Catherine Blades, CCO of AFLAC [Episode 23]
Catherine Blades is the SVP, Chief ESG, and Communications Officer of Aflac, a company she’s been at for over 6 years. Catherine is a PR News Hall of Famer, Forbes' inaugural inductee in the Women in Communications Hall of Fame, a two-time Cannes Lion winner, a 2017 inductee into the PR Week Hall of Femme as well as the first American to win the Relations 4 the Future Medal at Davos.
Catherine has also been named to the Latino Leaders’ Latina 100 (2020), a Children’s’ Miracle Network CHANGEMAKER (2020), the inaugural PR Week Most Purposeful CCO (2019), a Top 25 Power Woman by NY Moves magazine, four-time Top Woman in PR winner, was named to the Forbes Communications Council, as a contributing writer and serves as a member of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Community.
In the interview, we get into Catherine’s perspective on purpose-driven companies, what an ESG communication entails, and an incredible new incarnation of the Aflac duck that brought hope and care to victims of childhood cancer through innovation.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation between Lippe Taylor CEO Paul Dyer Aflac CCO, Catherine Blades. To hear the entire conversation, check it out on the Damn Good Brands Podcast below.
Never waste a crisis. In the midst of the pandemic, Aflac took tremendous strides to keep their entire shareholder base whole including setting up a no-interest loan program for their sales force which mostly worked on commissions. Aflac also gave very generously (to the tune of $11 Million) followed by a multitude of donations to minority-related causes that added up to 50% of the company’s total donations for the year. From a communications standpoint, crises enable companies to reveal who they really are, don’t let them go to waste.
Embrace your holistic view. Catherine made a very interesting observation on how Communications professionals are the only members of a company, outside of a president or CEO, who have to take the perspective of all shareholders into account when making decisions. Customers, investors, employees, shareholders, et al. are all perspectives you must consider as a comms executive, which speaks to the larger responsibility of Communications leadership and the holistic & macro perspectives it requires.
Purpose and Profit Can Go Hand in Hand. Catherine spoke about how Aflac’s commitment to being a company dedicated to a purpose beyond shareholder value was pushed back on by some investors. Catherine then went on to explain how being purposeful, in addition to being the right thing, is profitable because, in this day and age, people want to purchase from companies that are contributing to the greater good of society. This echoes a larger truth about how giving back is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for brands but is entirely table stakes in today’s economy.