Julie Fogerson is an assistant vice president in communications for Wells Fargo Bank in Boise.
Fogerson grew up in Ontario, Ore., graduated from college in Hawaii with a degree in communications, and then did public relations for several years in Seattle, where she worked on contracts for Microsoft. She later worked in PR in New York City. She also did two six-month stints with Raytheon at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica, where she was a work order scheduler in a vehicle maintenance facility. She joined Wells Fargo in 2013.
Fogerson talked to the Idaho Business Review about her career and about how the field of public relations is changing. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you end up working in Antarctica?
I had a friend from Hawaii who had worked down there for six or seven years and I had always wanted to try it. I applied for 30 different jobs.
The neat thing about Antarctica was that workwise, the skills that were crucial and in demand were the mechanics and firefighters and the non-college people. The system as I knew it was flipped on its head. We couldn’t get enough skilled heavy mechanics.
I liked the adventure. It was such a surreal environment; there were hikes, when it was allowed, and there were ice caves. McMurdo is at the base of a volcano. There was a cool interaction of all these natural things. I had never experienced anything like that.
People-wise, I thought I would encounter this universally adventurous outdoorsy type, but no. You had mechanics from the Bible Belt, and I worked with a Vegas showgirl who was in her ‘70s. She had been on the cover of Vogue in the ‘60’s. She was working as a work order scheduler with me.
That’s part of what I love about travel, is never knowing what you’re going to hear.
Banking communications must seem pretty tame after that.
I love it. What’s interesting to me, and it applies as much to Boise as to anywhere at this point, is that there seemed to be this conscious effort in the early 00s where we were intentionally not calling it PR anymore. It was all under the umbrella of communications, and strategic communications. It seemed to gobble up lobbying and traditional, old-school PR agencies, and internal and external communications.
That makes sense, because the old way, in my mind, of thinking of public relations is writing a press release and sending it out on the wire. And that just doesn’t exist anymore. I’m so glad I missed the time where you would put together a mailer, try to be as creative as you can, constructing something that was not going to just end up in the garbage, and snail mail it as your method.
Some people still do that.
Do they? I guess from my perspective, the agencies I started at were no longer doing that at the point I came alone. It had gone the way of faxing.
So what is communications to you now?
To me it’s all about storytelling, and arguably it always should have been. It’s telling a story that you need or want to tell, and having an audience that wants to hear it.
It’s about making a connection. In my opinion we get too bogged down in service contracts and process. It’s like the tree falling in the forest: If you’re just saying something into the void just to say it, there’s no point.
How do you get message out?
You have to do your research, and read the audiences you ‘re trying to communicate with, and know what audience is reading that.
I do internal and external communications. We’ve realized that arguably a conference call is not the most effective way to do things internally, though sometimes it’s all you have or can think of.
We had a standing conference call that ceased to make sense. Now what I’m researching is how we can we leverage user-generated video, and communicate the same message, but in this different vehicle. Does it have a better chance of reaching people? We don’t want to do video just because video is hot. It’s to try a different way to reach people.
How about reaching people externally? How do you let the world know about what your company is doing?
It’s less procedural, or at least it should be. It’s not following a series of steps. I don’t think press releases are dead, but I really try to think about whether that’s the right format for what I want to do. If that’s not the right format, is meeting with some better? Is it picking up the phone? Is it sending a photo?
You have to be bold. Here in Boise, there is still a culture of fear. I get that. At Microsoft, I couldn’t send anything out without it going through eight levels of legal review because of the Department of Justice anti-trust case that was happening right then.
But authenticity is huge. I don’t know if it’s possible to hold on to that sensitivity and say anything that matters anymore. We spend so much time thinking about the millennials and how they want authenticity. I would argue that it was always best to be authentic and real.
Whether it’s social media or even if you’re trying to have more traditional official communication, you just have to be faster and you have to have real information to share, not what you think you want people to hear.