Newsmaker: Stacey Tank, Heineken

Heineken USA's SVP and chief corporate relations officer sets out to uniquely define the beer company's brands and elevate CSR messaging to consumers.

Heineken USA reinvented its culture about two years ago with a Challenger Mindset, tasking staffers to be brave, decide and do, take it personally, and hunt as a pack.

Those four pillars marked a pivotal point in the company's turnaround, which was started by CEO Dolf van den Brink in 2009. And, to help take it to the next level, the beer importer brought in the expertise of a bold communicator - Stacey Tank.

2012-present
Heineken USA, SVP and chief corporate relations officer

2003-2011
Various roles at GE. Began in the company's communications leadership development program (2003-2004) before becoming a corporate audit staff associate (2005-2007). Was named corporate audit staff manager (2007-2008) before taking up a role with GE Water as senior finance manager (2008-2009). Joined GE corporate as communications operations leader (2009-2010) before being named Healthymagination communications manager (2010-2011)

She joined Heineken USA as SVP and chief corporate relations officer in January 2012, bringing with her a vast array of skills learned during a nine-year stint at General Electric. When the opportunity arose, Tank, who was in her early 30s, says she was not particularly looking for a new career, because she loved her work at GE. But after seeing van den Brink and his team's passion for the company, she knew it was time to take a leap.

"The opportunity to work for a consumer-facing, non-American, fourth-generation family owned business with 90,000 employees globally was just so different from what I have done in the past," says Tank.

Her first year focused on figuring out how Heineken could differentiate itself in such a crowded industry.

"We had to uniquely define who we are in that ocean," says Tank. "We are upscale; we are imports; and we are a badge. As we make choices as a company and decide what innovations we're going to launch or add resources to, we look through that lens."

Heineken's brands, such as Dos Equis, Strongbow, Newcastle Brown Ale, and its flagship Heineken beer, play in the upscale and import spaces. The badge is about the aspirational stories behind the brands. The Heineken brand, Tank says, is about opening up your world and crossing boundaries. Newcastle is a "no bollocks" brand that's about good beer without fancy marketing.

Collaborative effort
Tank's corporate relations team of seven staffers and two interns work collaboratively with the company's marketing, innovation, and sales teams, particularly prioritizing Heineken, Dos Equis, and Strongbow, which the company added to its portfolio at the beginning of 2013.

A team consisting of a person for PR, brand management, strategy, and experiential, works on each brand. Those teams report to Tank and the marketing unit.

She also works closely with Edelman, which is the consumer AOR for Dos Equis, Heineken, Heineken Light, Amstel Light, and Strongbow, as well as the corporate communications AOR for Heineken USA. Formula PR works on Newcastle, while sister agency Formulatin, which specializes in Hispanic consumer outreach, manages the brands Tecate and Indio.

While "social media and digital expertise is an expectation of every team member," actual engagement is managed by the company's advertising agency partners, such as Wieden+Kennedy for the Heineken brand and Havas Worldwide for Dos Equis.

The company's integrated structure is proving successful and the Heineken USA portfolio grew 4.5% in volume in 2012 according to Nielsen.

"Stacey and her team have been significant reputation accelerators over the last few years," says van den Brink. "They are delivering serious results for our business from brand PR to public affairs to CSR."

He adds that Tank has "made a notable difference within our management team."

"There are ways to do training in a team environment that really optimizes the way we perform and makes us more efficient and effective in what we do," says Tank.

And that is where the company's "high-performance" training comes in.

The management team was beta-tested last year for the new process, which puts people in high-pressure, high-stakes conditions and has them work together to figure situations out.

"We were literally dropped in the woods in the middle of the night," explains Tank. "It was an incredibly intense experience and felt very real. The amount we were able to grow through this accelerated learning path was the best learning experience ever."

She declined to give too much detail about the process since other staffers plan on going through it, but she says an industrial psychology and team development ex- pert gives feedback following the activities.

Unique brand message

When Tank began working at Heineken USA, she asked herself, “Are we a branded house or a house of brands?”

She studied how other organizations used their corporate names in relation to their brands, such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Johnson & Johnson.

Tank decided “the brands do themselves the most justice by going to market in unique ways” and that, as a company, Heineken also needs to engage different constituents from a corporate perspective.

Heineken Global launched a new corporate site a few months ago, and Heineken USA is in the process of relaunching all its corporate Web properties to make them more concise and engaging.

Masters of engagement
Internal culture plays a key role in everything the company does because employees always come first, says Tank.

About 98% of Heineken USA's 515 employees are proud to work for the company based on employee satisfaction and engagement scores, she adds.

When Heineken went through its acquisition of Strongbow in 2012, it told staffers before anyone else and let them ask questions about the cider.

"We would never go to the media or distributors before we go to our employees," asserts Tank.

To continue on Heineken USA's upward path, the corporate relations team is focusing on three core areas: accelerating the brands, becoming masters of engagement with stakeholders, and amplifying its CSR purpose. On the brand side, the corporate relations team focuses on more than raising awareness and engaging fans; it works to "really impact brand health and drive volume for the business," she adds.

Before Heineken, Tank held various roles at GE, such as Healthymagination communications manager and communications operations leader for GE corporate, but she also served in some financial roles.

While at GE, Tank decided to try working for the corporate audit team, so the company gave her a four-week pilot for the program, and she wound up sticking with finance for several years.

Gary Sheffer, VP of corporate communications and public affairs at GE, says when Tank told him she wanted to join the audit team, he thought her odds of succeeding were low because it is so competitive.

"I admired her courage," he says. "I was supportive to her, but in my head I thought, 'This is a long shot.' She has proven me wrong and proven herself right many times."

He adds that Tank is a valuable asset to any company because she's "creative, thinks analytically, and has the business acumen through her financial training to talk to a CEO or business leader in their language."

One of Heineken's growth strategies going forward is to launch more innovations or near-beer brands, such as Strongbow cider.

For the last three months, as of September 7, Strongbow has grown 88.2% in volume, according to Nielsen. Strongbow is the company's only brand that skews half male and half female, helping the company get coverage in more gender-balanced lifestyle media outlets such as People.

"Strongbow is an example of a place where we're not cannibalizing our own consumer set," she says. "Some of our existing consumers love Strongbow, but we're talking to a new demographic of women who may not have been drinking our beer before."

In addition to Strongbow, the company's flagship brand has garnered a lot of media attention and consumer engagement during the last six months.

Heineken launched Departure Roulette in July as part of its global Voyage campaign that urges consumers to live legendary lives. The initiative kicked off at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where the Heineken team asked people to press a button on a roulette board for a chance to win a free vacation. The catch, however, was that participants had to go wherever the board said at that very moment, whether it was Iceland, South Korea, or Cambodia, among other destinations.

Twelve people said yes to the all-expenses paid trips, and the video Heineken posted on YouTube of the event was a massive hit online. From July to September, the video earned more than 2.6 million views.

After seeing the success of the program, Tank's team searched social media to find fans who loved Departure Roulette to give them a chance to play by surprising them at their offices. A second video brought the total views up to more than 8.3 million.

The brand also opened a Heineken House at the US Open this summer to provide tennis fans a relaxing, upscale experience. The effort earned coverage in outlets such as USA Today. For the holidays, Heineken will launch limited-edition bottles and packages as part of its Celebrate Together program. It is also bringing to market a special magnum Heineken bottle in December.

CSR priorities
On the stakeholder side, the corporate relations team mapped out 200 of the most critical stakeholders to engage on a monthly basis, including influencers in government relations and public affairs, as well as reporters, and consumers. The group is called the Heineken 200.

The effort contributed to a 2000% increase in earned media coverage for the first half of 2013, compared to the first half of 2012.

The corporate relations team, brand units, and agency partners also have a call every Monday to ensure they're telling the right stories. From a CSR perspective, the company is looking to relaunch its strategy and make it more concrete in Q1 2014. Tank says responsible consumption is the top priority for the brand, but it is also doing work for the environment.

In October, Heineken partnered with glass blowers in Brooklyn to take its green bottles and repurpose them as planters and bird feeders for urban green gardens.

Heineken USA has been thriving, but Tank says the company is still "in the middle of its journey" and has a lot of work left to do, which is why she is determined to amplify its corporate relations efforts.

"Stacey's willingness to try new things and challenge herself is what has made her so successful at a young age," adds Sheffer. "Whether it is finance training or taking on Heineken, whenever she puts her mind to something, she succeeds."

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