OPPORTUNITY: Business strategy sets the tone for the direction of any company. A compelling opportunity arises for companies that can connect their strategy to purpose. By connecting the two, communicators are provided with a powerful content generator that can create a strong narrative about the company.
ACTION: By working with leadership as the business strategy was developed, communications then segmented the strategy by audience. Once the audience segments were agreed to, communicators then worked to identify and verify examples of how the company was delivering on its strategy and purpose. With these proof points, a global communication plan was developed that delivered a consistent message to consumers, customers, analysts, employees, and other stakeholders -- across many time zones, with many executives and employees tasked to speak publicly, from multiple business units, in many languages, using many platforms, events and venues – all sequenced for maximum effect.
OUTCOME: Communicating a “business interests meets purpose” story, which began in the mid-2000s, was supported by many inside and outside the company, recognized company growth and rewarded shareholders with a stock price that doubled over a decade and continues trading well above $120 today. With companies being challenged to grow financially, developing a long-term strategy that engages stakeholders through purpose can be crafted into a powerful story. For its part, communications must then shape and share the story as broad and deep as time allows.
OPPORTUNITY: As a company’s strategy continues to evolve and grow, so too must the comms team change in order to remain that tightly integrated strategic partner to the business. For a global transportation company, a reorganization provided an opportunity to relook at all management roles and responsibilities to identify ways to improve performance and eliminate inefficiencies. Along with the rest of the company, the Comms team needed to better align with the new business priorities, organizational structure and leadership team. Some team members had roles that were too narrow, leading to outsourcing of more work and spending.
ACTION: Through a cascade redesign program, the organization was transformed with a broadening of roles and responsibilities for experienced managers. The number of senior individual roles was reduced, with junior roles added to insource work and continue to develop talent for the future. In addition, areas of responsibilities were reoriented to align with the company’s business priorities. The significant targeted cost reduction was achieved, while attempting as much as possible to capture the savings through attrition or by consolidating “empty” organizational boxes.
OUTCOME: A slightly smaller, yet more focused comms team was created. It was closely aligned to the company’s new business priorities and had a better balance and strategy for insourcing and outsourcing work. Share-of-voice earned media results in areas of importance to the business, such as products and services, remained strong throughout the restructuring in spite of media and influencer scrutiny related to the reorganization, M&A activity and labor contract changes.
ISSUE: To help consumers and stakeholders better understand Acrylamide, a possible human carcinogen, exposure in foods and beverages -- a global communications plan was needed after Swedish scientists discovered that Acrylamide forms naturally when starchy foods and drinks are heated to high temperatures.
ACTION: With news of Acrylamide spreading across many countries, the first step of the plan was to identify key stakeholders such as regulators, elected officials, media, NGOs, and academics to anticipate global news cycles. Parallel to this identification and analysis, consumer research was done to create the narrative and communication collateral -- websites, scripts, internal and external messages, and videos – that would be translated into six languages.
OUTCOME: The global communications plan was developed in approximately seven months and educational elements of the plan were deployed in high-visibility international markets. Reactive, crisis elements were used as needed over the course of several years. Results indicated a decline in consumer and stakeholder confusion when Acrylamide regulation or litigation became news.
ISSUE: A global energy operations company must navigate business risks, including health, safety and environmental incidents, and other reputation challenges. Without a strategy and plan to prepare the company to communicate to all of its stakeholders in a crisis, the company’s reputation and credibility would be at risk. Ineffective response to a crisis can cost companies in lost customers and revenue, and loss of trust.
ACTION: To better prepare the company for communications response in a crisis, the communications team developed the crisis comms plan and policy, including required content, messaging and training. The team partnered with legal to identify the most likely risk scenarios and developed specific internal and external communications materials, including press releases, reactive statements and a “dark” crisis website, for identified scenarios. An on-call communications notification process for after hours and weekends was established. Comms team processes, including a phone tree, flow chart and crisis roles/responsibilities were developed. The Comms team was trained for specific crisis team roles and conducted a table-top drill exercise. The company’s senior leadership team provided input and was briefed along the way.
OUTCOME: The crisis communications plan, policies and training materials were developed, reviewed and implemented within nine months. In addition, operations leaders globally were media trained via a webinar. When the company discovered an environmental risk in a community, the communications team integrated with the company’s emergency response plans by supporting operations and government affairs with key messages, FAQs, media relations and training and website content. By the end of the project, the company’s actions to safeguard the community and supporting communications strategy helped to fortify its reputation among residents, elected officials and regulators, and it had a permanent solution to address a crisis.
ISSUE: When companies grow via acquisition, integration to drive synergies is typically the first step. Over time the parent company considers if its corporate brand adds greater value in the local market. Once this determination is made, the transition from the acquired local company brand name to the corporate brand begins. In a global company that largely left the local brands untouched for decades, this meant converting legacy web sites in 40-plus countries from local company brands to one corporate brand. Upside from enterprise scale around employment, government relations, sales, and marketing was the rationale for change.
ACTION: The first step began with auditing the corporation’s web sites across each country and the consumer brands being marketed in each. With many countries hosting multiple web sites, the number of different web sites to be consolidated easily surpassed 140. Leadership in each country or territory was consulted on the number of web sites, brands and information contained under their authority – many of whom had inherited the web sites and their content from years passed. A new web platform with the latest technology to enable interactivity and engagement was identified in advance of the project and work began in parallel with local IT teams to deploy it. A new, uniform “skin” was developed to mirror the corporate web site with the added capability of being able to select a country of interest. Each country’s local brands, language, history, and promotions were incorporated into the new skin while retaining the unique attributes of each market. After all of the information was collected and designed for each country web site, local leadership was consulted on the accuracy and aesthetics. Once a country leader approved, that country’s portion of the new web site would go live.
OUTCOME: Within a year timeframe, the corporation was quickly able to convey its scale and local connection to key stakeholders across more than 40 countries. The rationale for this massive change was to showcase the strength of the corporate brand and scope of the business to current and future employees, government officials, regulators, non-profits, and consumers. What was once many brands under no banner, became 1,000s under one corporate flag which became a source of pride for employees and an improved technology platform to engage with other stakeholders and consumers in many international markets.
OPPORTUNITY: For publicly traded companies, annual reports are a standard part of business. Beyond their legal requirements, they are useful tools to update shareholders and stakeholders alike. For a B2B client, an opportunity arose to go beyond what’s legally required communications in publishing its annual report and tell a more comprehensive story.
ACTION: First, project leads were identified – which were Finance, Investor Relations and Communications. Each was given specific responsibility -- Finance took on company strategy, Investor Relations had responsibility for shareholders and Communications served as project manager and content developer. To make the annual report more compelling, sources for the content were identified and responsible parties were assigned to vet the information. In addition to prior year financials, the annual report was shaped into a platform that explained the company’s strategy beyond year-over-year performance -- through words, visuals and charts -- by illustrating recent success and previewing future goals. It became a road map of the future for employees, analysts and shareholders to rally behind. The annual report became the foundation for subsequent presentations and announcements that described the company’s strategy and growth agenda.
OUTCOME: By creating a strong communications platform at the start of the year, like an annual report, it can serve as an ideal reference point for any company’s strategy throughout the year. It enables consistency and clarity that both shareholders and stakeholders welcome when making decisions about how to value the enterprise. Having a strong annual report allows leadership to refer to its content when speaking to analysts on earnings calls, the board when making capital investments, employees when creating optimism for the company’s future and other stakeholders who seek to better understand the company’s role in society.
OPPORTUNITY: Earnings announcements are as regular as rain for publicly traded companies. They are required by law every four months on the company’s financial performance and may include other activity that is material to the company. For most companies, it’s a team of experienced players orchestrating a routine business process. For others, it can be a challenging race to meet an unavoidable deadline. Based on experience with several clients in publicly traded companies, the goal is for a smooth, simple and standard process when delivering earnings news.
ACTION: Like any time-bound project, develop a timeline with deliverables and make project owners accountable for the review and accuracy of all information included in an earnings announcement. As the materials are developed – press release, internal memos, script, and presentation – assign one party to maintain version control leading up to announcement day. With the company’s leadership, determine when the press release will be issued and the call with analysts is scheduled to allow interested parties time to absorb the information. Since most companies script leadership’s portion of an earnings call, some pre-record this portion of the call to allow them more time to focus on the subsequent analyst questions. If the press release is sent the afternoon before the next morning’s earnings call, companies can monitor analyst and other stakeholder reaction. Some may revise the script or anticipate questions from analysts during the call. A critical piece of information for any earnings announcement is financial performance and material activity, but leadership’s tone during the call and even the sentiment of the CEO’s quote in the press release can signal insights beyond the numbers.
OUTCOME: While reporting quarterly results can be routine, how the market reacts can be driven by many variables beyond a company’s own performance. Sector performance, economic conditions, world events are only a few of the factors that could impact a company’s earnings announcement. The key for any company is to develop a solid routine so that all involved understand their role, the timeframe for completion and, most important, the positioning of that quarter’s performance. This way the earnings announcement audience becomes accustomed to hearing from steady and stable leadership for a routine update on performance.
ISSUE: A company with 40,000 employees had little control of internal functions sending mass emails to group distribution lists. Compounding matters was that 90 percent of the employees worked outside of headquarters, and the majority of emails were sent by headquarters functions. The lack of central management and communication coordination created confusion among employees due to competing messages as well as frustration from non-headquarters employees for the perceived over communication of irrelevant information.
ACTION: Audits of emails being sent to employee distribution lists and by which function to determine the extent of the issue. With the information obtained, a case was made to leadership to centralize employee communication responsibility between the company’s in-house public relations and human resource functions. The plan called for the public relations function to be responsible for communications that raised awareness of the company’s strategy and major initiatives. Human resources became responsible for communication that required employee action. Both functions strategized to improve the company’s culture and implemented campaigns and developed communications tools to consistently reach all employees.
OUTCOME: After one month of audits, another month to secure leadership approval, developing the plan between public relations and human resources took one additional month. The activation plan began with a roll out that explained the new process and responsibilities to all employees. After some consternation by some functions over the restrictions, the new plan began to gain traction – especially with non-headquarters employees who appreciated the structured and relevant company information they now received. Employee surveys and polls were taken to measure effectiveness of communication for awareness and understanding of company priorities and other important news.
OPPORTUNITY: A C-Suite executive recently hired into a company and industry new to the individual was asked to present at an external forum after five months in role. The forum’s audience was mostly comprised of C-Suite executives from other industries, financial analysts, government officials, and media. The presentation topic focused on that company’s efforts to lead its industry in environmental sustainability. The executive had three weeks to prepare for the presentation, wasn’t familiar with the topic, had a tense presentation style, but a possessed a willingness to be coached.
ACTION: To meet the short timeframe, a meeting schedule was developed as if it were like any Communications project or campaign to manage. The first meetings were to determine the presenter’s strengths and opportunities to coach them up over the timeframe. A presentation outline was created in concert with the executive to ensure familiarity and acceptance of how the presentation would flow, knowledge of the proof points, and ability to convey authenticity in their delivery. A visit was made to one of the company’s facilities to see firsthand the equipment and processes in place to lead in environmental sustainability. Over the three weeks, there were 12 one-hour meetings that involved coaching up strengths, smoothing over the executive’s tense style, refining the presentation’s text, visuals and numerical stats, and recorded rehearsals.
OUTCOME: The presentation was delivered as if the executive had been with the company for life. With the audience being comprised mostly of peers, there was a sincere appreciation for how well the topic was delivered – in terms of a humble tone while leading the industry, simplicity of how the information was presented, ease in how the content was delivered, and the authenticity of the executive’s knowledge. Avoiding technical jargon, using visual cues to emphasize key points, visiting the facility, and most importantly -- an executive who was willing to learn and be coached, drove success and benefitted all involved.
OPPORTUNITY: With sales lagging for a flagship brand, a deep dive into its consumer base led to an interesting insight – control. According to research, younger people wanted a say in what the brand stood for – not the company. A creative solution was needed to reconnect a brand loved by many, but now being ghosted by its followers.
ACTION: After the decision was made on how to reengage its core consumers, the ball – literally -- was handed to communications to create awareness and engagement through Public Relations. Knowing the ads created for the Super Bowl made news, what if the ads were 100% created by consumers? And what if the buzz created the week before the big game was instead created during all of the final four months of the football season? And what if social media was used to create interest and competition among filmmakers and fans alike to select the winning ad? You’d have a PR campaign with enough elements to create a consistent stream of news that makes a fading brand more relevant.
OUTCOME: Not only was the first campaign a success, with more than one billion media impressions and tens of millions of dollars in advertising equivalency – the campaign became an annual staple for about a decade. By doing the research, critical analysis, having guts to turn over control, and relying on communications to connect with its consumer – a flagship brand went from losing sales to consistently winning again, and again, and again...
ISSUE: A global energy company was going through many disruptive changes. It had downsized its workforce significantly due to one of the worst industry downturns in history. As a result, many of the remaining managers and leaders were in new or expanded roles. The company had just implemented a new crisis communications plan and needed to media train its field teams globally. However, travel and discretionary spending budgets were tight, making it unfeasible to train everyone individually, or in small groups, in person.
ACTION: To prepare company leaders and managers for their communications roles in a crisis – or in any media interaction -- the communications team developed a webinar to provide training remotely. The hour-long webinar provided an overview of the company’s crisis communications plan and the role of the communication team in executing it. It then offered detailed guidance for interacting with media, including the rules of journalism, interview best practices and tips, and messaging techniques. Using real-life anecdotes, it provided video examples of what to do and what not to do in an interview or press conference, leaving plenty of time for questions.
OUTCOME: The crisis communications media training webinar was attended “live” by more than 50 leaders and managers across the globe, spanning the company’s operations in North America, Asia, eastern and western Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Following the live webinar event, the webcast was archived on the company’s website for future reference and refresher training. The entire event, including content creation and design, third-party contractor support was accomplished for approximately $20,000. While there is no substitute for one-on-one media training the webinar met an important need in the field and while adhering to the company’s budget restrictions.
ISSUE: With shareholder pressure to reduce costs and increase profits mounting, a manufacturing company faced a time-based challenge to streamline operations and lower overhead to meet the quarter’s financial expectations. Company executives met for two weeks to identify the areas of opportunity, leaving roughly 10 weeks to select the manufacturing facilities and HQ staff to be impacted, plan for the new supply chain, shift employees to new roles or expand responsibilities, evaluate the financial upside, and weigh community reaction across multiple locations in North America. After 10 weeks of evaluation, the executives made the decision to restructure and announce this in conjunction with its earnings release in two weeks.
ACTION: Confidentiality is critical for this type of news and the circle of insiders was kept small. Communications was fully engaged once the decision was made to proceed with announcing tied to earnings. Planning began immediately with input from HR, IR, Operations, Finance, and Legal. Stakeholders were identified, messages were developed for each audience and a comprehensive timeline of internal notifications and public announcements was finalized. To avoid disruptions in the investment community or with shareholders, the announcement could not be made during NYSE trading hours – 9:30 am ET to 4:00 pm ET. With multiple locations across three North American time zones, timing was critical as executives mandated that employees learn of the restructuring from the company first – timed to the press release becoming public -- through their supervisors, and then broad internal and external sources.
OUTCOME: Once final restructuring and communications plans were reviewed and approved by the function leads, the announcement coincided with that quarter’s earnings – as had been decided. The earnings press release with restructuring news was scheduled for after 4 pm ET, with the analyst call scheduled for the following morning. This timing allowed employees on both the east and west coasts to be notified during their normal work hours. Simultaneous to the press release being issued, individual employee meetings and employee group forums had been scheduled in advance to begin making all internal stakeholders aware of the changes to come and what it meant for them going forward. Internal communications via electronic means were sent to employees, board members, customers, and suppliers. Contact was also made with local officials, organizations and community partners shortly after the press release became public. News like this is never welcome, but when the company considers its people first and develops a thoughtful plan to lessen the impact – restructuring still remains unwelcome but may be more readily understood.
OPPORTUNITY: Companies that utilize social media channels primarily as one-way marketing and PR channels are missing important opportunities to build stronger relationships with audiences by engaging in a dialogue, soliciting input and proactively managing difficult situations. When a company’s brand promise doesn’t align with the experiences customers are venting about on social platforms, the company quickly can hurt its reputation and credibility and do so very publicly. For a global transportation company, this was especially true as customers took to social channels to express frustration during operational disruptions and customer service breakdowns. The company needed an integrated social media team that could leverage social channels proactively with compelling, engaging content, as well as use them to improve customer service and loyalty.
ACTION: One of the first actions was to audit the number of company social channels to streamline engagement and reduce brand fragmentation. In parallel, a team was built out under a strong leader to include managers who developed engaging content for customers as well as customer service representatives who helped customers via social channels. In addition, an analyst position was created to provide insight on reach, awareness and sentiment. Finally, budget was allocated for sponsorship opportunities to build social presences during high-profile events. Personnel and other costs were funded by in-sourcing budget previously used for third-party agency spending.
OUTCOME: Nine social networks were supported, with total followers increasing 60% over one year. Numerous awareness and reach milestones were achieved for critical company events, such as rebranding, introduction of new products and services and key sponsorships. Overall, the social engagement strategy helped to improve its reputation and allowed the company to make its social customer response team a 24-hour operation with real-time monitoring and response.
OPPORTUNITY: A CPG company recognized for superior processes to reduce supply chain costs while also maintaining high quality standards was generating consistent revenue and profit but was getting no credit for decreasing water, fuel and energy consumption.
ACTION: After measuring its water, fuel and energy usage and investing capital in “green” facilities and vehicles to prove the cost benefit, a compelling business case emerged on two fronts – environmental sustainability and cost reduction. An integrated communications strategy was developed to create awareness of the company’s sustainability programs to employees, elected officials, regulators, retail customers, and media. The strategy became an everlasting communications campaign for an industry leader in environmental sustainability.
OUTCOME: The company garnered significant news coverage and public recognition for its efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. Among the highlights were a front page article in a national newspaper regarding its facility in Arizona, an Earth Day event with then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to unveil its solar field in California and recognition from former Vice President Al Gore for reducing greenhouse gasses while demonstrating a financial benefit to the company's bottom-line.
OPPORTUNITY: International and product portfolio expansion are major factors in a global company’s growth plans. Accomplishing both in one acquisition presents a unique opportunity to boost shareholder value. Communications played a critical role in clarifying the value to stakeholders and shareholders for both publicly traded companies in their respective countries – with the United States company acquiring a market-leading Russian company.
ACTION: As the agreement drew closer, all communications planning was coordinated through each company’s respective corporate communications leadership. Once the companies agreed to acquisition terms and timing, the communications plan began with key messages developed in English and Russian and was followed by a joint press release, employee communications, stakeholder notification, and media interviews – all translated into both languages. A joint announcement was as scheduled to allow for maximum news coverage outside of market trading hours in Moscow and New York, with the joint press release crossing the wire in both counties simultaneously and followed by local press conferences and media availability. Media was monitored throughout the news cycle to correct or clarify any off-message reporting.
OUTCOME: All stakeholders and media received the news on time, as planned. While some financial analysts questioned the high acquisition cost, the overarching message of product portfolio expansion and further establishing the company’s global footprint were clear to stakeholders.
ISSUE: A company going through a merger review, at the appropriate time, must be prepared with a back-up plan, especially if the transaction faces high regulatory risks. While doing everything possible to support the successful deal closing and integration planning, a global company had to develop an alternative, stand-alone business strategy -- as well as internal and external communications plans to support the strategy -- when it appeared likely that a pending transaction (already challenged by regulators) might be terminated.
ACTION: A small subset of the communications team, working discretely with senior business leaders and investor relations, put together an integrated communications plan based on the new business model and strategic direction – including expansion into new market opportunities, debt and cost reduction actions and steps to return value to shareholders. The communications plan included laying out the three-pronged business and financial strategy in a press release, investor script, customer/sales communications, website content and in a full range of internal communications, including an employee letter and video message. For shareholders, the messaging focused on the value proposition related to the new strategy, while customer communications focused on the benefits from better products and services and new technology. Internally, the plan included a compelling campaign to rally employees around the company’s new future and direction, creating excitement about their roles in the company’s ongoing success.
OUTCOME: Once the transaction was terminated, the new business strategy and communications plan were launched before the stock market opened the following day. Employee engagement and excitement levels were extremely strong, as seen in interactive employee posts and readership of internal materials and content. The press release and follow-up media relations efforts produced expansive, balanced and largely positive coverage results. The heavily attended investor relations conference call a day later helped to solidify the narrative among investors and sell-side equity analysts. The communications plan and strong strategic story instilled confidence among all of the company’s stakeholders, internal and external, buying the company time to execute its plans and achieve proof points of success.
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