As Rockwell Automation emphasizes its corporate brand and its role in industrial automation solutions, the company is giving PR a greater say in messaging andconsumer outreach
Rockwell Automation's 125-year corporate history is a who's who of company-owned brands that are legendary across America's industrial heartland - and increasingly around the globe.
But these days, with $1.2 billion in worldwide sales for its most recent quarter, Rockwell wants to be more than a collection of brands, such as Allen-Bradley and Reliance Electric.
The Milwaukee-based company has begun emphasizing its corporate brand - repositioning itself as a maker of industrial automation solutions rather that merely a supplier of factory equipment. Marketing communications, which include a heavy dose of PR, is playing a major role in this effort.
Matt Gonring, VP of global marketing and communications, is a strong believer in integrating PR, marketing, and advertising. He's been putting those beliefs into practice since joining Rockwell in November 2002.
Gonring oversees internal and external communications, strategic marketing, marketing programs, and communications services - functions that once reported to a variety of people. He agreed to join the company only after the decision had been made to integrate communications.
Gonring had fought the integration battle at places such as USG and Arthur Andersen, and knew how draining that fight could be. So he was encouraged that Rockwell already had made the decision to consolidate a variety of communication jobs under one person. "Rockwell was ready and somewhat enlightened to do this," he says.
While others might go slow in a new job, Gonring has done the opposite, moving full-speed ahead to find out what messages will best resonate with Rockwell customers and changing the company's communications infrastructure to enable those messages to be delivered. Gonring has about 250 marketing communications staffers throughout Rockwell's worldwide organization. About 20 of those do PR.
He created the position of director of external communications early last year, for example, so that Rockwell could become more proactive in the area of issues management.
As a result, says John Bernaden, director of external communications, "PR gets a bigger opportunity to be part of the thought leadership of the organization, and it can do the kind of things the godfathers of PR talked about."
A new direction
Rockwell will launch a new b-to-b branding campaign in June built around the new tagline of "Listen, Think, Solve." That message will appear in all Rockwell communications, from advertising to PR to customer communications, Bernaden notes.
Gonring crisscrossed the globe to make sure all company divisions were on message for the new effort. As the campaign commences, external communications under Bernaden is shifting how it functions.
"We're learning a new type of PR" for Rockwell, Bernaden explains.
In the past, Rockwell flooded the trade press with hundreds of releases on new products. Now, PR is first listening to customers, analyzing issues that matter to them, and then searching for case studies that address those issues. The case studies will be presented to the trade press to show how the company is creating solutions and not just products.
As it evolves communications-wise, Rockwell has been asking Minneapolis-based Padilla Speer Beardsley, its agency for the past 17 years, to do more strategic messaging work. "They're not just doing the old trade press release anymore," says Bernaden.
Kathy Burnham, an SVP at Padilla, oversees an 18-person team that works on the Rockwell account. While she saw a change in communications focus beginning before Gonring arrived, she notes that it has accelerated as he's sold the concept within Rockwell.
"He's positioning things in ways that get people on board in a very cooperative way," she says. One major achievement, she says, has been the revamping of Rockwell's website into a branding tool. The site once had hundreds of thousands of pages of product information, hardly ideal for selling the corporate image, Burnham notes.
While it plans to continue with Padilla in the US, Rockwell is searching for a firm to boost brand visibility in Europe. It works with a variety of boutique firms there now. It works with Ogilvy in Asia and will continue to do so.
Padilla was one of three agencies that did customer research for Rockwell in spring 2004. Gonring believes so strongly in integrated communications that he asked Padilla, Rockwell's ad agency, and a polling firm to conduct the research together so that he wouldn't get results skewed by any one firm's viewpoint.
That research found that customers felt an attachment to Rockwell. They believed Rockwell knew their businesses and understood their problems. It was from that research that the idea of "customer intimacy" was born. Rockwell has been using "customer intimacy" as an internal tagline to provide guidance to everyone from its sales force to its communications team about "what really provides unique value to our customers and differentiates us from our competitors," says Bernaden.
Those who follow the company already have seen the change in communications focus. "They get the value of communications," says David Brousell, editor-in-chief of Managing Automation. "They're very open to talking."
Connecting with consumers
Rockwell's repositioning from a products to a solutions company comes in response to changes in the industrial economy, says Bill Swanton, a VP with AMR Research, a Boston-based industry analysis firm. Craig Resnick, research director at ARC Advisory Group, an industry analyst, agrees. "They have looked at the needs of their customers and have responded," he notes.
Manufacturers in the past had engineers or plant managers who bought products for their specific locations and then determined how those products fit into their operations. Today, manufacturers are increasingly asking their suppliers to provide entire manufacturing solutions, leaving it to the suppliers to determine which machines and which software work best together.
Buying decisions once made at plants are being made higher up the corporate ladder by VPs of manufacturing or supply-chain management, Swanton explains. Thus, Rockwell's repositioning has to connect with a different group of decision makers than in the past.
Indeed, they've begun holding executive events, bringing in CFOs and CIOs for golf outings to hear speakers discussing manufacturing trends. Communications isn't ignoring the plant manager, however. "You can't lose touch of where you came from and what got you there," says Bernaden.
Rockwell's best-known PR event is its annual Automation Fair, an industry trade show that draws nearly 100,000 customers. The three-day event includes information sessions about manufacturing, as well as a trade show featuring Rockwell products and offerings from companies with which it partners.
The fair begins with a media day, to which 100 journalists from around the world are invited. Senior Rockwell management speaks with reporters about the company and industry trends.
Rockwell also publishes AB Journal, a five-times-a-year magazine sent to 55,000 customers. Each issue includes case studies and stories about various industrial applications.
Rockwell has stayed with the magazine even in tough economic times, notes Keith Larson, publisher of Control, another title that writes about the industrial controls Rockwell makes.
"They really see the importance of PR and overall marketing," says Larson. "They have a stronger and more active PR program than any of their competitors. They put a lot of effort behind working with editors, not just pushing press releases."
Gonring wants to put even more effort behind connecting with not only the trade press, but also customers.
He's planning more research by the end of this year to delve more deeply into why customers feel a connection with Rockwell. His goal is to create messaging that will connect with customers wherever they come into contact with the company, from sales to support services to reading about it in the trade media or elsewhere.
Rockwell also wants to better establish its brand in Europe, the back yard of Siemens, a major competitor. It also wants to continue expanding across Asia, a continent where it is somewhat established as a brand.
"We used to be a passive holding company with diverse businesses. Now we're becoming an aggressive operating company," serving such industries as autos, beverages, food manufacturing, and life sciences, Gonring explains. "Our [communications] functional development has to mirror that organizational development."
VP of global marketing and communications Matthew Gonring
Director of external communications John Bernaden
PR agency Padilla Speer Beardsley