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As a Director of Executive and Internal Communications at Dell, Christina Furtado Holguin has a clear view on the power of corporate storytelling, particularly when it comes to distilling technical information on products set to help millions of consumers. For her, the strategy’s often rooted in the basics.
“I’d really like to see more human, more vulnerable stories being told [in the tech space]. I want communications to be less robotic,” she told me in a recent interview. “No matter what medium or tools you use, it comes back to how we’re relating as humans – and finding common ground.”
Furtado Holguin, who began her career on the agency side of PR, currently heads up communications for Dell’s Chief Technology Officer, John Roese, overseeing internal comms, events and wider thought leadership programs, along with panels, media relations and CTO-specific analyst opportunities. She monitors burgeoning technologies and key media moments, and ensures the tech giant acts on important inflection points and appropriately communicates the value of its expertise and solutions, which range from the desktop to the data center.
I caught up with Furtado Holguin recently to discuss some of her guiding communications principles; what follows is an edited version of our discussion:
To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, a product of Portuguese immigrants and a family that spoke a couple of languages. We were right in what quickly became the heart of the technology industry. I was also a news junkie – and probably the only 10-year-old that couldn't fall asleep without watching the 10 o’clock news.
I wanted to be in a major media market – like San Francisco or New York – and became increasingly interested in how things work, including technology. I wasn’t necessarily interested in it from an engineer or technologist’s perspective, though, just somebody who wanted to understand the way products can impact people’s lives.
I started in San Francisco, moved to New York-adjacent, in Hoboken, N.J., working for several agencies along the way, and then eventually was recruited by Dell, a former client of mine, to go in-house. Then, I moved to Austin, Texas, and I’ve been here for about 12 years now.
Can you describe that transition from the agency side to in-house at Dell?
It’s really important to understand where you feel most energetic in your role. That shows what your sweet spot is and what you should be doing more of. When I was on the agency side and Dell was my client, I always felt really close to the company, and that their stories were really compelling – but always at an arm’s length away. I didn’t quite get to understand the ins and outs of the company, that extra layer underneath. When the opportunity came up to be in-house, it was a no brainer for me – I felt like it’s exactly what I was missing.
<split-lines>"It’s really important to understand where you feel most energetic in your role. That shows what your sweet spot is and what you should be doing more of."<split-lines>
What are some of the biggest initiatives coming out of CTO John Roese’s office in 2023?
The Chief Technology Office is really charged with making sure that the company doesn’t miss an inflection point. Some of the areas we’re keeping a pulse on right now include the cybersecurity framework Zero Trust – and more specifically, what’s to come with it and which components needs to be ingrained now. Another one is AI, which of course is constantly evolving, and how best to think of it as part of your technology stack. Everyone knows hardware and software, but then there’s intelligence, and that’s where AI comes in. With generative AI, this next wave, it’s definitely top-of-mind for our team and for us as a company, as well as for our customers. Multi-cloud is also up there. The industry is faced with high costs because of eager leaps to the cloud, so figuring out how all of this connects – cost and efficiency – is also crucial.
What’s your strategy in tying Dell’s unique efforts into broader patterns dominating the news cycle?
There’s always different levels of comprehension. As a communicator, that’s my sweet spot. I didn’t come into communications as a technologist – I’m a human being who wants to understand how things work and why they’re important. That also describes pretty much everyone at a company that you need to reach, or your customers. So, what is the technology when broken down into layman’s terms – and why should I care about it? Why should I care about AI? For instance, AI is naturally built into our Latitude series laptops, making them more intelligent. This means these devices are going to be super durable, because there’s that new layer of embedded intelligence. We help communicate that.
Overall, everybody needs to understand what the technology is, and not just a CTO or CEO. That’s a lot of what my job is both internally and externally: helping us zero in on the areas that are truly of value to our customers.
<split-lines>"Everybody needs to understand what the technology is, not just a CTO or CEO. That's a lot of what my job is: helping us zero in on the areas that are truly of value to our customers."<split-lines>
So how exactly do in-house comms professionals advance key corporate messaging?
It’s about the audience, and there’s two to consider here: external audiences, which need to understand the technology, and internal stakeholders – sales for instance – who are interested in the bottom line and what’s available to sell today. As part of the Chief Technology Office, I want them to sell what we have today, but also believe in what’s coming tomorrow, say three or five years down the road, and see that continuity. The way that you tell that story to press and customers versus how you tell it to sales makers, or even to product developers, is going to be slightly different, based on their area of expertise and their ability to connect the dots. So, as a communicator and as part of the Chief Technology Office, I need to be that dot-connector, reaching everyone where they’re at.
What do you generally prioritize when it comes to executive communications? And where do you see it going in the next 5-10 years?
What we’re increasingly understanding as communicators is that there is a need for executive communications to be a valuable part of the comms stack. When it comes down to how we tell stories, people relate to humans, they don’t necessarily relate to products. There’s a reason that people relate to our CTO John Roese, and a part of that is me understanding his voice and being an amplifier for those stories that we feel need to be told.
Looking ahead, I’m reminded that at the end of the day, being a relatable human is going to be the factor that builds connections. Technology, of course, plays a critical role in enabling that connection. If it inhibits, we’re not using it the right way. But if it helps foster that connection – and does it for diverse voices, diverse populations, diverse points of view, and ultimately enables us to connect on a more human level, then it’s done its job. Communicators are critical in helping others see those connection points.
<split-lines>"If [tech] helps foster [a] connection – and does [so] for diverse voices, diverse populations, diverse points of view, and ultimately enables us to connect on a more human level, then it’s done its job."<split-lines>
It always comes back to connection and common ground, no matter what medium or tools we’re using in five to 10 years.
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