Making Impact with Strategic Communications
A company’s technology may be what gives it a purpose. But the ways by which its leaders communicate about their product and mission determines how that purpose resonates with the people who matter most.
Whether a startup is looking to recruit talent, acquire customers, establish thought leadership, or just raise general awareness, having a well-structured communications strategy in place is crucial. However, what that strategy looks like – and who leads it – can depend on the individual company.
“Every company has to define communications [that is] a little bit bespoke to their business and their organizational structure,” says Nairi Hourdajian, who is the Vice President of Communications at Figma.
Hourdajian has experienced the gamut of how communications departments can function inside an organization. Prior to her role at Figma, she was the CMO of venture capital firm Canaan, where she worked following her role as Uber’s first-ever communications hire. She also has extensive experience in government communications, and throughout her career has watched as the channels through which business leaders connect with the public, their employees, and their community of users and customers has greatly evolved.
Hourdajian joined me on Greymatter to share insights on how (and when) startup founders should approach building a communications team; how to build relationships with the media; understanding the craft of storytelling; navigating crises; and the constantly-changing media landscape.
This interview is part of Greymatter’s Brain Trust series, which features candid conversations with experts about their work. You can listen to our conversation at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts.
Hi everyone. Welcome to Greymatter, the podcast from Greylock where we share stories from company builders and business leaders. I’m Elisa Schreiber, the marketing partner at Greylock.
Today our guest is Nairi Hourdajian.
Nairi is a dear friend of mine and one of the most exceedingly confident and strategic communications executives working in tech today. She’s currently the VP of communications and content and community at Figma, an incredibly innovative startup focused on redesigning design. Figma is also a portfolio company at Greylock.
Previously Nairi was the first communications hire at Uber and she built the team there. Later, she went on to be the CMO at the venture firm Canaan. She started her career in politics working on everything from senate campaigns to in-house at governmental agencies. And there’s a fun fact: Nairi and I actually became close during her side hustle running comms for the All Raise launch in 2018.
So thank you so much for being here, Nairi.
Elisa, thank you so much for having me.
Well, I’m really excited to have this episode. I know you and I have been talking for a long time about doing an episode on startup communications and I think we both agree that it’s really one of the most important parts of building an enduring company, and yet it’s also one of the trickiest things to get right.
Today, we’re going to dig into some key questions. What is communications? How should founders think about structuring their communications team? What is the right stage and the right time to bring someone on internally? How do you use agencies most effectively? What should the communications function own? And how should that role expand over time?
I also think it would be really helpful to the founders who listen to the podcast to talk a little bit about the traits and characteristics that they should be looking for in a strong communications leader. And along the way, hopefully we’ll hear some lessons from your time at Uber and Figma and venture capital and politics and all the wild worlds that you’ve dipped your toe into.
It’s been an adventure. It’s been an adventure.
So let’s just set the table. What, in your opinion, falls under the communications bucket?
It’s such an important question because if you ill-define the function when you build it, then your team will be spending time on things that are not high impact and not important. So every company has to define communications a little bit bespoke to their business and their organizational structure.
But I would say (painting with broad brush strokes) external storytelling through earned and owned media, internal communications, how you engage with your employees. And then there are lots of other functions that you can build into it over time. As you mentioned, community, talent brand, and everything in between. So it’s really incumbent I think as you define the department within a particular organization to understand what’s the remit and why and then build from there.