Jessica Nielsen serves as vice president of communications and marketing at Lockheed Martin where she is responsible for all facets of communications at the company’s Information Systems and Global Solutions division.
She previously was executive director of global communications at Dell and was chief of staff to the BAE Systems group communications director from 2009-2011.
Nielsen has also served as a director of media relations at BAE, senior manager of marketing and public relations at General Dynamics and a professor at Georgetown University.
Nielsen spoke with ExecutiveBiz about her branding plans for Lockheed Martin, the structure of the communications department within Lockheed IS&GS, how her previous roles prepared her for her current role and her time as a Georgetown University professor.
ExecutiveBiz: How do your marketing and communications goals fit into your division’s goals as a whole?
Jessica Nielsen: I have a number of goals for our communications and marketing department within the Information Systems and Global Solutions division. This particular division at Lockheed Martin is the second largest. We’re about an $8 billion business, but we are probably the least well known. Some people are aware that Lockheed Martin has abilities in the IT space, but a lot of people aren’t, and we’re looking to change that.
So, one of the things we’re focused on is our branding and telling our IT story. Much of this is focused on raising awareness of our capabilities such as cyber security and data analytics and providing thought leadership on those topics. We’re also creating communications plans to promote business growth and value creation, and we accomplish this by engaging and partnering with both internal and external stakeholders.
One of the most important internal stakeholders for me in my first eight months in the role has been our strategy department. We launched a new strategy in October for the next three years, and that strategy is intended to help us achieve this business growth that we need. One of the focuses has been on our core federal business. We are also expanding in two key areas. The first is through our international pipeline, and the second is in commercial areas, such as cybersecurity and energy. Our communications team is closely tied to these efforts so that we can have the maximum strategic impact. Two markets are never exactly alike, so while we have an overarching communication strategy, we also work on developing and executing strategies that are specific to the market needs. We’re trying to let potential customers know that we’re not just a domestic federal contractor, we’re also the leading global security provider.
There’s also the importance of employee engagement and community relations. We’re focused primarily on business growth, but we’re nothing without our employees and our communities, especially in a really uncertain business environment, so it’s really more important than ever to keep them informed and engaged.
ExecutiveBiz: How is the communications department structured at IS&GS?
Jessica Nielsen: When I joined the company we merged together three elements of marketing and communications within the first two months of my arrival. I had the communications department, which would be internal communications, community affairs, media relations. Then we also had a marketing communications team that was separate from our team, as well as a creative and production team.
Our new executive vice president Sondra Barbour is helping us focus more on making sure that efficiencies are gained, but also that pieces of the strategy are pulled together. One of the tenants of our strategy is an emphasis on improving our external and internal brand awareness. In looking at that tenant, she said, it makes sense if all of that falls underneath one individual whose responsibility will be protecting and promoting our brand with those key audiences. So she moved these three divisions underneath me, and then based on that, I’ve been taking a close look on what we need to do to be successful and to support our strategy.
Right now we’ve got a pretty comprehensive communications department. It spans all facets of communications and marketing, whether that’s media relations, community relations, marketing and branding, creative services or employee engagement. We have teams that focus on those areas, but they also work with each other to ensure that we have integrated strategies and plans. This applies at our headquarters, but we also have lines of business communications teams, so we have someone who focuses on the commercial markets, someone who focuses on international markets, and we have people who focus on the civil markets and defense and intelligence solutions.
One of the things that I did was make sure that my team was bucketed in the areas that I call the business growth enablement engine. At the headquarters, I view my team as being responsible for enabling business and business growth within our lines, and while the lines are also responsible for that, they are smaller, leaner teams, so they can reach back to headquarters for support. I view it as a circular process where we all help one another.
Within other business areas at Lockheed Martin, the communications departments are structured a bit differently. One of the things that I really tried to do, and fortunately I had my leadership support to do this, was to bring in together all the facets of the promotion cycle, so that we truly have one message and one brand for IS&GS. We work with our counterparts at other business areas, and I work very closely with our headquarters and our chief communications officer, Jenn Whitlow, to make sure that the message is consistent across the company so it doesn’t confuse customers or any other outside audiences.
ExecutiveBiz: What’s the role of advertising and marketing in IS&GS, and where are your efforts focused moving forward?
Jessica Nielsen: Lockheed Martin’s marketing strategy is evolving, so we’ve appointed a new branding agency. Jenn Whitlow has a new vice president of marketing communications who’s been in the role a little more than a year now, so there have definitely been some changes, and there will continue to be some changes in Lockheed Martin’s marketing strategy. But, our primary focus is always ensuring that we know our audience and where to reach them.
As a government contractor, we’re generally not trying to sell our products and services to the public. So, you’re not going to see a lot of Lockheed Martin commercials on community networks or radio stations or even prime time TV. I would say that Washington D.C. is a little bit of an exception because so many of our decision‑makers work here, so we do have a focus inside the beltway. But, at the end of the day, we’re thinking about whom we want to reach and what we want them to know or do. For example, if we are trying to inform acquisition officials about the merits of our solutions in a competition, then we might run a radio spot on WTOP because they have a great penetration into that audience. If we’re trying to garner support from the community to keep a program there, we would run ads in their local paper, or if we want investors to learn about our new capabilities, we might advertise in business publications. You will see more and more from our marketing strategy since it’s aligning with our overarching business strategy. You’ll start seeing us making more efforts in places like the commercial market and the international markets. Right now, we’re doing a good job in the federal government, but we’ll need to do more to expand in the other two key areas for us.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve worked in large firms and contractors before. What is different about your current position from your earlier ones?
Jessica Nielsen: What is really nice about my career is that I feel that at every single company I’ve been at, I’ve been able to learn something new. I’ve also been able to help shape and maximize the communications so that the organizations can be their most effective. I also like that I’ve been able to make sure that I have done something new, a “first” for the company at every company I went to.
If I start at the beginning, I was able to establish a companywide community relations program at General Dynamics, making sure that it reached our key communities. That’s something that General Dynamics never had before, and it’s something that I recognized was missing. I felt that if we engaged with our communities better, it would make an impact for our company overall. It would help us with recruiting, with retention, with employee morale, with helping our communities better understanding our business. That first program was focused on children and education.
At BAE, I was fortunate enough to be selected for their first international assignment for the communications team. In that role, I was the chief of staff to the chief communications officer in London. While I was there, I was able to develop an overall strategy for the team that not only helped strengthen their professional development, but also focused on what their current skill sets were and then what the skill sets should be for the future of the team. That included building a strategy for the group, and detailing what we needed to focus on across all of the business areas at BAE. I was fortunate enough to work with the senior leadership team on that.
In my final position at Dell, I joined a company where they had an inside agency that decided it wanted to focus and put real resources into in-house marketing and communications. I was charged with building the communication team from the ground up and during my time there, the team managed to grow from 4 people to 25. We were able to do that in about a year, and it included bringing on international colleagues. We made incredible strides that I am really proud of. I’m still proud of that team, they’re still doing great stuff.
One of my other accomplishments at Dell was the internal launch of our business line, which was a three‑year strategy. They had never launched a strategy before and doing so resulted in a 7 percent increase in employee engagement scores for us. We also identified and built relationships with external influencers, including government officials, nongovernment organizations, media and analysts and also communities to promote Dell services and the business growth for that group. That resulted in around a 15 percent increase in press coverage year‑on‑year. We had 9 magic Gartner Magic Quadrant positions with 5 in leadership spots, and we saw a 44‑point increase in our selected social media rankings. There were really great successes coming out of that. That’s one of the things that I like doing the best – helping build and create something, especially a team, and helping develop people and see them go on and be successful in other places.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve also received some awards from third parties, Can you talk more about that?
Jessica Nielsen: One of the things that I was proud of was this year was I was put on the PR News 40 Under 40. That’s a really big award for professionals within marketing and communications. Those are individuals who not only are successful in their jobs, but also think about the future of the industry. That’s something that I’m developing and I have been developing in my own skill set over the past two years. That’s figuring out ways that I can help move our own profession forward.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve also taught at Georgetown. What’d you take away from that?
Jessica Nielsen: I loved teaching at Georgetown. It was really fantastic and it goes back to helping our profession progress for the future, something I’m just personally very passionate about. There are moments in time in any job, where you could have a bad day, and you could feel really frustrated and some things just didn’t work out for you. Communications professionals can feel that way a lot, because you could have a day where someone internally didn’t like something you wrote in a press release, and it’s tiny and it’s minuscule and but, it’s a bug under someone’s skin and they’re not going to let go of it.
When I went to teach the class in the evenings, no matter what kind of day I had or what kind of week I was having, there were these students who were so excited about what we do as a profession. They would just sit there and listen to me talk and give examples of things that you could do in external communications or internal communications. I would talk about some of the programs that we had put together or have a guest speaker come in and they just lit up at the whole idea of working in our profession. At one point, I remember a couple of them saying you have the coolest job on the face of the planet.
That just always made me feel really good because you think about all of the little internal politics that people deal with on a day‑to‑day basis, but in the end, I really do have an incredibly cool job, and I like being reminded of that. They also had really good perspectives in terms of what I could have done in a situation. Their projects were always really interesting, so they gave me good ideas as well.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited for as 2014 unfolds?
Jessica Nielsen: For the marketing and communications department at IS&GS, I’m most excited about the fact that we’re currently finishing out a restructuring and we’re bringing on board some really talented people to help lead the group. I’m excited to finish this reorganization and really start putting together some comprehensive integrated plans that will help us win new business and help us do exciting, creative new things.
The organization says one of the things that has been missing is a little bit of creativity and doing some things outside the box, and I’m certainly one of those people that push the envelope, and I’m excited for the team. What I’m most excited about is seeing the great work that we’re going to do this year and how we are going to help support our business overall.