Linda Mills is a leader of the communications team for Boeing Commercial Airplanes – the Boeing business unit that delivers the world’s best airplanes to customers in more than 150 countries. Boeing is based in Renton, Washington, just outside Seattle, and have annual revenues of $58 billion.
Tell us about your background? How did you get to where you are today?
For the first 15 years of my career, I was on the agency side working with firms that I still admire today – Publicis Dialog, MWW Group and WE communications. I was able to gain experience across a variety of industries, pitching every product under the sun from Trojan condoms, to Kozy Shack pudding, to Samsung flip phones, a host of dot coms, and Microsoft Smart Watches 10 years ahead of their time. Every client and every project I got to work on gave me tangible experience and definitely some laughs.
I moved to the corporate side in 2012 with Starbucks, where I started out on the brand communications side, then went to corporate communications, and eventually became Vice President of Global Communications. At Starbucks, I learned to appreciate the power of people-focused storytelling and embodying the company’s mission and values. I feel fortunate to have been a part of some of the most meaningful and purpose-driven campaigns of my career while at Starbucks.
And, just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, the opportunity of a lifetime came along to lead and guide the next chapter of innovation and storytelling for Boeing. I jumped in with both feet and joined the company in February. Since then, I’ve been on a journey of learning – immersing into our business, hearing from our customers and building and developing the team.
Take us through a “typical” work day – what does it look like? What are you engaged in?
As the saying goes, there’s never a “typical” day in PR – and just when you think it will be typical, that’s when you’re in for a surprise. But, in general, I start the day by scanning the news headlines – paying close attention to aerospace trends, trade news and global events. I then attend a 7:30 a.m. daily call with our communications leaders around the globe, talking through the news of the day and our game plan. Much of my day is spent with my direct reports, our division’s leadership team, and my communications counterparts around the enterprise strategizing what’s ahead, driving our big campaigns, and working through unforeseen issues of the day. I also try to get out of the office and visit our manufacturing facilities as much as I can to get a better sense of the pulse on our business and what’s on the minds of employees. And, by working for a company that manufacturers the world’s finest airplanes, I also travel quite a bit to meet with our employees, customers and key stakeholders.
What does your media diet consist of?
My first stop is Apple News. It’s a great cross-section of news that I can personalize and I intentionally try to ensure a balance of perspectives to get a true representation of the news of the day. I then read our internal news site – Boeing News Now, which tells our own stories about the innovations we’re driving and the great people behind the work, as well as Plane & Simple, which is an internal website showcasing how simple ideas from employees are leading to huge payoffs for the company. I get The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Seattle Timesdelivered to the office, and subscribe to The New York Times Sunday edition at home. Twitter is typically on throughout the day so I can stay on top of breaking news. I watch morning news shows from the gym, which isn’t as often as I would like J.
What is your office/work setup like?
I love my office. There’s lots of collaboration space for meetings and it has amazing views of Mount Rainer, which is the gem of Washington, when the sun is out. I often have the delight of seeing our planes zoom overhead. In fact, Boeing is the only company that I’ve worked for where it’s perfectly acceptable to stop a meeting to watch a plane swoop by. I also have photos of the team’s work displayed on my office walls. It’s a proud representation of the human-focused storytelling we get to do here at Boeing.
What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed?
As the mother of two girls, I love what Debbie Sterling and GoldieBlox are doing in their communications efforts to showcase the power of young female minds – everything from turning the Beastie Boys “Girls” song lyrics on its head to launching kid-friendly podcasts. This is a company that is really driving their brand and what they stand for through communications. It’s genuine and empowering.
How is your communications team staffed and how many people make up your in-house team?
For Boeing Commercial Airplanes, we have about 90 people working internal and external communications, advertising and marketing, digital engagement, and stakeholder relations. The team is spread across our manufacturing sites as well as our core offices.
How do you recharge?
I recharge by being around people I love – my family most importantly, but also through good friendships. I love to travel to new places and take in new experiences.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
“If you’re doing it by yourself, you’re doing it wrong.” I was never really a fan of group projects in school. It always drove me crazy when that one person didn’t give it the same effort as everyone else. But, I’ve learned that having diverse perspectives and working styles makes the work better. So, never go at it alone. You’ll be a stronger leader and the work will be better if you bring in others for help.
Life in public relations is… “ever changing.” As soon as you think you have it all figured out, it will change. Never sit still and always seek to learn new things.
What are you reading or what would you recommend?
I recently read “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott, and it really showed me how I can develop as a people leader and empower my team by giving real feedback in the moment. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and the person you have feedback for if you’re not honest and transparent about how they can improve and be empowered to progress. We all have areas of strength and areas of weakness. It’s important that we uncover those and lean into the strength and work on the weaknesses. Feedback is a gift – so give it freely!
What tools or technologies can’t you live without?
I’m completely lost without my phone, naturally. It’s my mission control and I really can’t go very long without it. Specifically for Boeing, we have a Smart Factory tool that allows me to have line of sight into our airplane production and sales/deliveries. This “Digital Flight Deck” helps the entire leadership team make business decisions, identify the opportunities ahead, and be more in-tune with our front line employees and what they are facing.
What is next for public relations? What emerging trends do you see?
I believe that the essential skills of relationship-building, writing and telling a compelling story will never change. That is the hallmark of our craft. But, what will advance further is how we drive and deliver those stories. I believe that we’re entering a world when we can be much more targeted in our communications and build deeper relationships with our customers, stakeholders and employees through data and insights.