Global accents

Lenovo's global communications team works together to create a worldwide brand identity through focused messaging.

Lenovo's global communications team works together to create a worldwide brand identity through focused messaging.

The sun never sets on the global communications team of PC maker Lenovo Group Limited. The company has no headquarters, but instead key offices around the world, and a presence in every time zone.

"We joke that there's... one time zone now, and we're always on," says Reid Walker, VP of global communications and sponsorships, who oversees the global team. "Instant messages pop up day and night."

In place of a centralized system are local communications directors placed strategically around the world, each of whom is responsible for his or her own region. In order to coordinate efforts, Walker calls regional directors individually, while the team keeps in constant contact with each other through a complicated telephone conferencing schedule and traditional tactics like IM and Skype.

It's an approach that works for Lenovo, which boasts annual revenues of approximately $14.5 billion, making it the fourth-largest vendor of PC shipments in the world. But PR challenges persist.

In Asia, Lenovo is best known as the Chinese computer company Legend, which according to its Web site, introduced PCs to that country's consumers before rebranding itself Lenovo in 2003. But globally, it is perhaps still most famous for its May 2005, $1.75 billion acquisition of IBM's Personal Computing Division, which initiated its new global infrastructure.

"Lenovo is very well known in China, but outside, we have to start from scratch," says Catherine Ladousse, communications director for EMEA.

Expanding efforts
To that end, the global communications staff distributes its messages around the world in English, the official language of Lenovo, and then translates them into various languages and cultures.

"We have to think that everything is localized per se," says Ray Gorman, executive director, external communications.

Jeff Shafer, executive director of internal communications, agrees. "You have to be consistent, but you don't have to homogenous. You've got to have a global perspective [and] sense of the company's priorities. [The] brand [has to] mean similar things anyplace, so you allow a bit of localization."

For example, during the recent international launch of the ThinkPad x300, media events in Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, and the US each employed slightly different strategies in order to accommodate the local media's tastes.

In Paris, the company held a press conference with 70 reporters from across Europe that included a briefing and cocktail reception. Typically, such tactics don't work in Paris, Walker says, but the local buzz surrounding the product created the opportunity.

In Tokyo, 80 reporters were invited to interact with the product and participate in a forum. But in the US, outlets don't consider press conferences useful unless there's a major event, so the company went without, Walker says.

Efforts developed locally, like in the Asia-Pacific or EMEA regions, were adopted globally.

For the Asia-Pacific team, Singapore developed an innovation forum, featuring a leading journalist, academic, and Lenovo leader to evaluate the future of computing with technology samples on display. The event was later repeated in Bangalore and Tokyo.

Agency relationships also complement the corporate staff. Fleishman-Hillard handles strategic PR, while Text 100 works on product communications.

Lenovo's internal and communications projects often overlap with each other because "there's [many] things going on inside of our company that are of particular interest to employees, that quite frankly the press will pick up on or that analysts need to know about," Gorman says.

Staffers are often the first point of reference for customers, so they are expected to be informed about the products they sell. Hence, centralized messages are almost instantaneous, with most provided to countries for translation 24 to 48 hours before release.

"We want employees to learn about what's going on from the company, and not have to uncover and discover it from an external source," Shafer says. "So you take into account time zones, and you put up something in the afternoon in the US, and it's... the middle of the night in Asia. So we try to come up with the best way to communicate [with the other offices]."

Building a buzz
Lenovo now hopes to build employee enthusiasm through its worldwide partnership with the Olympic Games. The company also won a slot as sponsor of the Torch Relay after besting 300 companies in a torch-design competition.

"We tailor this [global] program to local markets by creating overall themes and stories on a worldwide basis," says Bob Page, PR manager for sponsorships.

One such initiative is Lenovo Champions, the regional Athlete Ambassador program where Olympic athletes are chosen by each individual country's PR and marketing teams, according to local interests. Among the chosen athletes are badminton player Gayle Emms for the UK and swimmer Eamon Sullivan for Australia.

The torch will be on public display for nine days in Istanbul, the only venue in which Lenovo decided to present it before the start of the relay, Ladousse says. Ketchum was brought on board to aid the Olympics effort.

One can see the parallels between the Olympic games and Lenovo's own situation: Striving to be global yet localized, multicultural yet focused. As Walker says, it's the tension between the two that keeps Lenovo thriving.

"Diversity can be a wedge that drives your company apart, or it can be the glue that holds it together," he says. "And for us, diversity has been key. The opinions and ideas that have come from every one of our geographies [has] been critical to our success."

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