Inside in-house: ThyssenKrupp's APAC head of communications talks local appeal and business knowhow

Tino Fritsch, head of communications, Asia Pacific at ThyssenKrupp talks about his first 18 months in the role and why he believes management skills are essential for comms professionals

Tino Fritsch
Tino Fritsch

With a business spanning elevator systems, components for the automotive, machinery, energy and construction sectors, and advanced naval technology and materials manufacturing, chances are you have come in contact with a ThyssenKrupp product at some point – although you may not have known this.  

The business, with headquarters in Essen in Germany, has employees based in nearly 80 countries around the world.

One of its newer recruits is Tino Fritsch, head of communications for the Asia-Pacific region. He joined the business in July 2014, having previously headed up corporate communications at Swedish/German business SGL Group, a manufacturer of carbon products.

As the first person to head up comms in the Asia-Pacific region for the German conglomerate, and in a newly-established regional headquarters based in Singapore, Fritsch has somewhat of a blank canvas to work from as well as a number of challenges to overcome.

Much of his time has so far been spent establishing relationships within the Asia-Pacific region. He has a small team based in Singapore, while several others are responsible for comms in other countries across the region.

"My role spans four areas: internal comms, media relations, external comms and government relations," he explains. "For the type of business we are in, internal comms is key - you have to reach out to employees to engage them, activate and motivate them and get them involved in the business." 

Agency relationships

Maintaining relations with the media and government is also vital to getting the message out and Fritsch believes that having local people on the ground is vital.

He handles comms across 17 countries in the region and a major challenge is navigating the complexity this presents in terms of culture, language and ways of working.

ThyssenKrupp works with a number of PR agencies across the region, including Edelman, enabling Fritsch to reach out to those markets with local expertise and where the business may not have a representative.

"Working in comms – or any industry sector in Asia-Pacific means you have to pay careful attention to and acknowledge the local culture and language, and be able to tailor information to specific countries," he explains. 

Brand exercise

Fritsch’s other major project since he took up the role has seen him heavily involved in the relaunch of the corporate brand within the Asia-Pacific region.

The new brand identity, unveiled last November, is aimed at uniting all group companies within the business under one common brand, to reflect the transformation of the technology company into a diversified industrial group.

The business currently has more than 180 different brand identities existing side-by-side within the group and the new branding – based on a survey of more than 6,000 people among the business’ customer base, employees, investors and consumers – includes a logo, slogan and new colours, all of which will be gradually phased in.

"Relaunching our corporate brand was a huge job, ensuring the rest of the business was in alignment," acknowledges Fritsch. "It involved branding, coordination, training and buy-in of the new brand from stakeholders."

Social savvy

With such a wide remit over a number of countries, it’s not surprising that Fritsch makes use of as many channels as possible in his working day, particularly social media. He says the business is placing more investment in this area.

"To get people’s attention, you have to encourage them to buy into something and social media adds a human dimension; our comms has to have a human face and tell stories about the brand experience – in our line of business, education and trust are important," he says.

"Social media is also cross-border which means I can reach out to different countries. I am currently looking at how to develop comms for different markets, how to manage a continuous news flow and create local content at the same time."

He adds that the business has to produce tailored content by identifying the right angle for each local market within the region to create credible news.

Content has to be further judged on whether it needs to be done across digital, internal or external channels or all of these combined, a process, Fritsch explains, that is as much about being creative as it is about putting a structure in place.

"We are currently developing country websites in our region that will include content from all the different businesses in the respective countries and we also intend to have the local language included in addition to English," he says.

"We have also used gamification to encourage engagement as part of the brand relaunch – we have to constantly find new ways to get through to the local culture and be as innovative as possible."

Key to this, believes Fritsch, is hiring local, digital natives who know the culture inside out, are living in the specific country being targeted, are creative and can progress with the business as it grows. 

Business background

Fritsch did an MBA and says that from his experience, the PR has industry has to understand the language of business and apply these same tools to the discipline.

"Comms should support the business, but the challenge is giving yourself enough time to build up the relationships – you need to add value and have to prove yourself," explains Fritsch.

"CFOs and CEOs often think those in the comms industry don't understand much about the business side but from my experience, if you have an MBA, they tend to listen. It’s not so much media training or comms strategy but general management skills that are more important.

"And because at present I have a limited number of people working with me on the comms side across the region, I have to learn how to communicate with those in other business units."

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