|Friday, 23 January 2009 15:18|
InBev’s use of online video enabled it to engage with stakeholders during its takeover of Anheuser Busch. Are companies now truly switching on to social media, asks Jon Barker?:
An iconic brand threatened by foreign takeover is nothing new in a market that is experiencing global consolidation. But when that brand is Anheuser Busch (AB), the US brewer of Budweiser and Bud Light, it is no small beer – especially if there is a groundswell of resistance across the MidWest. Even the governor of Missouri said he was “strongly opposed” to its sale. So when InBev, the Belgium-based brewer of Becks and Stella Artois, launched a hostile takeover of AB, it was careful to ensure that its message and delivery were spot-on. InBev drafted in Cantos Communications, pioneer in business video online. Tessa Bamford, client director at Cantos, says: “InBev expected resistance from the US, especially with its perceived reputation for cost-cutting. It knew company websites are the fi rst place people go to uncover more about deals, and from that website a global audience can be reached instantly. “We deployed video messaging to win the media battle and the hearts and minds of many key stakeholders, such as employees, wholesalers, opinion formers, politicians and the people of St Louis, as well as shareholders.”
It was important for InBev to set the right tone from the outset: friendly, committed and collaborative. A large part of how this was achieved was down to the regular video interviews with Carlos Brito, CEO of InBev, which were published throughout the process on a specially built microsite (Globalbeerleader.com). They were also accessible through InBev’s website. “At the same time as this, we hosted Brito’s interviews on our own site because we are renowned for our corporate communications and we knew that InBev’s coverage would extend to our audiences of FTSE100 investors, fi nancial institutions and journalists,” reveals Bamford. Working closely with InBev and its advisers Cantos created a range of video content which was published at key points throughout the campaign. “Th e interviews formed a critical part of the overall communications strategy to explain both the compelling commercial and fi nancial rationale for the deal and also to address concerns about what InBev planned to do with Anheuser Busch,” says Bamford. “Existing video footage was also used to tell the story of InBev’s heritage and commitment to building brands globally. The video case studies gave credence to InBev’s claims that it can compete and build profi table growth in the markets it enters.” Filming took place in the US and Belgium with seven programmes made in total, each distributed on both Globalbeerleader.com and Cantos.com in various formats. Th ey were made available on vodcasts and podcasts, as well as via download pages so that television and online media could access the content in broadcast (television) quality. “In addition, email alerts were sent to over 25,000 people directly and to over 40,000 journalists, institutional investors and analysts via PR newswire, each time a new piece was published,” says Bamford. “SEM was also used to optimise viewing via search engines like Google.”
“Putting Brito in front of the camera had the desired impact – to empathise with AB shareholders, to sow an understanding and to be believable.”
Seeing is believing
Successful video content often contains only half a dozen key messages: statements that really mean something to the target audience. “It’s about being prepared to talk about the key issues,” says Bamford. “It’s vital to get the pitch right between technical accuracy and the human element to address the wants of the audience. “With Carlos Brito, we had a man who is generally regarded as a ruthless operator, but also an excellent communicator,” says Bamford. “In the interviews he comes across as approachable, credible and open, helped by such details as wearing an open-necked shirt and chinos. But by simply putting himself in front of the camera it has the desired impact with the intended audience – to empathise with AB shareholders, to sow an understanding in terms of building heritage and, ultimately, to be believable.” Many CEOs are driven, enigmatic and persuasive so it makes sense to capture them on film and make them more accessible – being able to peer into the whites of a CEO’s eyes, the audience can make up its own mind whether he or she is credible. Janaka Podiralahamy, communications director at Excite Communications, agrees. Excite has been applying social media solutions to many its clients in the much-maligned private equity industry – where a high degree of mistrust already exists. In the case of international buy-out fi rm Cinven, Excite restructured the company’s website to bring increased openness and transparency to its communication with external stakeholders. “Cinven wanted to move away from the conventional PE model and create a site that demonstrated its values and openness about how it does business,” explains Podiralahamy. “We put video branded content on the homepage that tied in with its portfolio, and pointed the lens at the CEO. After all, shareholders and clients alike want to hear it from the people that look after the interests of the company. We helped storyboard the script using graphics and intros, reinforcing the key messages, and made sure that the content was accessible.” The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association says that Excite’s work represents “an outstanding example of best practice”.
Horses for courses
Excite has also encountered several corporate clients that are eager to explore other forms of social media to interact with their stakeholders. “However, what works and what’s inappropriate can vary between industries,” says Podiralahamy. “Financial services fi rms have a diff erent set of stakeholders to those in, say, pharmaceutical fi rms. And people can still be quite cautious, often due to issues of management or control of content. Th ere may be resource implications, or legacy websites may not be able to integrate platforms coherently. It really boils down to: what value does it add? “We’ve created video content that communicates directly with investors in a closed community, where a private login entitles you to full access. And we’ve encouraged the use of WebEx for companies to talk directly to clients. This has been very popular over the last couple of years. “Looking ahead, we will see more openness. Better technology will allow more rich media, such as live online events and live face-to-face interaction online. As more senior executive positions are filled with the web-savvy Generation Y, who increasingly operate via the internet, the more social media will be embraced by the corporate community.” For one of its clients, GKN Mission Everest – an adventure story cum fundraising endeavour – Excite created a website that featured all the build-up, preparation and testing, including bespoke video fi lmed in the Alps. It then relayed the adventure as it happened in the Himalayas – via daily reports, blogs, photos and streamed audio and video. “The GKN website looks like an employee engagement initiative, encouraging staff to go the extra mile,” says Podiralahamy. “But how do you communicate this? People belong to forums and are used to the functionality of blogs. Networking comes naturally to us. It’s really about building a sense of community within companies. Th is is best practice for intranet sites and something that will become more and more appropriate in the future.”
Intranets are a natural breeding ground for exploiting and experimenting with new social media. “We’ve used wikis to good eff ect for clients wanting to develop their intranet sites, particularly with induction pages and terminology links,” says Podiralahamy. “In the future, social media tools such as Twitter, Web 2.0, RSS, tag clouds and search engine optimisation will increasingly help companies deliver cost-efficient, centralised messaging ever-faster worldwide.” But there is a clear distinction between what works internally and what companies feel comfortable about disclosing externally. Openness is one thing, but nakedness quite another. As Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams note in their book Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything: “If you’re going to be naked, you’d better be buff … in the brave new world of transparency, companies have less and less control over information and consequently less control over the perceptions of their firm and its product.” In the world of Web 2.0, a brand can be damaged by a popular blog or video. Th e fi rst thing a CEO wants to know is: how do I get that off YouTube? But you can’t. An eff ective response is to admit mistakes and deal with the issue in a sophisticated way. For example, when computer behemoth Dell experienced the PR horror of a batch of their laptops catching fi re in 2006, the company quickly set up a blog post – “flaming notebook” – and linked to pictures of it catching on fire. The company went on to manage the whole battery recall process through the blog. In the last couple of years, corporate blogging has created great excitement, arguably more so in the US than the UK. Treated properly, blogs can be an ideal communications tool for chief executives: to inform, open up a dialogue with stakeholders and encourage debate. But just because a competitor has a blog doesn’t mean it is appropriate for everyone – a discussion forum might suffice.
Pushing the envelope
Steve Garvey, chairman and CEO at video communications agency World Television, says that the fi rst conversation is always about the target audience. “The intended recipient is always the start and fi nishing point of any discussion about using social media tools,” he says. “A podcast may well be the best media for fi nancial clients. But how appropriate is it for another? “Getting the balance right between functionality and content is important, as is the level of transparency allowed, depending on the sensitivity of the information. Look outside the corporate environment and social media is fl ourishing. Of course, when and how to use social media should be thought through carefully.” World TV recently used its centralised videosharing product, Push360, to host the online video for the launch of the Ford Ka at the Paris Motor Show – a launch that was cleverly tied in with the release of the latest Bond fi lm. But when it comes to such internal social media as vblogs, Garvey encourages clients to do it themselves. He believes vblogs are meant to be personal, so it would make sense to do them in-house. World TV recently provided advice and training to Sony Europe when it wanted to edit and write a series of vblogs. “But the aim is to encourage everyone to converse in video,” says Garvey. It’s something that is still substantially underused in organisations. In my experience, leaders of fi rms who embrace social media tend to allow it to develop quickly. Video has traditionally been expensive, so in the past many have stuck to the AGM podcast and not much else. “Video has now become cheaper to produce and to distribute, although there is still a long way to go. But when everyone has a handycam, there’s nothing more believable than live and unrehearsed footage. The ‘real you’ is what the audience wants.”