Mary Lynn Carver | Influence 100
Charting the future of public relations
mary-lynn carver-2018-influence-100

Mary Lynn Carver

Chief Communications Officer
General Mills
US

 

During her tenure at General Mills, Mary Lynn Carver helped navigate the world’s largest flour recall and a campaign to remind consumers — despite the popularity of cookie dough — that eating raw flour and eggs can be harmful. She’s also been at the helm as General Mills has brought in new CEO Jeff Harmening, who has a particular focus on modernizing the multibillion-dollar company that is now 150 years old.

Since 2015, Carver has been CCO and global VP of corporate communications, responsible for communications strategy, corporate brand, employee and executive communications, as well as product brand PR and crisis communications. Her advice to others seeking senior counselling roles: “A perennial challenge of the industry is focusing too much on org charts, reporting lines, decision rights and budget size versus strategic influence, creative ideas, and impact.”

Immediately prior to joining General Mills, Carver spent six years in non-profit health care and medical research organizations including serving as SVP of communications and public affairs for the University of Maryland Medical System, a $3+ billion hospital system with unique public-private partnerships, and as SVP of communications and PR at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Prior to her non-profit work, she held a variety of public affairs and global corporate communications roles in the U.S. and in London with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. 

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance
There are many, but crisis management and prevention, as well as public affairs work  – particularly in a regulated industry – are probably the most obvious examples for business partners to easily quantify the business impact of PR.

What do you love about this industry?
That our work is so transferable across industries, and within a company we get to see how things connect across functions and business segments, and get to know all areas. For those of us that are curious and love to learn new things, it's the perfect industry.

What most frustrates you about this industry?
The fact that everyone (who doesn't work in PR) has a different definition for what PR is, and it is often wrong.

What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities?
One challenge is the hyper-polarization of consumers and the echo chamber of news sources they trust getting smaller and less objective. From an opportunity standpoint, I am hopeful that the always fact-checking 'digital native' generation will drive higher accountability in journalism, digital content, social influencers, governments and NGOs because all the facts are readily available and they are used to seeking them out. As communicators, that's exciting.

How do you relax or change pace when you're not at work?
Doing absolutely nothing is sometimes required to counter the craziness of our roles. My family knows when I say I am going to take a tub – not to expect to see me for a few hours (especially if I take a good book with me!)

Can you share a book/movie/TV show/podcast that teaches a valuable lesson about PR?
That's a great question. I'll have to go with a classic  – Bull Durham – and the scene where Kevin Costner is on the bus teaching the young hot-shot ballplayer how to answer media questions. Sometimes the best you can do is say "I am here for the love of the game."

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
My team had a lot of fun with my answer to this question last year – they didn't know of my past life as a lounge singer in college! I also wanted to be a veterinarian and love science, so something in medicine possibly.