Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Procter and Gamble Letting Go While Starbucks Getting a Grip

Northern Kentucky was fortunate enough to serve as host this week of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC: Heritage Region Conference hosting 200 professionals and students from as far away as New York, Virginia, Illinois and Michigan. IABC provides a professional network of more than 14,000 business communication professionals in over 70 countries, with members holding positions in such broad ranging disciplines as public relations, government relations, video production, training, education and human resources.

Two of the more engaging speakers at the conference were Procter & Gamble ( Global External Relations Officer Charlotte Otto and James Greathouse, Director of Internal Communications for Starbucks. While both groups are known for innovation, Otto advised that the venerable corporate giant has been cautious in being transparent to consumers. For P&G, that opaqueness comes in the form of revealing details about product ingredients, something unthinkable even a few years ago.

Consumer brands face a hostile and skeptical market today, she added (citing Dan Yankelovich's book Profit With Honor in which the author details America's third wave of public distrust--following the Depression and Vietnam--coming in the form of 911, corporate scandals and the Iraq War ( Otto says P&G's goal is to be authentic and interesting but safe to advertisers. "We have to respect consumers as co-creators acknowledging their control over the message."

If the coffee doesn't give Starbucks ( executives the jitters, the problems created by the organization's growth might. Greathouse says seven new Starbucks a day are opening creating hundreds of new jobs for partners and baristas but also keeping busy about 1,200 employees in real estate, store design and construction as well as 150 HR people and regional Vice Presidents, Directors and District Managers. Imagine the potential for communication chaos with these swelling numbers. And Greathouse says the cost is potentially enormous. He reported that a single poorly written headline on an intranet home page amounts to $1,000 in wasted employee time (think about pondering a headline, clicking through it even though it's useless, taking time to decide whether it's useless, you get the picture). How to deal with this? Greathouse has pulled together a multi-department task force predicating their work on what the audiences need, or as Greathouse so succinctly phrased it, "Do things because the audience wants it not because it's cool or because (as the IT department might boast) 'we can.' "


Brian Siegel said...

Do you feel being "opaque" can hurt or help a business? My immediate intentions are to be transparent and candid (with respectful boundaries), but I assume if you have multiple brands to leverage your name as well as risk, being opaque can work for keeping the "nucleus" or "brain" hidden from negative impressions! Keep up the great blogging, hope to connect with you Friday at the AMA event, and I appreciate your guidance!

Brian Siegel

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