February 9, 2021
Learn how to tell your company’s story by involving employees with our guest Alejandro Barbero.
Our episode guest is Alejandro Barbero, director of strategic development and communications at Rayonier. He makes the complex simple and is constantly taking on new challenges. During his 25 years of global experience, he has taken businesses and teams to places they’ve never been.
Alejandro Barbero on why storytelling should come first in all your company communications
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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:
The value of putting your employees’ happiness first
Why companies need to tell the story of their brand
How you can reevaluate your company values
How to bring authenticity into your company’s communications
Company storytelling strategies
“No communication’s piece that I could create will ever supplant the trust that our employees build on a day-to-to basis.” — Alejandro Barbero
“If you’re not telling your story, you’re letting somebody else tell your story.” — Alejandro Barbero
“We’re never going to be the best storytelling company in the industry if it’s just the communications team doing the storytelling. We need to empower everyone in the company to become storytellers.” — Alejandro Barbero
If you enjoyed the episode, would you please leave us a review?
About Alejandro Barbero:
Passion, curiosity, tenacity, vision, and fun describe Alejandro Barbero. First a family-man, Alejandro is also a big-idea guy that can strategize, be bold, and get things done. He makes the complex simple and is constantly taking on new challenges. During his 25 years of global experience, he has taken businesses and teams to places they’ve never been. He believes there is always a way, and you just need to open your eyes to see it.
Presented by: ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving and promoting online customer reviews.
- Hello, and welcome to "On Top of PR" I'm your host, Jason Mudd and we've got a fun episode today with Alejandro from Rayonier. And he is talking a little bit about his company and the power of storytelling and how they went through a process of identifying that they want to be the best storytellers in their industry, the impact that's had on the company so far and the impact they think it will have in three years from now. This is a really good episode, I'm glad you're here. You'll be glad you're here too. As you're listening to this episode and you're finding it thought provoking and insightful, I hope you will take a moment to share it with your colleagues also.
- [Announcer] Welcome to "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.
- Hello and welcome to On Top of PR I'm your host, Jason Mudd. You're tuned into another great episode. We are joined today by my friend and our guests today Alejandro Barbero, he's with Rayonier. Welcome to the show Alejandro.
- Hey, Jason, thank you for having me.
- It's a pleasure to have you here, I'm glad you're here. And we wanna welcome you to the show by asking you to introduce yourself real quick. Give us a couple of sentences about who you are and what you do at Rayonier.
- Absolutely, yeah, so my name is Alejandro Barbero. I work for Rayonier, I'm the director of strategic communications. I've been with the company about 17 and half years now in different capacities. Little bit about me, I'm a family guy. If you asked my team, they will always say, family come first and then I'm a strategy guy. I love big ideas, I love strategizing and I love getting things done as well.
- Excellent, excellent, we can tell you're a family man with all your lovely family photos in the background. So thanks for sharing those with us. I'm very familiar with Rayonier, having known you and the company for decades or at least the company for decades and knowing you for years. But I bet most of our audience has never heard of Rayonier. So why don't you explain kind of the elevator pitch or the background story on Rayonier, real fast?
- Absolutely, so company was founded in 1926 in Washington state. We are in the forestry business and today we have 2.7 million acres of timber lands in the US and in New Zealand, in two regions in the US, the US South and the Pacific Northwest and also in New Zealand. We have three main businesses, the forestry business, the real estate business and then what we call the land resources business. It's a couple of dozen of different businesses that will include things like yacht hunting and recreation your shelter, wall leases, your billboards your fines to the leases, things of that nature. Some, I always say this way, some will do where the trees grow. Some you do, instead of growing trees, but it's a collection of different businesses.
- All right, absolutely. And so years ago, the company decided to focus on real estate and timber and spun off it's paper mill or manufacturing facilities. Is that right?
- That is correct, so the company, one thing I love about the company is the company has taken multiple different shapes over it's almost hundredth year of life. And in our current shape, back in 2014 we spun out our manufacturing division. We call it performance fibers at the time. So they have two mills, one in Jesup, Georgia, one in front of the beach, Florida where they manufacture, high purity silos bowl. And we spun them out as a publicly traded company. And today what we had is what we call a pure play which is basically a company that doesn't have any manufacturing, we only focus on timber.
- Okay, excellent. So tell us, how did you get into this industry and profession? That's a great question. So it's a fun story. So rewind to 2003, I finished my MBA in the university of Michigan and probably one of the worst job markets that the world has seen. And I started my job search, school finished and I continued my job search and there was a posting about a particular role. I was very clear on the role that I wanted to have. I wanted a sort of strategy with a heavy mixed finance type role. And I was on my quest to find a job and Rayonier had it. They posted it on the university's website. And next thing that led to multiple interviews and about October they made the offer and November 17th of 2003, that's when I started. And then as far as the profession, my professional career has been very interesting. There's a common thread in everything I've done which is the strategy piece where the goal for it or business strategy but I've been in multiple different capacities where I applied those sorts of strategic planning skills. And today I run a communication function and we thought about building, building a brand strategy, building a communication strategy but I've done business management before, I've done strategic planning for divisions before, I've done corporate development before. So multiple different roles within the company but all with the sort of common thread of the strategy behind it.
- Gotcha, well, it sounds like you have a collected mix of experiences in one, I'm sure that's very valued with the multiple roles and departmental experience bringing all that into a corporate communications and marketing strategy is probably very helpful to the enterprise.
- Yeah, I always like to stay, there's a line between, what we dub the support functions and what we dub, the operations. And I always like to kind of straddle the land line like beyond that line and sometimes I'm on the business side, sometimes I'm on the support side and then back on the business, back on the support. And that give, that always gives me that, kind of two sides of a story perspective. One example today from the communication side, I work with the hunting and recreation team and seven years ago to eight years ago, I was sitting on that role working with the communication functions. So I kinda know what they're up against and what they need, and I can help them better by having been there in their shoes before.
- Right, it's very a holistic view and a you bring in a lot of experience and background and probably a very valued collaboration to the equation also.
- That's the plan.
- So I've got to ask you, remind me, what's your origin or culture, obviously, you've got an accent. So tell me more about that.
- So I grew up in Argentina, that's where I'm from, that's where my wife is from and both our families are from, and I went to engineering school. I became a civil engineer a long, long time ago. And as I was to the finishing school, engineering only gives you so much. And I'm grateful for having gone through engineering but I'm also knowing some of the limitations that I had as a professional, if I wanted to pursue a corporate career which is what I wanted to do. So soon before finishing I had this idea that an MBA in a different country was was something that I wanted to chase and pursue. And a number of years after I graduated it kinda became a reality back in 2001 when I moved to the States, it's about 20 years this year.
- Gotcha, well, I'm gonna ask you next about what's a typical day? Walk me through it. Obviously, your routine is probably changed in the COVID era but if you could find some balance between working from home and when you used to work in the office. What's a typical day for you?
- Yeah, I would say there are many things that changed because of the pandemic but my routine is probably one that I improved. And so it typically goes about 6:30, it's when the alarm goes off, kids up and I take them to school every morning. So it typically around 7:10, 7:15, get on the car with the dog and go to school, to take them to school and then quick breakfast on the way back and then it's planning the day. And then there's typically a host of conference calls or zoom calls that I'm in through the day. And it's a mixture of thinking time, action time and conference calling time. And about twice a week, I pick them up from school I can have them through the day and then it's family time. It's dinner and homework. And if we have time for a game or a movie through the week, we'll squeeze that in or back-to-back, maybe a movie, my wife and I, and we'll start again next day.
- Yeah, yeah, well, I knew you're very family focused and I appreciate that. My son is in high school and they don't start till 9:00. And so some days I'm able to give him a ride to school with the dog with him too also, right. But that really interferes with my work day, because it's kinda seems late in the day for me for school start at 9:00. But I love telling him, man when I was in school, we were starting, if it wasn't 7:00 AM, it was certainly 8:00, not 9:00.
- So tell me in your current role who does your company want to reach? Who's kind of your target audience for your communications?
- That's a great question. We define it in, we basically target five different audiences.
- Wow, okay.
- And those are employees, future employees, communities and then we have investors and customers and I'm thinking sort of the corporate brand. We have a few sub brands that are more on the B2C world. They may have different interests, but at a corporate level those are the five that we target. In my group specifically, we focus on employees and future employees and communities. And we use the whole community, in the loose sense of community that you can slice that onion in multiple different ways. But we sort of use the whole community in a loose way. And as we continue to evolve the communication function in the company, we started to get focused model, model laser focus on, okay, when you say communities what exactly are you talking about? And then we have a group that has a phenomenal capacity managing investor relations and investor relations communication. So they handle that. And then as far as customers go, what I always say is what are we to be company? Most of our business is relationship driven. And so the way we work, my group the way we tackle that audiences, we focus on that audiences, making sure that our employees whether they reply on the company really high. So we're really focus on the employee side and more so than on the customer communication. We wanna make sure employees are empowered. They feel proud about the company, they're excited about what they do and if they do all those things, then much is gonna happen. Not able to assure us or no communication piece that I could do on our end, wherever, to plant the trust that our employees build on a day to day basis. So in summary, we are focusing on employees, capturing their pride and making them feel proud about the company, making sure that everyone knows who they are and what they do. We're focused on future employees anywhere from, making sure we go talk to kids in school. And when I say kids in school, middle scholars, high scholars, elementary scholars about forestry as an option, we engage in the community or we go talk to kids in forestry school. And then we focus on communities, which is, I think it's probably the piece that I'm most passionate about and it goes because for the longest time, I think our industry and our companies were conditioned to basically stay under the radar. It was a good thing to not be on the front page of the paper. And what that led to was, you know this far better than I do Jason if you don't tell your story, well, you're letting somebody else tell your story. And I think that industry has suffered from not being able, not being willing or not taking the initiative in telling our own story. So back in 2017, when we kinda got into, hey we gotta pay attention to the brand and refresh our brand and started growing the brand. That was sort of the driving factor. And there was a career opportunity for us as a company to take that leadership role. And we gotta show the industry, this is how you can be a good storyteller. And so we embarked on this, we planted the vision that we wanna be the best storytelling company in the industry, period. And we just started kinda managing that way. And we've built the platform and then we've build the engine and then we've put the people in place and we've been in this journey of being storytellers for the industry for about two or three years now and recognized as leaders within the industry which we're grateful to be, it's a great position to be in but most importantly, it's helping the entire industry just be better appreciated and changing some of the misperceptions or misconceptions that could be about what forestry is and what forestry does. And my team has done a fantastic job with the storytelling. And in multiple ways we get anecdotes. There was one anecdote last year where the investor team is working with an investor that doesn't invest in Rayonier at this time. And another investor that does invest in the company, has invested in the company send them one of our videos to this investor that we were trying to bring in and say, hey, this is a company you wanna invest in, watch these video, these are good guys. And that's just music to our ears, that happening. And there's a few of those that like that. So that's where we've made the most progress from, from a communication perspective.
- Excellent, well, Alejadro we're gonna take a quick break here and come back on the other side with some additional questions and just wanna make sure we give a shout out to ReviewMaxer, our presenting sponsor. They are online at reviewmaxer.com and help you manage your online reviews and get more online reviews. Without them, this show wouldn't be possible. So we wanna say thank you to ReviewMaxer and we'll be right back.
- [Announcer] You're 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, I'm Jason Mudd, your host for On Top of PR and today I'm joined by Alejandro from Rayonier. Alejandro, we're so glad you're here and thank you for this great conversation. I want to ask you next, kind of focusing on who you describe as a customer at Rayonier, who is that person? Do you have an avatar or a buyer persona you've identified for buyers?
- We actually do. So as I was saying before, on the forestry side most of our customers are B2B. And on the real estate side, we have different segments of a real estate division. The one that I manage, the marketing. We do, we have five and that we we're constantly looking at them, we're constantly challenging ourselves on, out of these are the right ones. And we recently undergone a project that we looked at yet again and it was clear to us that there was one that was probably not as relevant at this point but there was one that was missing and so we kinda went through the switch of the operation, just adding one and dropping the other one but definitely something we keep an eye on the role of that.
- Excellent, and so what is it that your customers, what is it they know about your company today? Would you say?
- I think it depends on on what side of the company. The one that I was just talking about is Gradient, a real estates of CBRE. Specifically, there's a product line we call Radium places which is mostly people looking for a bigger piece of land or an investment, not people looking for a home site, being the half an acre, quarter acre, and super more in US but more, the one, the two, the three, the 50, the 20 acre type. And they know a lot 'cause a lot of what we do is content marketing and what on it, developing content. We have a blog called rethink Rudolf where we help people understand what it's like to have these sort of rural lifestyle. And we help them, if they want defense, we help them transition to it. So they know a lot about who we are and what we do.
- Excellent, and in an ideal world what is it that you would want them to know? If you could brainwash or wave a magic wand over your audience, what would they know, your customers?
- I would say clearly that we have the solution to their problems. That's what I'm selling, I'm selling a dream. I'm not selling a piece of dirt, I'm selling a dream. I'm selling a kid's drowning on the bucket and somebody on an ATB, somebody on a Ford Wheeler, somebody building a barn and enjoying a different lifestyle. We got that. We can make those dreams happen 'cause we got what they need in the place they need it. So that's what I love them to know.
- And so if they knew that what would you want them to then do in return? What what's a call to action or an action you'd like to see them take?
- Well, clearly we work with a set of brokers, with a pool of brokers, Alka Das, the entire footprint and call them, call them, call them now before we run out of land, call them.
- So you want them to call in here?
- No, we want them to call the brokers. Most of our transactions are managed through brokers. And so we want them to call the brokers and sign the piece of paper.
- Okay, well, let's talk about what's new. What are you working on right now that has you excited?
- Well, there's one thing through the pandemic, it actually goes back to 2019. We took a look at our values, our corporate values and we realized that there was one value that was not there that should be there. And that sort of trigger this process where we said before we add the value and we remove one why don't we just stop them all and take a look at them as the value set and challenge ourselves to think about these value set. Is this timely? What should our values be and what would all the values and is there a disconnect therein? And this the natural evolution of the company. With a 92 year old company, 94 year old company, rather and so it's the natural evolution. And so last year, I put the thing together and we worked with the senior team very closely and just taking a look at our works and understanding, what makes us different? What makes us unique? What gets us excited? If you think about the typical Rayonier person what are they made of? And so we develop a new value set, we refresh that values. And now I'm in the midst of launching the communication company to lead the organization. Now that we have done that and and to get everyone excited about these new value sets. So, well, Robin and I, will have one more video interview to do early February. We're in the middle of editing, we're gonna do collateral. We're gonna help leaders in the company cascade in communications. So we're working on developing all that content. So it's been a great pro shake to get us here. It was not easy 'cause it's one of those where you know it, when you see it. And so we had to do it multiple times until we finally got to a place where we'd say, yeah, that's it, that's the value set. These are the values that define who we are and what are we made of and we have a really good plan for rolling this out through organization that it's coming out soon.
- Very nice, congratulations.
- Thank you.
- That sounds exciting and certainly a lot of work. I know when we were working on our core values here at our agency, that was a difficult challenge and required significant collaboration and input from various members of the team and then you've got to build consensus and help articulate and communicate why you chose those values and what they mean and then live and breathe those values. And I think the expression is recruit, hire, promote, train and even fire if need be to those core values and live and breathe those core values and so,
- And honestly, I think the one golden nugget for us was to and I'm gonna say it and it sounds so silly and easy but it was to listen and to listen with intent. And the second we stopped and listened. And when I say we, it's the team that was working with the senior team, the second we stopped and listened those values were in front of us 'cause you hear the senior team talking about them all the time. So up until that point, it was difficult. We tried, what about this? And what about that? And we are, let's go here, let's go there. And they were all like, yeah, hmm, hmm, maybe, but the second we stopped and listen with intent and about what was being said and how, magic just happened. And we got there very quickly and you could see it in their faces. The entire senior team excited about yes, yes, yes, yes yes, that's it, that's it. So it was fun.
- That's really good advice, on previous episodes, we've talked about the idea that the best thing you can do is listen to your audience and more importantly make your audience, or not more importantly, equally important or there after you've listened is make your audience be the star, right? And the spotlight and focus on them in your storytelling. If your storytelling is all about us, us, me me and I, I, nobody cares. But if you can shift the spotlight onto them and say you and we help you, or you'll be able to do this and focus on the benefits of working with them, suddenly, you've got an audience who is more engaged and more interested because we're all a little bit selfish and as soon as your marketing can shift from being selfish about you and being selfish about your audience you'll see a lot more success in my experience.
- Yeah, and I could not agree more about that and there's two things that come to mind. One is, you gotta walk, you gotta care the audience to get to where you are. In this particular project, us as a team, we we're on a journey to sort of dissect who we were. And then we thought about to win people along. So the first meeting, they were looking at us like, okay, you're 20 miles away, I don't see you. I don't know what you're doing. And so we had the boss and the guy said, okay, well this is the journey we should walk on together. And okay, and the other piece too, it's authenticity and it's a word that is used a lot this day and age and for us, it's key. You'll hardly see any stories that we do where you see the senior team on the stories. So what you see, the leaders on the stories? You get to see the people that actually get the job done and those are real people like you and I and there's nothing different about them and us and their story, it's what you wanna hear. And then the story told by them, it's a lot more relevant and meaningful than if it's washed down, even unintentionally by several layers of the leadership and management. So we make it a point that any stories we do, the people actually doing the job, those are the ones that you're gonna hear from.
- Nice, yeah, I like that. That's very real, especially when you're for example, my background's in journalism and when you're working with the news media they don't always wanna hear, they definitely don't wanna hear from the marketing person or PR person. They wanna talk to either key leadership, thought leaders and influencers in the company, or the person who's actually developing the product or doing the engineering or working on the floor or working in the trenches so they can explain the product in detail or the manufacturing stages and that kind of thing. So we'll real quick, we're quickly running out of time. So let me try to ask questions here. Thinking about the future, if we were having this conversation three years from today and you're looking back on those last three years, what would have happened in your life both personally and professionally for yourself and the company that would make you so happy in those three years?
- So it's three years, three years on the way I probably only have one kid that drives and that scares baby Jesus out of me, but that's real. And then professionally, I think what you'll see is we managed to empower people within the company to be storytellers alongside with us and I always say the same thing. We're never gonna be the best storytelling company in the industry if it's up to just the four of us in communications. We need to bring all 400 people in the company and empower them to be storytellers. So that's where we're going, that's the future.
- Good, and so it sounds like one of the obstacles to overcome to get you there is what you just said, which is allowing others in the organization to be empowered to tell that story and to put the spotlight on them as the storyteller, as opposed to somebody from corporate communications telling the story.
- That's exactly, yes, that's it, that's a roadblock that we're working on removing
- Well, so if that's an obstacle tell me what advantages do you have in getting there?
- In getting there to get there?
- Hmm, what's working in your favor to get there?
- I think the momentum of the wave that we built over the last three years and the impact that taking a new front route or support on the communications front, not being silent, but rather being loud and telling what we do because we do good stuff, I don't need to fake it. What do is just good.
- And so just being real and kind of having built that wave in the momentum that we have that's pushing us in that direction.
- Excellent, so what would it mean to you personally and to the company to get there in three years from now? When you're sitting in that moment and it's three years from now and you're enjoying the success what will that mean to you personally? And what would that mean to the company?
- I think for the company it's gonna be huge and what I mean by that is and I think your audience knows this far better than I do. It's, what are making the company human, by getting people to talk about what they do is not a piece of concrete anymore. We always say that a company is an article, it's just an article of incorporation. What makes a company is the people. And so and it's very hard to argue with people. You may agree or maybe you disagree but it's hard to argue with, it's hard to be pissed off at people. And but you may argue, I guess to corporation. So for the company is gonna be great. We're gonna change the perception of what people think of forestry as an industry and people are gonna understand how forestry helps right now rather than not. So that's the professional side. And then for me personally, when we embark on this journey, I told my team that we were gonna create a history and we have, and we will.
- It's great.
- So we're gonna look back and say, hey, look at what we've done. It's just huge, it's awesome.
- That's great. What is some of the best advice you've ever received?
- I've been thinking about that. I think it's two things. One is, and I'm gonna say just one 'cause this is one that I talk to my kids a lot about And it's, stuff happens. You have little to no control over the stuff that happens, whether good or bad but what defines you is what do you do when stuff happens? So you may get in a dire situation. You may get in a difficult situation. You may have almost no control in whether you found yourself in that situation or not but what defines you and who you are, is what do you do when you find yourself there? And to me, that's super meaningful. You can get this stuff, you can lock yourself in a room but you can just face it and see what you do with it and just drive to get through it. So that's one that it's very meaningful to me and one that I talk to my kids almost on a daily basis, 'cause they're at that age where they're building their own personalities and character.
- And that's what defines your characters? What do you do when stuff happens? And I typically don't say stuff, it starts with s, but it's not stuff. You're reminding me, I'm always talking about the importance of one, improvising and two, integrity and I think those go hand in hand with exactly what you're saying. Is that, and especially in the PR profession, I've learned, you have to improvise and so you may have woken up and thought you were doing A, B and C and then the world turned upside down and you're doing one, two and three instead, social media pros will say, yeah, well if we post about that today we've already got these other posts scheduled. And I'm like, okay, well just improvise. Things change and you've got to learn to improvise. And then to your point, integrity, when the going gets tough, people get to see your true character. So here's one of my favorite questions to ask. If you left your current job today what advice would you give your successor?
- Hmm, that is a very good question. I'd say, build relationships build relationships and build more relationships. Yeah, that's it.
- I love it.
- Spend a lot of time building relationships within the company and outside the company. What I do matters if and only it helps the company, We have our own sort of set up priorities within my team. And one is intentionality, we're very intentional about what we do. We don't do things because we like them and we don't do things because we like the design or the brochure, we do things for a reason and because they matter to the company. And so I can only know what matters to the company, but you can be very very smart and figure it out on your own but most people, at least me, you gotta have those relationships and you gotta make those connections internally to understand, okay what is it that it's bright? What's the rock on the shoe that we gonna remove?
- Great, okay, so the last question and then we'll have to jump is the person that's replacing you in your role, what would he or she do differently than you're doing in your role today?
- I don't know. I think, I've seen this in my career up until now we all bring something different to the table
- What I bring to the table is the strategy and it's connecting actions on the ground with the vision, my predecessor, whomever succeeds me, may bring a different skill set and may do things differently. And I don't know
- Oh yeah, it's a question I like to ask myself to make sure that I'm focused on what's most important and make sure that I'm keeping myself sharp and thinking futuristically and also just an attitude of reform, right? So what would somebody come in behind me and do absolutely differently and why, and then I might doing that because I'm afraid to, or because I don't value it or because it's not to my strengths and then I adjust and pivot either myself or my team accordingly.
- That's a great point. I always say that the most clarity that one has around any job is the first 90 days when you're on you're not consumed with the, when you don't get so low in the ground that it's hard to see the forest from the trees. So I'm gonna put that in breakfast.
- Well, like the cliche force through the trees from somebody who works at Rayonier. So I really like that, it's good, yeah. Alejandro, it's been a pleasure, thank you for the opportunity to connect. If our audience enjoyed the conversation today how do they connect with you best through social media or email or what's their preferred way to kinda follow you and stay in touch with you?
- Easiest way's LinkedIn Alejandro Barbero in LinkedIn, if not firstname.lastname@example.org, but it's so long that I'll have to spell it. So typically LinkedIn is the easiest way to find me. And that's a great starting point to spring from there.
- Is there anything...
- You can say rayonier.com/stories that's the other place to go to and you can see all the fun stuff we do.
- Anything else you wanted to close on?
- No, I'm not, I think you said it on the onset we've known each other for a number of years. I do appreciate the discussion, it's refreshing. And I do appreciate the invite.
- My pleasure, thanks for being our guest and we look forward to staying in touch.
- Thank you.
- Well, that does it for another great episode of On Top of PR. I really enjoyed the authenticity of this interview and this session together. I'm sure you will too. And do us a favor. If you enjoyed this episode, please, like, follow, subscribe and even better would be if you shared this episode with a colleague or left us a review, so others can find us too. So once again, thanks for tuning in and I really appreciate you and your support. Last shout out to our sponsor ReviewMaxer. Be well everybody.
- [Announcer] This has been On Top of PR with Jason mudd presented by ReviewMaxer.