When you have worked at an organization for 25 years, the thought of taking on new challenges somewhere else may seem overwhelming. You know what you are good at, you understand the subtle nuances of the office, you know where the best taco stands are and who has candy at their desk.
But what happens when you decide to step away from what is comfortable? It is a unique individual who would uproot themselves to seek out new opportunities and challenges with a smile on their face and an optimistic attitude. Kristi DesJarlais made the choice to seize a new opportunity when she signed on as senior vice president and general manager of Saxum’s recently opened Houston office.
DesJarlais previously worked for 25 years for Phillips 66, ConocoPhillips and Phillips Petroleum Co. In her most recent position, DesJarlais was responsible for leading the development of stakeholder engagement as an in-house discipline while at the same time building and implementing communication strategies for the company’s largest capital project.
Now in her new role, DesJarlais is ready to take her past experiences and apply them toward new challenges to find solutions for a variety of clients. With her extensive knowledge of the energy industry and expertise in marketing communications, she will oversee client service, operations and business development in Saxum’s Houston office.
We recently sat down with the University of Oklahoma alumna and talked with her about communications, the energy industry and her new role at Saxum.
Q: What about Saxum made you want to work here?
A: I have been inspired by Renzi’s vision since he and I first sat down to talk nearly six years ago. The opportunity to be part of that vision and the resulting growth is really exciting. I have also been really impressed by every single person I’ve met at Saxum, and so it was an easy decision to say “yes” to the opportunity to work with such a great team.
Q: As someone who has worked with energy companies for a number of years, you have seen the ups and downs of the industry. When talking about marketing and communications within the energy industry, what separates the successful companies from the rest?
A: In my opinion, the companies that do the best at communications do so because they recognize the value of engaging with target audiences and, as a result, give the discipline a seat at the executive table. Too often, communications is one of the last items considered in any business decision or activity. Companies that are getting it right include communications early in the decision-making process in order to fully consider and prepare for stakeholder engagement.
Q: What, if any, is the importance of having an integrated approach to marketing and communications in today’s world?
A: People today get their information through a wide variety of channels. An integrated approach ensures that all relevant audiences are reached and with consistent messages that are expressly targeted to them. This in turn enables each stakeholder to have an experience with the company that is both personal to them as well as beneficial to the company.
Q: What qualities helped you get to where you are as a professional? How do you hope to use these qualities to help clients in your new role at Saxum?
A: It’s hard to pinpoint in yourself what has led to success; what has led to failure is much easier! I’ve been told by former bosses that I’m known for my work ethic, for leading strategy and execution of large projects, for quickly sizing up a challenge and translating it into a workable solution and for always striving to do the right thing. I believe these same qualities will add value to Saxum and our clients.
Q: What is the biggest challenge energy companies face in marketing and communications today?
A: I’d suggest two challenges that end up being related: savvy stakeholders and the companies themselves. Today’s consumers are well connected with each other and have access to so much information, and they are savvy about how to activate their own networks. This is a challenge for all companies, and particularly for energy companies, which often struggle with image and trust among the general public.
Hand-in-hand, the other challenge energy companies face is themselves; more specifically, their complacency in being proactive and sometimes even reactive with stakeholders, and their strong desire to control the message which often comes across as a one-direction communication rather than the more effective two-way dialogue. What I’ve seen is companies tend to believe that because they know they are taking all the right steps and making a product that is needed by the public, that everyone else will think the same. Then they’re surprised when the public acts out against them. These companies would do well to step outside of themselves and view their operations and products from the perspective of the savvy stakeholders around them, and tailor their communications and approach to be most effective for those audiences.
Q: What do you consider your biggest or best professional accomplishment to date?
A: When I was at ConocoPhillips, we did an integrated nationwide reputation campaign we called “A Conversation on Energy.” This was remarkable, because the company had historically been in reactive mode at all times; the proactive decision to engage directly with stakeholders was very out-of-character. We conceived the program in response to overwhelming negative public opinion and elected officials’ statements that the oil and gas industry needed to stand up and face public backlash. I led the project team, which planned and executed a 35-city U.S. tour, advertising campaign, internal ambassadorial campaign including nationwide speakers bureau, grassroots email campaign, executive speaking engagements and an energy innovation competition.
The real shining moment came when measurement at the conclusion of the year-long campaign showed we had improved both the company’s credibility and favorability by 19 percentage points. The project won ConocoPhillips’ highest internal honor, as well as PRSA’s Golden Anvil and Houston PRSA’s Golden Excalibur.
Q: Who has been your biggest role model throughout your career?
A: I’ve always looked to my dad for how to find success in business. He has an amazing work ethic, has been able to spend his life doing what he loves every single day and always, always does the right thing for his family, his clients and his employees. If I’m just a little bit like him, I’m doing pretty well.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: I like to read and regularly have a couple of books going. I’m a shameless shopper. I love to travel and find adventure. And right now, I’m obsessed with HGTV and figuring out how I want to decorate my new house.