By Robert Grupp

How to Be A Successful Communicator:
5 Takeaways from Robert Allen & Bob Pearson

By Robert Grupp

At the 2019 Summit on Strategic Communications in Washington, DC, Robert Allen and Bob Pearson discussed challenges facing communicators today. Robert Allen, the lead for digital operations and global public affairs at Bristol-Myers Squibb, shared his thoughts on successful brand and corporate communication with session moderator, Bob Pearson, author and advisor at W20 Group.

Robert Allen and Bob Pearson discuss takeaways
1. Leveraging the Corporate Brand to Recruit Talent

In the pharmaceutical industry, it’s no surprise that people remember the names of prescription medicine more than the company or brand behind it. What Allen and his team have realized is the potential power of the Bristol-Myers Squibb corporate brand when sharing messages. With this new focus, the team decided to make changes to one of their most popular communication channels: the corporate website. Allen estimates that of the roughly 5,000 daily website visitors, 75 percent are looking for jobs at the company, not products. So the corporate website needs to be highly relevant to a broad audience and effective at eliciting responses. As a result, the team has shifted its perspective to think of the corporate website as another valuable transaction point for the company. 

Like all large pharma companies, BMS wants to attract specific types of talent, which requires a personalized approach on the corporate website. Allen said that if someone is looking for a position in research and development, or sales, for example, information about available R&D or pharmaceutical sales jobs is now easier to find. When searching the site, audiences crave a personalized experience where relevant search results are served, matching website visitors with their specific career interests and helping the company recruit talent more effectively.

2. Make Search the Core of Your Strategy

Too often, search is neglected as a primary strategy of the overall communication efforts. “I think what should be core to everyone’s digital strategy, no matter what industry you’re in, is search,” said Allen. Search can be incredibly powerful if given time, effort and persistence. In order to be effective, communicators need to write for search. Today, there are several platforms and technologies that utilize machine learning to help writers optimize their copy for search results. These tools can help writers identify important topics, high- ranking keywords, and related content, which serve as a roadmap to appearing higher in search results, therefore improving reach.

Though search is important for communication, a onesizefitsall approach is not sufficient. For example, on the product or brand side, Allen’s team focuses more on search engine marketing (SEM) and paid search whereas corporate communication focuses more on search engine optimization (SEO). The corporate goal of SEO rather than SEM is intentional to avoid cannibalizing the work the brands are doing. 

Investing time in SEO can save a company money in the long run. The better your brand becomes at optimizing content for SEO, the less spending on SEM is required since the organic search results will list your brand higher in the search results. 

3. Fully Embrace Connections Via Social Media

Allen believes social media has become an important community-building tool for the healthcare industry. For example, people with the same disease can find others who suffer from the same malady through social media platforms. Together, they can share their experiences and build a community of support. Suffering from an ailment can be alienating and lonely. Social media gives people a voice. Connecting with strangers over a common bond can be a powerful experience.

Social media can also be a useful tool for targeting people as well. For example, people chatting on forums can be strong candidates for clinical trials or targeted ads. 

4. Learn to Play the Game

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” In a regulated environment, the rules of the game might be different, so in order to be an effective player, one must really understand how to work within the regulations.  A highly regulated environment like pharmaceuticals can lead to unexpected advantages like knowing your audience better than in other industries, allowing more thoughtful planning, and focusing on measurement of results. 

Allen had the opportunity to study the inner workings of Huffington Post several years ago and was impressed by the team’s attention to detail. The team closely tracked engagement levels on every article, time spent on the website, scroll patterns, and modified their content according to the data gathered. To best optimize the user experience, Huffington Post might use different headlines and subheads according to the channel used, so Twitter content will look different than website content. By constantly using AB testing, the Huffington Post team analyzes each article against another in an effort to optimize communication. 

Not all communication channels are created equal. Audiences use Twitter differently than they use LinkedIn, and content needs to reflect that. Even when brands have the same message to share, the messages should be written specifically for each channel to optimize the impact.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

In order to thrive as a communicator, Allen believes it’s important to be intellectually curious at all times. “The ability to keep on top of things is very important. Just be open to experimenting.” 

With failure comes more success because Allen’s team is able to identify what didn’t work the first time and modify the content and channels for the future. Communicators shouldn’t be afraid to fail. The greatest communicators maintain an open mind and stay curious. 

While reading articles and case studies can be beneficial, there’s nothing as effective as experimenting yourself. 

Robert Allen spoke in April 2019 in a plenary session at the annual strategic communications summit in Washington, D.C. See the speakers featured at StratCommWorld 2020 on June 1-2 at the National Press Club. Visit for details about this unique global event that identifies strategies to enhance engagement and share methods to improve communications in corporations, the military, government agencies and nonprofits.


Robert Allen
Robert allen

Robert Allen is a marketing professional with a track record for strategic planning and developing innovative digital marketing initiatives for brands in pharmaceuticals, CPG, finance, durable goods and the communications/entertainment industries. Prior to joining Bristol-Myers Squibb in July of 2016, he led AstraZeneca’s Digital Innovation Group (DIG) in the UK. Allen was a featured speaker at the 2019 National Summit on Strategic Communications. 

Bob Pearson

Bob Pearson is globally recognized as a marketing visionary who is driving “pragmatic disruption” in the new world of what is now called Social Commerce. He is an author and Strategic Advisor of W20 Group. Pearson was a featured moderator at the 2019 National Summit on Strategic Communications.


Robert Grupp

Robert Grupp is Director of StratCommWorld, and Adjunct Instructor and Director of a Global Strategic Communication Master’s Degree Program in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

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