Several years ago, communications at Samsung North America was primarily driven by the leadership teams within its business units.
Today, David Steel, EVP of strategy and corporate communications for Samsung, says as the company has expanded its international bandwidth, the value of communicating its overall message has become inherently relevant and essential to its success, as well as the communication of that message to its four main US business units - consumer, enterprise, telecoms, and semiconductor.
Brand boosts business
"If you look at where Samsung was a few years ago, we were primarily about our products and that's why we had strong PR functions at the product level," he notes. "But as we've built the corporate brand, we've built that overall corporate business."
Before Samsung's global mission gained traction, there was only one person serving in the corporate communications function, Steel says. Today, there are four, with the team currently looking to add two more.
"We were about our products then, and there wasn't really a brand story to tell," explains Steel, who reports to Yangkyu Kim, president and CEO of Samsung North America. "We weren't the size and scale of company we are now. It really reflects that and the decision to invest in additional headcount is also a part of recognizing the growing importance."
Today, Samsung business units' teams have one to four employees, as well as added support from outside firms. The PR pros in the units report up within their own divisions and collaborate alongside the corporate team.
"The corporate team's role is the overall coordination of the different divisions and making sure they are all aligned," says Steel. "Second is corporate communications in the true sense; communicating the corporation's message, building corporate reputation, and dealing with the major corporate non-product issues."
M&A activity and social media growth are just two of the major drivers for today's companies to have an overall corporate brand story, says Michael Bayer, Cohn & Wolfe's EVP and North American corporate practice head.
"It's the whole transparency thing now with social media," he adds. "Yes, people will buy a product, but there are tons of surveys out there that show the majority of consumers will ditch one product for another if they see that corporate entity as much more responsible. You have smarter consumers seeking out more knowledge of that brand."
Reckitt Benckiser, a global consumer products company that specializes in household, health, and personal care goods, realized its need for a global communications team in 2008, says Andraea Dawson-Shepherd, SVP of global corporate communications and affairs. Prior to this, it had one person who reported into IR.
Headquartered in the UK, the company has operations spread across more than 60 countries.
"We view ourselves as one company - irrespective of divisions," explains Dawson-Shepherd. "All countries share some brands. While there is a lot of autonomy locally, they want to communicate about the business in the same way. The global communications team encourages this by giving consistent strategy, guidance, and clear internal communication to the leadership on internal and external matters."
Like Reckitt Benckiser, Steel's corporate team is talking with each of the divisions every day, picking up on issues that are relevant and handling media questions and inquires. In addition, the corporate side is making sure each of the units understand what's going on in other parts of the company, as well as in other countries, such as Samsung Canada and Samsung Mexico.
"We're all increasingly connected in terms of business," Steel explains. "Something that affects the brand in one space can affect it elsewhere. It's a lot of coordination every day, making sure people are aware of issues, developing responses that have the right messaging and are really articulating the brand, and being proactive."