Uprisings create comms challenge for corporations

CAIRO: Protests in Egypt that have now spread to Libya have forced many companies to reduce or cease operations, creating challenges in terms of how to communicate to internal and external audiences.

CAIRO: Anti-government protests in Egypt that have now spread to Libya have forced many Western multinationals in those countries to reduce or cease operations, creating challenges in terms of how to communicate to internal as well as external audiences.

General Motors halted production at its plant in Cairo at the end of January. Klaus-Peter Martin, manager, GM global communications, says external communications focused on the fact “that all of our employees in Egypt, as well as our plant property, were safe and secure.”

As Egypt has returned to some normalcy following civil uprisings that led to the ouster of the Hosni Mubarak-led government, GM Egypt resumed production on February 21, but at a reduced level. “Our local team in Cairo was assessing the situation on a daily basis to decide when to commence normal operations,” Martin tells PRWeek in an e-mail. “GM continues to monitor the situation closely and will adapt its plans based on economic and political developments.”

Other companies, particularly foreign-owned oil companies operating in Egypt as well as Libya evacuated expatriate staff.

In an e-mailed statement, Shell said it temporarily evacuated expatriate staff, dependents, and some non-essential expatriate staff from Egypt. “A number of senior and key personnel, including the Shell Egypt country chair, remain in the country,” reads the statement. Local staff was advised to stay home.

Kim Blomley, group spokesperson at Shell, declined comment.

Amgad Naguib, senior account supervisor with the international affairs team of Edelman, says it is important for multinationals to have plans in place to assist local staff in addition to relocating expats.

“You also have to make sure the welfare of your local staff is secure – check in on them, give them a call, continue to give them benefits, and find out if they need anything,” says Naguib. “You never want to be operating a system where you have first and second class employees. Once you break that trust at a local level, it is difficult to come back because people think, ‘They could leave at any second'. That is not the situation you want to be in. You want to approach each country as if you are from that country.”

He says that is particularly important in Egypt, as its citizens look forward to a new democratic system. “There is definitely a rising tide against monopolistic behavior, which is not going to be accepted by the Egyptian government or people anymore,” says Naguib. “So there may be a lot of opportunity moving forward.”

Indeed, in Egypt many foreign-owned companies have started to resume operations. “For some clients, it is about communicating that it's pretty much back to business as usual,” says Dave Robinson, CEO, Middle East, Turkey, and Africa for Hill & Knowlton. “For others, given the widespread global TV coverage of the protests, it requires a change of message as well as a change of positioning.”

That is especially true for companies headquartered in Egypt, but that work with partners outside the region.

H&K, for instance, provides counsel to the Information Technology Industry Development Agency and the General Authority for Investment, both government agencies that help position Egypt as an investment destination. “There is a challenge in terms of repositioning because one part of the investment proposition in any country is the political situation,” says Robinson. “Although many people believe what's happened will lead to positive change, we're still communicating during what is a period of transition.”

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