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Stage Kraft
Friday, 09 October 2009 15:59

After its bid for Cadbury was given short shrift, US food giant Kraft opted for a communications push that would let it tell its story in an empathetic and compelling way. Its chosen medium? Online video: Neil Gibbons reports

 

The human touch, the whites of the eyes, face time – cuddly buzzwords that are frequently used and applied in most strands of corporate communications.

 

Yet such sentiments seem to scuttle back into the shadows during hostile takeover bids, as if corporations prefer to resort to faceless anonymity when things start to get a bit tasty.

Communications during an attempted takeover are never less than frenetic, but it’s only recently that companies have begun to embrace the humanising qualities of Web 2.0 to communicate their side of their story to investors and other stakeholders.

This month has seen US food giant Kraft join that select band. As part of an aggressive PR strategy after its unsolicited £10.2 billion bid for Cadbury was turned down, it quickly produced an investor-facing video for its corporate website.

Featuring chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld fielding admittedly softball questions in a staged interview (Why is this proposed transaction right for Kraft foods? Where are the synergies you indentified coming from? What is your favourite Cadbury brand?), the video provided a platform for Kraft to explain the benefits of its proposal to a wide group of stakeholders.

Rosenfeld delivers her message emphatically: “It’s an opportunity to combine our two companies to create a global powerhouse... that I think has the potential to benefit our brand, our employees, our consumers and certainly our shareholders,” she says.

The advantages of the medium are immediately obvious. Rosenfeld smiles frequently, coming across as personable, earnest and passionate. Meanwhile, the studio production, lends the video an air of journalistic credibility. It’s a world away from the dry drone of a letter or corporate statement. Body language, gesture and modulations of voice all help to communicate conviction and confidence. Although a harsh critic might suggest Rosenfeld’s chat is slightly stilted  “On a seasonal basis, I just love those Cadbury eggs!” – the video certainly does its job. Kraft is following in the footsteps US brewer InBev, which used the same tactic in its successful takeover of Anheuser-Busch.

That video managed to present InBev as a sympathetic party in its bid to take over a beloved American institution. It too helped to humanise a hostile bid with InBev’s CEO Carlos Brito confessing his love for Budweiser and speaking earnestly about his ambitions for the combined firm.

There’s an element of leading the horse to water, of course. With the investment audience unused to being talked to via this medium, both Kraft and InBev took the trouble to push the existence of the video to as wide an audience as possible.

Both companies sent out press releases to the media, InBev issued email alerts each time a new video message was uploaded while Kraft prominently displays a link to the video on its corporate website.

This isn’t a rare set of circumstances. Hostile bids represent a quarter of all takeover attempts – so expect to see more CEOs under the studio lights in the future.


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