Sodexo pronounces its consumer interest

From its new name to a bolder Web presence, the company is focused on customer interaction

With the rise of the Internet and empowered consumers, even global companies that provide b-to-b management services, like Sodexo, are focusing more on external communications to third-party consumers.

“Over the last three to four years, the end consumer has become increasingly interested in the impact of our decision-making,” says Stephen Brady, SVP of corporate communications at Sodexo. “So we've become more and more involved in communicating who we are, what we do, and what we stand for.”

To better connect with consumers and key stakeholders, the company recently changed its name from Sodexho to Sodexo to increase consistent pronunciation.

Sodexo is a French multinational company with North American revenues of $7.3 billion. It provides a range of management services, such as oversight of undisclosed government buildings to food services for schools, like George Mason University or the Napa Valley School District. Sodexo has approximately 900 university clients. It also offers integrated solutions from energy management to concierge services.

With 6,000 clients served in North America, the PR team places one or two internal communications people on site to report back to corporate on the efficacy of business strategies and to ensure consistent service.

“We have a unique position as we're operating within our clients' site,” says Brady. “Our customer face is mainly through our people.”

AOR Burson-Marsteller helps Sodexo on matters ranging from internal communications to crisis management.

“The consumer needs to trust us, too. We don't have a big ad budget [as] a b-to-b sell,” says Jaya Bohlmann, VP of PR for Sodexo.

Sodexo communications officers will create content for clients' online properties, such as their intranet, Web sites, or kiosks, says Brady. Through these mediums, Sodexo provides value propositions relevant to the community, such as how to avoid gaining the “Freshman 15” pounds by eating its healthy dining options.

College media outlets, or “[Sodexo's] activist population,” frequently contact the company about issues, ranging from how much the company pays its on-campus employees to sustainability issues.

“We respond to each call,” says Bohlmann, “We realize this messaging spreads to all sectors and these empowered consumers need to be answered.”

She attributes these consumers' interest in company efforts as being “partially generational and partially… the increased use of the Internet. [We] need to respond quickly.”

Sodexo has also taken proactive steps to stay in tandem with this new group of consumers by creating the global consumer-facing campaign and Web site, ABetterDay.TV.

The company promotes its corporate culture and employees through the site with profiles and a series of viral videos showing how staff provide a better day for customers around the world.

Sodexo plans to create a user-generated content section where employees can upload their own videos by the start of next year, adds Brady. The company also maintains a cause initiative, the Serve-a-thon, each April, where employees partner with local nonprofits.

The company's evolution from “essentially a food-service provider to a provider of integrated service solutions,” according to Brady, has made internal communications incredibly vital.

In order to ensure consistent service to Sodexo's disparate group of 10 million daily customers, the company tries to communicate with its employees as strategically as possible, explains Bohlmann.

“On-site, generally, our employees don't have access to computers. We target them through our intranet,” says Brady.

Communications efforts also include the creation of a blog to recruit employees by describing the corporate culture and company news on SodexoCareers.Blogspot.com. There are also a number of social networking profiles and microsites, ranging from housekeeping/environmental services management to the military community seeking jobs at Sodexo.

“We have such a range of clients,” says Bohlmann. “We really do seek to position ourselves as a company that offers quality-of-life solutions. [That includes] anything that makes a person's life better.”

At a glance

Company: Sodexo

President and CEO: George Chavel

Headquarters: Gaithersburg, MD (North America)

Key trade titles: Foodservice Director, Food Management, Nation's Restaurant News, and, in general, vertical media related to campuses, healthcare, and government services

Budget: Undisclosed

Communications team:
Stephen Brady, SVP of corporate comms
Jaya Bohlmann, VP of PR
Laurie Kelly, director of marcomms

Agency: Burson-Marsteller (AOR)

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