NYK Group Europe’s (NGE) operations involve around thirty companies, turning over more than $2Bn and employing around 5000 people. These companies are part of several key Divisions from container shipping, car-carriers and logistics to bulk carriers and LNG operations, each with their own business objectives.
As the General Manager in charge of all communications across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (from Norway to South Africa, Portugal to Russia) I was tasked with planning and delivering integrated communications in support of all these businesses. Each Division was charged for its share of communications services and expected value for money from communications activities designed to support its particular objectives. Additionally, I was tasked with building the corporate NGE brand in Europe and supporting both NYK’s global objectives set in Tokyo and supporting the less well resourced communications staff in the other regional HQs: Hong Kong, New York, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore and Sydney. This task was further complicated by the fact that many of the Container Division’s key customers are the major competitors of the Logistics Division.
Great care was taken over messaging when devising the annual business plan to ensure that although different messages were required for each Division, they were all consistent with the NYK Group objectives and corporate values. These messages were developed with key Divisional frontline staff across Europe and Africa and endorsed by regional top management.
To ensure transparency and enable efficient and effective implementation of all communications, a sophisticated Excel-based planner was developed that incorporated:
- Dates – scheduling of planned activities, ready reference to project timelines, identification of key events on any given day
- Activities – one-off events, complete PR campaigns, external events likely to impact and internal activities needing to be de-conflicted
- Financial performance – departmental budget, actual costs to-date and accurate ongoing forecast of annual expenditure
- Locations – whether London HQ based, in other regional offices within Europe and Africa, or external in other parts of the globe
- Personnel – those involved in individual events as well as general Comms departmental staffing
- All communications channels – including 3rd party media, internet, intranet, external and internal events and publications.
As a result of implementing the planner NGE communications was able to continually meet its objectives including: expanding media coverage in targeted outlets including the BBC and FT, developing social media tools, moving publications online and organising events, which boosted sales performance and satisfied all Divisions ensuring continuing budget support for the NGE communications department.
During the financial crisis of 2008, the robustness and flexibility of NGE’s communications planning enabled NGE to take rapid and effective actions to modify planned activities. Additionally, it coped with the major operational impacts caused by the Japanese Tsunami and subsequent nuclear disasters as well as the Thailand flooding in 2011.
Key Lesson learnt:
It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. In an organisation as large and complex as NYK Group, events happen daily to affect corporate communications. To be able to provide a structure which ensures strategic progress whilst being able to respond to tactical events, it is essential to remain flexible.
We succeeded by putting in place a bespoke framework. The success of the planner as a management tool is demonstrated by the fact it is still used as the most effective means of managing NGE communications.