shift away from and I don't think I ever will. It's so much a part of me now. It's hardwired. That has been something that has really proven to be a very much a positive in this transition is just that ability to think fast on your feet, adapt and move forward. If you're corporate going to agency side, what I would say is you are going to be learning a lot so just really get back into that idea of learning and being a sponge and absorbing because if you're used to just being very focused on one brand in an agency, you might know a certain industry very well but then there are other industries that might come across that you get to just dig into and just suck up all the knowledge that you can. So having that learner mentality, it will be important as you transition onto the agency side. It's fun, it's dynamic and especially the creativity that you get to be around when you go agency side. I always enjoyed just being by the creative team. So when I was at my previous agency, my office was right outside of the pods of the creatives and it was really fun to just watch and see how they did the ideation and their collaboration together. It was fun to see them put all sorts of drawings and everything up on a wall and really work together to come up with different creative visions for what we were doing for our clients. Now, I worked at a full agency. It wasn't just a PR agency. It was an integrated marketing agency. But even if you are looking to go to just a specific boutique agency or just a PR agency, there's still that strong sense of collaboration and creativity that is really energizing.


- Well, you are doing a great job of selling agencies to candidates who are looking for a job. So thank you for that. But let's turn it around a little bit. Let's say I'm not looking for a job but I am in the market to hire an agency. Specifically, maybe I'm in the market to hire an eight PR agency. Should I even consider looking at a PR department within an ad agency? And if so, why or why not? Walk us through a little bit that 'cause you've got some inside information. So share that with our audience. What are the pros and cons of working with a shop that is specialized in PR versus working with an advertising agency that has capabilities of PR and other areas?


- Well, I would say that it really depends on what your needs are and your goals. For instance, if you have in-house creative graphic design people, I would say that maybe you should look more of just that PR agency. But if you don't, if maybe you have a very small team, then you would probably wanna look at an agency that has different capabilities, PR, creative, maybe some digital marketing capabilities as well. Because the best relationship is you see this as a partnership where that agency is an extension of your company. And a good agency is going to operate like that. They are really gonna immerse themselves in your business and they are gonna learn what your goals are and then they are going to be that extension of your company for you. So really it's just looking at what capabilities you have in house, in internal teams and what you truly need. But also just as important as that, is you need to look at category expertise. More than anything, look at who do you see really doing work for ancillary companies to your industry, look at what your competitors, who is representing your competitors. You don't want to go to an agency that is representing your competitor but it will help you find that agency that's probably very similar in their knowledge in the category. So that is really important as well. So no matter if they are a department within a larger agency or they're a boutique agency, having that category expertise for your business is really probably the primary criteria that you need to have in your search.


- That's really good, Dawn. I encourage people all the time to say, have that agency show you that they've done it for brands in your space and or solved the same issues that you're having. And don't just let them verbally tell you it, but have them show you case studies and work samples and the results that they got. And I think that'll really help you both visually and from a story standpoint really understand what their true competencies and capabilities are.


- And also I would suggest if you are involved in certain associations, and I'm assuming any company has a relationship or a connection with an association, start asking those members the memberships or even trade. If you know of trade publications in your industry, reach out to the ad reps or the editors in those trade pubs that you like, that you wanna be in and you will get a lot of really good information and recommendations through those connections as well.


- Yeah, I think that's a good idea. I've heard some brands say that those newsrooms are a little hesitant to make those recommendations just to stay neutral. And I think that that you'll find that both ways. I think, Dawn. I think you'll find where people are willing to share and you find it where people aren't as comfortable giving that out. But I think, like you said, if you can find the companies that they're writing about, you can probably figure out who their agencies are. For example, Hy-Vee might not wanna hire the agency that represents another grocery store but they may want to hire the agency that is doing great work for a consumer packaged good that they carry.


- Absolutely.


- That makes a lot of sense or something like that. So you can always find somebody who's just a little bit tangental to what you're doing, but still in your space and understands the players in the industry well. We're quickly running out of time believe it or not. So let me ask you, do you have any parting advice or suggestions you would leave with our audience?


- I would say couple of things. Now, especially if you don't have an agency, especially a PR agency helping you communicate during a pandemic, it's not too late, please hire one. Bring them onboard. A good PR agency is going to get up to speed very quickly and just help you communicate effectively. We are going to get past this pandemic and you wanna be in a position where you're ready to just fire all engines and get going. So I would say that if you don't have an agency, really consider looking at one because I think right now it's very important that any strong brand has one.


- Well, I guess I need to send you some money for that endorsement for PR agencies. I'm just kidding. That was very thoughtful of you. And I think that's valuable now that you're on client side. You probably don't have a bias for endorsing that. I think if anything we've learned in the world, especially from a lot of the diversity initiatives that have been going on for decades but are now ramping up because we see that as being so important, what a lot of people under value is that by hiring an agency, you're bringing in diversity of experience, opinions, insights, sometimes diversity of geography, certainly diversity of culture. And so I can't tell you how many times we've seen a client going down a path and they just mentioned it to us and we're like, have you thought about this or that or whatever it might be. So it sounded great in the boardroom or it sounded great in a conference room, but outside of those four walls or outside of your building, it may not make the same amount of sense. And so in many ways an agency becomes a trusted advisor and a sounding board kind of thing.


- And our PR agency is very much that. That outsider's perspective is very valuable for us.


- Yeah, absolutely. I'll never forget when one of our clients said, it's not about the results you bring, it's about the candor and advice that you give to us and the guidance because you know us, we trust you, you understand our values and you speak candidly to us and help us understand when we're headed down the wrong path and we can run things by you confidentially before we take it to shareholders, before we take it to the marketplace. And that really rang true to me and I understood where they were coming from. That, hey, we know you're gonna get great results, that's a given. But what we really value from you is your advice and counsel to our leadership team.


- That's the best compliment that you can get or a performance review from a client is that because you're at the table, they want you at the table. And that's where a communicator needs to be is at the decision-making table.


- Absolutely, for sure. Hey, Dawn, I know our audience loved this conversation and they're gonna wanna connect with you. You're available on Twitter and LinkedIn?


- Yes.


- And what is your Twitter handle?


- Email me as well.


- And what's your Twitter handle?


- My Twitter handle is Dawn Buzy, D-A-W-N-B-U-Z-Y. And then on LinkedIn it's Dawn Buzynski. And my email is dbuzynski@hy-vee.com


- Perfect. We'll add that to the episode notes to make it convenient for folks to get connected with you. Dawn, thank you so much for sharing your smarts today. It's been a pleasure connecting with you.


- Thanks so much, Jason.


- As always if there's anything I can do for you, let me know.


- Awesome.


- That's another great episode of On Top Of PR. We're doing our best to keep you on top of PR. Thank you for watching.


- This has been On Top Of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.

Topics: corporate communications, On Top of PR

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