SANTA CLARA, CA: National Semiconductor makes analog products, such as amplifiers, display drivers, and power-management circuits. However, its new approach to internal communications is uniquely digital: The company is giving 30-gigabyte video iPods to all of its 8,500 employees worldwide to deliver training and communications programs.
Jeff Weir, director of worldwide PR for National, said podcasts will include five-to-ten minute video and audio segments of such content as CEO messages to employees worldwide, video training modules, and new product announcements "that people can conveniently download and watch."
"Most companies do sales training before product launches," he added. "The big difference is that if you are reading an e-mail, the experience is very passive and static.
There are many different flavors when you look at audio visual mini-movies: you get body language, credibility, a much different feeling as a user."
The other benefit, Weir said, is that for a company such as National, which has global operations located in many different time zones, the traditional mass meeting approach precludes 100% participation.
The company has no AOR and hires agencies only on a project-by-project basis.
"The iPod platform offers ease of use, is entertaining, portable, and it works," he noted. The gift coincided with the best fiscal year in the company's 47-year history, in which sales reached $2.16 billion.
National ordered 8,500 iPods from Apple, branded with the company name and logo. Weir could not confirm the total cost, but Apple offers volume discounts and free labeling to corporations.
Weir added that the company, like many others, traditionally spoke to staff in a hierarchical fashion whereby the president communicates to regional operations executives, who, in turn, communicate to employees.
"We have full-fledged operations around the world, so while the traditional model works a lot of times, it sometimes leads to incomplete communications," Weir said, adding that using the iPods means employees "don't have to [wait to] attend a sit-down meeting every six months to be informed."
"National is doing the right thing, using the iPod as a device to drive internal communications," said Peter Levitan, president and CEO of ad agency Ralston 360. He gave his 17 employees iPods at Christmas last year. While his objective was to get employees more informed about podcasts as the agency was going to launch that capability, it was also similarly a goodwill gesture.
National and Ralston 360 aren't the first to try connecting employees digitally. Ford Motors' one-time CEO Jacques Nasser, who made e-mailing a central tenet of employee communications, vowed in 2000 to give all 370,000 Ford employees a computer and Internet access at a nominal fee to make sure, as he put it, "every one of our employees is connected to the marketplace."
Gary Grates, president and global MD of Edelman Change, the agency's employee communications practice, agrees that National's effort "is a very novel idea, and it's consistent with their product line and services.
"The thing that I think will be interesting to watch is how sustainable it will be," he continued. "I have an issue with misinterpreting 'connectedness' for relationships: Technology allows us to be connected, but not to maintain relationships, necessarily."
Though the effort is internal, Weir said there's also been a lot of media attention, for which he prepared his communications team. When the company held events at its two US semiconductor plants in Arlington, TX, and South Portland, ME, Weir said that local reporters showed up to report on the giveaway to the plants' employees.
"We're not trying to make a [lot] of hay of this, but I encourage a bunch of my people to be ready and make a few local calls [near offices]," Weir added.
Already, Engadget, InformationWeek, and the AP have covered the news, which has also garnered hundreds of mentions on broadcast, Weir noted.
"Instead of talking about chips and markets, we're talking about something good at the company," he said.