Creative minds Featured

6:14am EDT November 30, 2010
Nancy Ruscheinski, President and COO, Edelman U.S. Nancy Ruscheinski, President and COO, Edelman U.S.

Nancy Ruscheinski lives in a world where effective communication and messaging isn’t just part of the job, it is the job. To that end, Ruscheinski, president and COO of Edelman U.S., is always looking for ways to continuously improve upon existing methods and explore the cutting edge.

Ruscheinski was named one of the 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked her how Edelman has approached change in the media industry.

Q: Give us an example of a business challenge you and your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it?

Several years ago we recognized that although Edelman’s Digital division was growing rapidly, approaching 10 percent of our revenue and headcount worldwide, the “digital demands” on the rest of our organization were threatening to overwhelm us.

We recognized that we were at a real inflection point, a moment in time when the lines between “online” and “offline” and traditional and social media were blurring. We knew that we needed to scale our social media expertise well beyond the confines of Edelman Digital; in fact, we needed to “digitize” the entire organization and raise the social media IQ of everyone in the company.

Enter the “Social Media Belt System,” a rather ingenious and sophisticated desktop training system that’s designed to bring every Edelman employee from social media novice (“white belt”) to digital black belt, using approximately 60 training modules that employees can take at their own pace.

The program has been extraordinarily impactful and arguably the most successful training initiative in the firm’s 58-year history, with well over half of all employees proudly boasting about their belts. And today, Edelman enjoys the industry’s lead position as the agency that best “gets it” when it comes to social media.

Perhaps most gratifying, a number of clients are seeking to license the system as their own, so we even opened up a new revenue stream for the firm.

Ultimately, we were able to overcome a challenge and turn it into a competitive advantage because we did three smart things:  we redeployed our own digital experts away from billable client work so that they could develop the belt system, and we made training – and employee education – a strategic priority for the firm. And we made it fun.

Q: In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

I’ve had the good fortune in more than 23 years at Edelman to drive innovations both large and small, from the creation of Edelman Digital (launched as “Edelman Interactive Solutions” in 1995) and the establishment of Edelman’s creative services division, to the creation of Edelman Studios (a matchmaking service for brands and creatives) and the launch of Edelman’s mobile offering, to the Edelman Escape program, offering mini-sabbaticals that give employees the chance (and the money) to realize a dream or ambition.

This is a company that celebrates what we call “Whitespace,” and empowers employees at every level to share ideas, and to find new, better ways to do things.

We’ve just formalized a new Innovation working group, bringing together eight innovative leaders from around the world, to advise our CEO and to ensure that we are continuing to re-imagine the business of public relations by inventing new tools, products, and services that work across geographies. I’m excited that I’ll have the opportunity to lead this group for the next 12 months.

How to reach: Edelman U.S., http://www.edelman.com/

In October 2010, Smart Business and U.S. Bank recognized nine business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by Middleby Corp. Chairman and CEO Selim Bassoul, these nine leaders composed the honor roll:

Nancy Ruscheinski

Bill Skeens

Dave Brittsan

Amanda Lannert

Scott Morey

Joel Fruendt

Jason Beans

Jim Signorelli

Larry Neibauer