Oliver Roll | Influence 100
Charting the future of public relations
oliver-roll

Oliver Roll

Chief Communications Officer
Cisco
US

@oliverroll

 

Oliver Roll joined Cisco in late 2016 after leaving his previous role as CCO at VMware, after a number of departures from Cisco’s communications function. In 2015, senior corporate comms director John Earnhardt left the company for Visa, followed by David McCulloch (to GE) and Melissa Selcher (to LinkedIn) last year.

Reporting to EVP and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Gerri Elliott, Roll is responsible for leading analyst and public relations, executive and employee communications and office of the CEO communications."

He described his role thus: “In this world starved of time, communications is being distilled into fewer characters, shorter pieces, and pictures that compete for attention. Communications must somehow help people create the time and space for a deeper understanding of the issues and perspectives that matter - whether in business or to help solve the world's most pressing problems.”
Prior to joining VMware in 2013, Roll spent more than 20 years at Microsoft in a variety of marketing and comms posts across the UK, Asia and the US.

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance
Cisco has always been known as a networking leader but over the past few years, we saw our growth slowing and market share slipping. Under the direction of Chuck Robbins, our new CEO, the company placed a big bet on reinvigorating innovation in our core networking business. Last June, we hosted an exclusive influencer event in San Francisco that set the agenda for a new era of networking. The global response was tremendous. Today, the new switches are the fastest ramping product in our history and our enterprise networking business has returned to growth.

What do you love about this industry?
I love the power of storytelling and the privilege of being able to do that for a living. Through stories we have the ability to help an idea take shape, to find that hidden gem in our business that makes people stand up and take notice, to give voice to the incredible minds fueling our world. There’s no more powerful tool for us as communicators, and when done right, it can truly change hearts and minds.

What most frustrates you about this industry?
While we’ve come a long way, our ability to truly measure the business impact of communications is still ripe with opportunity. There are those intangible measures of communications that are hard to put a number to, yet we know over the long term, they have impact. How you qualify and quantify that in a meaningful way gives us lots of ground to explore.

What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities?
It boils down to trust and that’s never been truer than it is today. As trust in government and political institutions decreases, people are looking for brands to serve a greater purpose, in ways that may not have been expected in the past. From Dick’s Sporting Goods taking a stand on gun control to Starbucks starting a conversation about race relations and Cisco stepping up to end homelessness, communications teams face the challenge and opportunity of balancing the need to remain true to their company’s mission and core values, while addressing highly charged issues.

How do you relax or change pace when you're not at work?
Someone gave me this advice recently, and it really stuck with me: when you pull into your driveway, stay there for two minutes and transition your mind before you walk in. I try to carry that spirit of being present in the moment and grateful for the gifts of friends and family not only during my time out of the office but also while I’m work. My wife, Nasha, and our three children are a constant source of inspiration, meaning and purpose in my life.

Can you share a book/movie/TV show/podcast that teaches a valuable lesson about PR?
More recently, I’ve been inspired by the book “The Untethered Soul”, which is all about being mindful of ourselves and the world around us. The book helped me to evaluate who I was as a person and a professional. Only by being present can we as communicators truly understand what’s important and what we need to let go of. That’s the essence of what I try to do every day.

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Traveling as a BBC World Correspondent. I was lucky to have the experience of living in Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as commuting to New Delhi every week. I remember distinctly my first trip to New Delhi — every sense was alive — it was hot, humid, cars beeping, cows on the road. It was invigorating and gave me new perspective. Travel feeds my storytelling soul.