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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

Who owns Culture & Engagement?

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Is asking who owns company culture and employee engagement a good, provocative, or just plain daft question? Well, in episode 15 of the Sticky From The Inside podcast, your host Andy Goram, talks to ex-Madison Avenue agency guy and international business consultant, Michael Taylor, to see where the answers may lie.

But did they answer the question? Well, it was a bit more complicated than that and their conversation is a journey that covered everything from traditional ownership, the creation of fiefdoms and silos, the employee eco-sphere, customer experience, brand alignment, leadership, shortening returns horizons and the positive opportunities that lay ahead.

This is a full transcript of their conversation, which you can also listen to here.

Two men talking into microphones in their living rooms about company culture
Michael Talyor (left) and Andy Goram (right) chat about who owns Culture & Employee Engagement

00:00:00 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition, smashing consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tons more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.

So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:10 Andy Goram

OK then, so in business who owns culture and engagement? Or should I say who should own culture and engagement? It's a simple enough sounding question, but a provocative one nonetheless, and one that could come with a whole range of answers and a plethora of equally interesting follow up questions too. So, what's the answer, and where do you start, and how can you cover that in less than 40 min?

Yes, well to help me discuss this and more. Today I'm joined by Michael Taylor. Michael combines over 35 years of business management expertise with a deep knowledge of customer experience, marketing and communications and of course business development and importantly for today company culture is helping businesses guide that seamless change journey in large enterprises and mid-sized organizations too. He's held C-suite roles in leading marketing services agencies both in the UK and the USA, including acting as a managing director at Ogilvy Group and director of agency operations at TBWA Worldwide, both in New York.

He's now an advisor to a US-based software and technology platform business and operates in Europe as an independent marketing and CX consultant, and in 2020 he was elected a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing recognising his senior contribution to marketing, digital and customer communications over several decades.

He's also got a pretty clear view on that culture and engagement ownership question.

Hey Michael! How are you doing?

00:02:44 Michael Taylor

Hello Andy, thanks for inviting me and thanks for that very generous introduction.

00:02:48 Andy Goram

Yeah, I'm so generous, but I'm also very truthful. So, I mean my goodness that that is some CV, my friend, isn't it?

00:02:56 Michael Taylor

Well, I've got more years under my belt than I care to mention, so you know, I've had the benefit of working in the USA, which I enjoyed immensely for 6 years and then moved over to France where I lived and worked for 12 years before returning to the UK. So yeah, it's been an interesting ride.

00:03:15 Andy Goram

Well, I mean I can't help, because of the kind of guy I am, when you talk about places like Ogilvy and TBWA, to get a little bit “Don Draper” and “Mad Men” in my head. But, I know the businesses operated in very, very different way to that, but evocative images anyway.

00:03:29 Michael Taylor

Well, I did have a Madison Avenue address.

00:03:32 Andy Goram

Well, there we go. You see bang on! Bang on Mad Men! So, what are you currently working on my friend, what are you up to?

00:03:39 Michael Taylor

OK, well I gave up full-time working back in February of 2020, just ahead of COVID, interestingly enough, and decided I wanted to really focus on one or two projects a year that would continue to occupy the Grey Matter and leverage the experience that I've gained in working in communications, in advertising and marketing services for most of my life. Although I started in broadcast television and broadcast radio actually so it's...

00:04:11 Andy Goram

Full circle!

00:04:13 Michael Taylor

Yeah, full circle. Yeah, yeah, I'm now on a podcast, exactly.

00:04:18 Andy Goram

So, this topic we're going to talk about today. I mean engagement, culture. You know, maybe two parts of a much bigger pie, but traditionally maybe, this has been the fiefdom of HR, and even still today when I read stuff or listen to podcasts or see webinars or whatever it might be there still seems to be more than most or more than I would expect a sort of either lead or an ownership grip of culture and engagement still sitting in HR, and I know you have a particular view on view on this, so let's start off the conversation by getting cards on the table. Where do you think these things lie from an ownership perspective?

00:05:04 Michael Taylor

Yeah, it's not a straightforward answer, that's the only thing. But yeah, I think you're right. They start as a legacy issue in the way that businesses were structured. You know, I mean, we grew up, or so I certainly grew up with a personnel department that was all things to do with the workforce. They weren’t even employees at that time, they were the employed. And then during the last couple of decades, probably more focus on the 1990s, we went through this whole iteration of what personnel really was and we ended up with Human Resources, HR, with a broader remit that seemed to embrace things like company culture and employee engagement. And also that thing called internal communications.

Actually, let me just deal with internal communications first of all. I'm of the opinion that there is a difference between employee communications and internal communications. Employee communications for me is about informing staff. It's about informing about important things that directly affect them. So, things like their benefits package, for example, employment policy, career planning, and things like that. That’s down to the skills of a human resources professional. But for me, internal communication has a much bigger role to play of extending the brand into the internal audience. So, within that we have things like company mission statement and corporate objectives and corporate strategy and things like that. And therefore, I think you might rightly assume that it demands a different set of skills; a skill set which is focused on messaging, creative content, curation and generation.

And I was reading an article a couple of weeks ago in Forbes magazine on what they called an intellectual and emotional agility. And so with that in mind, I think that internal communications sits alongside specialised unstructured communications. And you might find that ultimately, under the umbrella of the Chief Marketing Officer, the CMO. But there are few spanners in the works and it's what I referred to earlier. It's about definitions, and you've used these terms company culture, engagement. What do we mean by company culture? What do we mean by employee engagement?

The issue, I think with company culture, is that we've gone through a further evolution of industrialisation and that has been brought about by digital. Digital has enabled us within our workplace and within the home. But more importantly, it's given power back to the consumer. What do I what do I mean by that? In the days that I spent at Ogilvy and TBWA we referred to, we were in charge of messaging. You know, we decided how the consumer, the customer was going to hear about this new product, or this new service, and we would decide where they would learn more about things on TV, or radio, or magazines, or newspapers, or out of home - big billboards and things like that you know, or maybe even you know, that exciting revolution that took place around 1999 or the year 2000. Direct marketing, you know.

I mean we were in charge, but the problem now is that the consumer’s in charge, because they're empowered by digital, the smartphone and the laptop and the tablet. They can connect with the brand 24 by 7 by 365 and to be quite honest with you, most companies, most businesses are still struggling to be able to meet the customer in the channel of their choice, at the time that the customer chooses and not at the time that the company wants. So, that's a big challenge. So, I think business culture today and that leads me to the statement that business culture today is all about customer centricity. And if it isn't about customer centricity then that business, that Brand has got a growing problem. Because that's the real differentiater now, customer experience, customer centricity in need of all market sectors.

And customer centricity is about customer engagement. So, if our culture is about customer centricity, engaging the customer, should it be sitting within HR? I sense that the answer to that is probably “no”.

00:10:18 Andy Goram

See, this is interesting 'cause this is where the debate happens. Because if I... look, this is dangerous territory, my friend, because we're both marketers by dint, you know. I have people that work in HR who listen to this who will be screaming at me saying I'm a biased old wotsit, and look I am what I am, and I see things as I see them. I try and be balanced, but if I look at HR and Marketing independently, the thing that binds them together, for me at least, is that they both have audience attraction, engagement and retention goals, right? They just have different audiences. But they have some very, very similar objectives and goals between them around that attraction, retention and getting engagement. And I think this is where, like you've talked about internal communications and employee communications, there's another blurring that's going on between brand and employer brand.

And I think where the best examples of these things come is where there is one continuous thought. Actually, there isn't a separate employer brand to the consumer brand. It's telling a very similar story on both sides. It's a coherent, continuous story that's consistent across wherever it comes, and I think this is where businesses, departments, fiefdoms, silos have kind of like not caught up, in that it's no longer as simple as to say the black and white differences between employer, brand and brand internal communications staff communications. I think all the worlds are coming together. Am I a fool? Or do you see the same sort of thing, Michael?

00:12:00 Michael Taylor

Well, I'm not a big fan of the idea of employer brands to be quite honest. There is only one brand, because your employees are also probably your customers in one form or another. Let's just sort of … let’s draw a classic wheel diagram. I’m going to do it now to aid myself. And break that wheel diagram into 8 segments. You do it with me. In those segments you will find, I think in the employee ecosphere, which is our wheel diagram, employee communications, employee engagement, employee experience closely linked, employee training, employee onboarding, employee retention, employee safety and crisis management. Yeah, of course. That should be 8?

00:13:03 Andy Goram

That's 8, yeah, yeah, yeah.

00:13:04 Michael Taylor

That's a good. Now ask yourself who really wears the hat for each of those. So, employee communications? Well, in my view that’s one of those you know, “Well, duh!” moments, because the clue’s in the title - “communications”. Employee engagement? Well, we've just talked about or, I've just talked about employee engagement being linked to a customer experience. So, that would sit under CX. Employee experience? Well that's a mix of CX and HR. You know, I’d go down that route with that one. Employee retention? Well, that’s definitely classic HR for me. Likewise for training.

Onboarding is interesting. That crosses into a number of areas, but I think it sits in terms of the custodian would be HR. Employee safety. Well, that's definitely HR. And then crisis management, and that's an interesting one because that as far as the staff are concerned is mainly a communications function, so I guess that would sit in communications.

So, what that wheel does, is play to the summary that you gave, which is basically it's no one person responsibility. It's everybody's responsibility in terms of what your function is, and there I've just shown that we've got one, two, or three functions that are guiding the role of the employee. You know, and that really does play to that whole argument of getting rid of silos. Breaking down hierarchy. You know the model for businesses today has to be an agile model. It can't be a hierarchical model. It can't be a siloed model. One of the biggest problems in customer experience is the fact that we cannot deliver a consistent conversation with the customer if you're a siloed organisation. You may have everybody in that particular silo, Operations, or HR, or Marketing working to the best of their ability, to serve the end customer at the end of the day. But unless you can have cross collaboration, unless you can share the customer experience across that organisation, it will always be disjointed. Silos are the antithesis of customer experience. There's no question about it.

00:16:02 Michael Taylor

So, for me, where does this sit, ultimately? It's under a banner headline of experience, and what we're beginning to see now it's the emergence of the Experience Officer, a Chief Officer, a C-Suite role. The Chief Experience Officer, recognising that the experience that the customer has is impacted by the experience that the business has in dealing with the customer and vice versa, and we call that Inside out and outside in. And so, the emergence therefore of this new role I think, is where all of this sits, but that means, and this is going to hurt, subjugating HR below the CXO. So, the Chief Human Resources Officer is not going to be a happy man, or woman.

00:16:45 Andy Goram

Well, I think this is an interesting point, because in a previous role, I think I touched some of this myself, in that I had a Chief Brand Experience Officer role.

00:16:58 Michael Taylor


00:17:01 Andy Goram

I mean what you see from that is exactly what you just sort of said. I went... If you like, overnight from marketing, communications ownership and responsibility to having fingers in lots of pies, and because the rest of the organisation may or may not have been as I guess forwardly organised, through no fault of their own. You know you're treading on lots of people's toes and ownership at that point. And I think this is one of the issues for me in the evolution of silos. Is that in any given business, different departments are evolving at different rates, unless it is a structured transformation or internal transformation that moves everybody on at the same at the same rate.

So, unless you've got a common collective goal and understanding that the organisation is going to migrate and change over time, you're going to have these conflicts as certain departments kind of move forward. In a recent podcast I mentioned that my view of HR was that it was almost caught in limbo, at the time. Whilst say Marketing had kind of moved on, and Finance had kind of moved on and remits have grown, HR have almost become the policies and benefits guys, and that's it. And they're more. They are far, far, far more than that.

00:18:29 Andy Goram

Often, it's the guys trying to organise the transformation, and HR tend to take a bit of a lead on that, that they end up doing themselves last and by the time it comes to HR, everything’s crossed over. For me, this stuff has always been about collaboration. You know, as a brand guy, brand to me is all about delivering on the promise that's designed around the board table, right? And that promise is often delivered by the people, either in the shop or in the call centre or in the factory. So you have to make sure, as a marketer, if you want your brand to be as consistently delivered as possible, that you have got the best people doing that. And therefore, attracting, engaging and retaining the best people is absolutely key. And so, working with your partners like HR for an example, is absolutely crucial to delivering your goal as a brand guy.

00:19:28 Michael Taylor

Yeah, I agree with what you said there in principle. You know you say that HR is being caught in limbo. I don't think it's just HR. And you know, you're very charitable towards marketing, but to be quite honest with you, marketeers are struggling as well.

00:19:44 Andy Goram


00:19:45 Michael Taylor

With the proliferation of channels and you know accessing data. It's all about data these days, there are so many businesses that do not have a single view of the customer. They've got data stored in their call centre. They’ve got data stored in their marketing department. It's not the same database about the same customer.

00:20:08 Andy Goram

Well, you see that in many experiences, don’t you Michael? You know, you log on to the website. It tells you one thing, on the phone it's telling you something else. You bring up the call centre, and they don't know who you are. I mean, it's so disjointed.

00:20:17 Michael Taylor

Absolutely. I've worked with tons of companies where that is exactly the case. And you know, in the last couple of years I've worked with companies that, you know, they have a sophisticated CRM platform and then they have a different CRM, not quite full CRM platform, in another department. And the two are not connected. There's no systems integration at all, so, you know, I don't think it's just HR caught in limbo, I think a lot of companies across the board are caught in limbo.

00:20:52 Andy Goram

Yeah, I mean I'm not picking on HR. I think they just tend to come up more often, particularly in this podcast, when we're talking about people-related issues, engagement-related issues, cultural stuff, because of legacy. I've worked with some fantastic HR people over the time and a lot of them get frustrated by the processes that they’re bound by, or the confines of how an organisation is thinking or is developed.

I talk about them a lot, because I've worked a lot with them. I found myself as the guy in the middle of Marketing, HR & Operations all the time. Trying to forge collaboration which where I’m now on the outside of corporate looking in, it scares the life out of me to see that stuff still happening. The lack of collaboration. The almost land-grab of, “Right! That's ours. We’ll have that!” When really, the best results come from a wider understanding. A bigger collection of brains and collaboration to get things done.

00:21:52 Michael Taylor

Yeah, I agree with that, and I talked about marketing, and you being charitable towards marketing. Marketing is frustrated by the fact that, you know, traditional marketing has been focused on pre-acquisition i.e. Discovery and interest and acquisition stages within the customer lifecycle. But there are several other important stages within that customer lifecycle where the skill set of marketing should be applied. And it's not, because it's gone beyond the purchase point. And what often happens within a company is that, you know, all of that great messaging, all of that brand positioning all takes place right the way up to the point of purchase, and then that customer at the point of purchase becomes just a sales metric. And everything is lost thereafter.

00:22:49 Michael Taylor

Now and I've worked with companies where you know they just, they put no effort at all into customer retention. Where does customer retention sit? Well, it sits within the growth... within this life cycle stage of serve & grow. Customer retention is incredibly important to an organisation. It costs five times more to secure a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer and cross sell and upsell to them. Where does loyalty and advocacy sit? It sits at the back end of the customer lifecycle, but we need to have the skill set of marketing and others engaged and focusing on building customer loyalty, i.e. Lifetime value and building advocacy. Well, building advocacy, that's surely a marketing job? But this is at the other end of the lifecycle or the other of a part of the lifecycle, where they traditionally don't get involved. It's a real mess. There's no question about it. This is why I'm fairly excited about the emergence of the role of the Chief Experience Officer. Because this is a way of breaking down those silos and that legacy of “marketing's over here, and operations is over there. And neither the Twain shall meet.”

00:24:09 Andy Goram

Yeah, I mean lot of my business I've worked in have been, I guess, service-based businesses or retail businesses, hospitality businesses, and the service profit chain is as alive and well as it ever was when it was formed, goodness knows how many eons ago. I know there are many, many CX guys out there who will say I over-simplify stuff? But the whole relation of happy employees, equals happy customers, equals happy profits and shareholders, I think is still a truism. And I think this is where the connection needs to happen because, the engagement stuff and the brand stuff are inextricably entwined, because... you see it, right? If you're with employees who really get what the brand is about and why it does what it does, and what they're here to do and can really see their place in it, and could understand how they contribute to the success of that stuff. Things just seem to work better. They're smoother, they're more consistent. There's less employee turnover, there's more productivity, more creativity, you know.

00:25:24 Michael Taylor

In the time that I've been back in the UK, which is the last six years, I've worked with companies, I can think of 1 specific company where the majority of the employees could not tell you what the brand promise was.

00:25:42 Andy Goram


00:25:43 Michael Taylor

Could not tell you anything about the category in which the Brand was competing. Which I’m just, I'm abhorred by. I mean I just don't know how you can run a business where you've got such an ill-informed team of employees facing up to your customers. I just don't see how it can work.

00:26:02 Andy Goram

You would never think of having an unbriefed sales team, right?

00:26:06 Michael Taylor


00:26:09 Andy Goram

Why choose us? “I don't know”. You just wouldn't do it. And every employee is a member of your sales team, official or unofficial. So, to not know that stuff is criminal.

00:26:20 Michael Taylor

Yeah, well I'm a big fan of Forbes Business magazine, primarily because, you know, I worked in the US for quite some time. There was a feature in that it was talking about employee knowledge and it said that only 30% of employees who were polled, across a number of very large American organisations and a good number of them, only 30% actually cleaved towards the brand. 70% didn't care less or were just totally anti the brand that they were working for.

00:27:01 Andy Goram

*Sighs* These are the stats that just make me sad.

00:27:05 Michael Taylor

Yeah, they make me sad, too. They really do, but it's... I mean, it's an opportunity. That's the way to do it. And when I talk to clients, you know, I talk about the opportunity. It may appear to be a negative, but it's an opportunity actually to create something really positive and change things. The problem is we then get down to the word that you use, which is “transformation” at the beginning.

00:27:31 Andy Goram


00:27:31 Michael Taylor

And transformation can scare the life out of a CEO.

00:27:35 Andy Goram


00:27:36 Michael Taylor

Transformation means throwing everything out and starting afresh in most people's minds. You know what we've got now is working, therefore, we gotta replace it. I don't talk to clients about transformation, I talked to them about evolution. Taking what you've got now, identifying the good bits, building on that, and then filling in the rest. And it's not a quick fix. There are some early wins, yes, but we've really got to look to longer term horizon. The question then is, and it’s always questions, the question then is “What's the horizon?”

00:28:13 Andy Goram

And what are you seeing Michael? Because that long-term commitment or longer-term commitment, I think, is a real stumbling block for engagement, culture change, transformation, call it what you will, because maybe some businesses have a much shorter-term focus. Maybe their returns are all about, you know the next 2-3 years, rather than the next 7 to 10 years. What do you see with the clients you work with?

00:28:38 Michael Taylor

Well, the clients that I have conversations and work with, I've seen a dramatic shortening of horizons, and I think COVID has been the real stimulus for that. Because you know it took us all by surprise and it had such a massive impact. So, a lot of it negative, but a lot of it positive. You know, people find it, they actually do their job working from home for example and do a damn good job. But that in itself has got other issues surrounding it. You know the emergence of e-commerce and the substantial growth of e-commerce, for example, during the 2020 and 2021 today. So I'm seeing that a lot of a lot of companies where they're not having to make massive capital investment by changing production plants and things like that. I'm seeing Horizons really condensing down. Short term is 6 months. It's got to be done within six months, and that's technology that's really, really driving that now, because, you know, technology is evolving so very, very fast. Medium-term is a year to 18 months and long term is 3 years.

00:29:51 Andy Goram


00:29:51 Michael Taylor

So, who can look beyond three years now? I mean, talk to the airline industry. Can you look beyond three years? No, of course they can't, you know. So, there is long-term planning for planes and things like that which may have been 10 years out, now it's gonna be three years, you know, now that's our horizon. You know, what's going to happen, what can we do within that three-year horizon? You know that's why I talk about agility. Yeah? Because a lot of corporate structures are not fixed in a way that they can respond with agility. You know they can make quick decisions, and sprint and make another decision, and sprint.

00:30:34 Andy Goram

So, what do we do then? We come back to this question. I mean, I think we kind of like gone, you know, all over the topic of who wants...

00:30:41 Michael Taylor

We have, and I'm sorry about that.

00:30:42 Andy Goram

No, no, no, no, no.!

00:30:43 Michael Taylor

That’s what talking to me, does. I’m sorry.

00:30:45 Andy Goram

I think it's great 'cause I think this is the whole nature of the daft question that you ask... well, I asked at the beginning, is who owns this stuff? And the reality is it's that's a daft question, right? Because it's much, much deeper than that. It goes across many departments, but there needs to be a core for all of that, which I think has to come from brand, right? And has to come from where the organisation wants to go. What is that strategic narrative of the company and brand? But to your point of this being an opportunity. Where the three-year window may conflict with a longer-term people-focused strategy, what are the steps that we should be taking, do you think to, you know, move towards this agile stuff? To bust down the silos and really encourage the collaboration. Where would you start and are you able to get those thoughts onto 3 sticky notes, Michael, 'cause we're at that part of the show I like to call “Sticky Notes” where we consolidate and summarise the thoughts of the day onto 3, simple, bite-sized takeaways that you could fit on a sticky note. Have you had a chance to think about that?

00:31:50 Michael Taylor

Yeah, I scribbled those down. I think the first one, and it all comes down to this at the end of day. If you're running a business is build an understanding of your customer.

00:32:00 Andy Goram


00:32:01 Michael Taylor

And how they interact with your business and how the critical interface between the customer and the employee is going to work. And that's 101 customer experience. So that’s my first one. My second would be and we talked a lot about it today. Create a customer-centric culture that permeates from the top of the business, right the way down through the business and build a team of highly motivated employees. And for me, that's 101 employee engagement.

00:32:38 Michael Taylor

And the third is, aim high but start low. That's just common sense to me, basically. But ensure that you are fully engaged on the journey you're taking with your employee. Make them your change ambassadors. And if you get those three things right, I really think it's where all of that comes together. HR, Marketing, Customer Experience, Ooperations and we start to break down their silos, which as I said, are the complete antithesis of delivering good, positive, customer experiences?

00:33:19 Andy Goram

Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with those three really nice sticky notes, that will adorn the walls with the sticky studios forever. And I think then it comes down to strong, committed leadership and consistent behavior, right? Extolling the things that you've put up in place, constantly referencing and showing what it's like to work around here, right?

00:33:44 Michael Taylor

Change or transformation could only happen if it's sponsored at the top of the organisation. Anywhere else it will fail, and I've seen so many companies you know massacred on that battlefield of transformation.

00:33:59 Andy Goram

Well, let's leave the listeners with the note of “massacre” ringing strongly in their ears, in that no one wants a massacre. Everybody wants to take this stuff forward. I think you're right; I think on the back of COVID we have seen where opportunity can come from and the things that organisations are capable of that they never thought they were. I don't really like the word pivot, but the ability to kind of like change direction and commit to something and bring everybody with you in a very short space of time is kind of... it's a bit like the vaccines themselves, you know. Well, it takes 10 years to do a vaccine. Well, nuts to that, we'll do it in six months. And I think that's an interesting metaphor for business going forward. We all talk about this stuff. We all know this stuff exists. Now we've got a chance to really make a difference in change, and I think your three sticky notes,do a good job of giving some people things to aim at. So, thank you very much for that today, Michael. And thanks so much for your time. I know you're a really busy man. So, I really appreciate you coming on and talking to us.

00:34:59 Michael Taylor

It's been a great pleasure and we thank you very much indeed for inviting me.

00:35:03 Andy Goram

OK, my friend, you take care, speak to you soon.

00:35:05 Michael Taylor

You too.

00:35:07 Andy Goram

OK, that was Michael Taylor and if you'd like to find out a bit more about him and what he's up to, please take a good look at the show notes.

00:35:21 Andy Goram

So, that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.

If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps.

I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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