The #(UN)CONFINEDCOMDIRECTORS series continues. Because the health crisis mobilizes the communication function in an uncertain context, the newsroom publisher Epresspack surveys the communication and marketing professionals it supports daily in France and in Europe. This week, Valérie Leselbaum Stepler, Media, Reputation & Influence Director of AXA France agreed to participate and enlighten us.
Valérie Leselbaum Stepler is the Media, Reputation & Influence Director of AXA France. An economist by training (DEA Sciences de Gestion at the Sorbonne then Paris X), this 52-year-old woman is "an AXA baby". In 1993, she was hired by the technical department to work on product design and then took charge of the Euro project which would transform the whole company. She then joined the communications department to deal with press relations. Then it is the direction of the external communication then the responsibility of the Reputation Department. Today, Valérie promotes the corporate image and influence of AXA France and its managers. Press, social media, public relations are the daily disciplines of a team of 10 people that she manages from Nanterre. And who says influence, also says crisis comm. Valérie manages sensitive subjects and develops the culture of reputation within the company. But Valérie also defends inclusion through the LGBT + network and allies at AXA that she co-founded and women, within Financi'elles, the federation of women's networks in the banking & insurance sectors.
The question of the usefulness of brands and companies, How is it preceived by insurers?
You are not born an insurer, but when you enter the field, you understand how useful it is. Without a banker or insurance, there can be no plans for personal or professional life. From this point of view, we support the evolutions and transformations of society. The current world with its climatic changes, its new modes of consumption and life ... is a teeming era for insurance companies which must anticipate them, imagine the future and adapt. AXA is also involved in many projects for the benefit of society. This is true for the products and services we design for ourselves, but also for the initiatives we lead on the topics of diversity and inclusion.
Your raison d'être is to "Act for human progress by protecting what matters". What is it for concretely?
A purpose is essential both internally and externally. It tells a story, allows us to show our particularity, what we want to go towards and develop the feeling of belonging of employees. For young people, it is a kind of corporate identity card, for employees, an alignment of projects and activities. Ours was developed through a great conversation. In general, the raison d'être also articulates our messages towards the external, such as the advertising expression of the brand.
Insurance is seen as a providential solution, especially in these difficult times. Do these expectations - deceptive by nature - not complicate the exercise of comm and reputation?
My job is to explain our profession as an insurer and the concept of risk. When the contracts are well explained, there is no disappointment, you know what to expect. The sales representatives in the field are an important cog in this educational work. The other way to make insurance understood is to develop prevention. It encourages virtuous behavior and prevents risks.
Axa is renowned for being at the forefront of PR 2.0, social media and social media monitoring. Is it useful for the brand?
Social networks are a great opportunity for us to share useful content and converse with our policyholders and the general public. For 2 years, within our Social Hub, we have been capturing and analyzing the information available on social networks to understand the expectations of our audiences on corporate issues such as insurance coverage needs. It is both a decision-support tool, for monitoring the performance of our communications, but also for detecting weak signals and identifying opinion leaders. Our first ambassadors are also our employees, to whom we owe 30% of AXA's mentions on Twitter. We have been working on this issue since 2012. Being connected to the world around us, being a conversational brand embodied by our employees and our distributors are the avenues that we are implementing at AXA France to communicate with even more impact.
Do you manage the social accounts of your executive committee or does it take care of itself?
We sensitized the 15 members of COMEX on the importance of a well-powered twitter and linkedin account, on their digital footprint and we take stock of their publications and their audiences once a year. With the President, on the other hand, our exchanges are very frequent, often several times a week. He is attentive to them and relays actions with employees, customers, prevention actions or comments on sector news. During the crisis, he posted a series of videos filmed with his iPhone from his home to speak directly to employees. We continued this dialogue by launching “Libre antenne”, a live broadcast with employees who ask questions.
Axa is 33,000 employees and 5,000 recruitments per year. How do you adapt your employer brand communication, when the crisis requires teleworking, complicates management and dilutes the corporate culture?
Showing the usefulness of our professions, training, career prospects or expertise remain intangibles of employer brand communication. I think that the discourse does not really change, apart from having to deploy on social networks, to be more digital, interactive and instantaneous. Now it's true, the company's social commitment appeals to young people more. Claude Bébear was a pioneer in this field. He was the first boss to set up the anonymous CV, to get involved in the suburbs ... and it was in 1991 that he encouraged the social and solidarity commitment of employees themselves # AXAAtout Cœur. Today nearly 11,500 employees give of their time in pure volunteering or to support solidarity actions. It is also thanks to these values that I joined AXA.
Does the story of a brand matter?
It’s very important, especially to younger generations, it’s the start of the business. We often organize conferences or exhibitions to explain where we come from. The most recent was a photo and video exhibition on the birth of AXA, with portraits of collaborators spanning several generations. At Axa, collaboration between generations is essential and drives the daily life of the company.
You've been in this comm profession for 15 years, it has nothing to do with the one you learned. Do you still love it so much?
Before the comm was top-down. Today, 50% of expressions are multi-channel and feed on interactions. The spectrum has grown huge and we can target and work with more relays than 10 years ago. Crossroads of influence, conferences, public relations, public affairs, social networks…. when we think of a comm, we think of it globally and we learn something every day. This profession is on the move, listening to society to better respond to it. I love this interaction with others and being connected to the news.
Press relations, do you think it is information or communication?
At Axa, communication is deliberately factual. We never tell a reporter that we are selling the best product or service. We prefer they make up their own mind. That’s how I’ve been in the business forever ... probably because I was married to a journalist.
When you tell a young person that you have spent 27 years in the same company, how does he/she look at you? Is loyalty a timeless value or a bygone past?
I have only known one and the same company, it is true, but I did not spend 27 years in the same position or in the same office and I had 4 very different jobs. The new generation will undoubtedly watch my career with amazement, as they aspire to change jobs and therefore companies more often. As for me, I love this company which has allowed me to grow throughout my professional career, I love its values and and I was inspired by the people and the encounters I have made there. For me, loyalty remains an important value and a daily reality, but for the young people I observe, it is sometimes a past value.
And if you had to do it again ?
Same thing, plus international experience, maybe in Canada at another AXA entity.
And if not, why the LGBT cause?
Because I believe in a more inclusive world. I can't imagine that in 2020, people can't be what they want to be at work. Inclusion is everyone's business, citizens as well as businesses and organizations from which strong commitments are expected. Recognizing people for their professional skills and their identity ... this is all the work we do within the LGBT + collective and allies and the meaning of the proposals we make to the AXA France Diversity Council.
About the AXA group
Among the leaders in insurance, AXA supports and protects 108 million clients worldwide, whether individuals, professionals or businesses, at every stage of their life. The globally recognized insurance company, present in 57 countries and employing 160,000 employees, offers insurance, provident, assistance, banking, savings and legal protection products and services. In France, the company, created in 1985, remains a local network through 8,300 advisers and their 6.3 million customers. Its ambition is to become the preferred company in its industry.