The Challenge:

Much of what happens within global logistics is hidden from view. Whether delivering raw materials to manufacturers or transporting manufactured goods on to suppliers, all end consumers see are either goods in a shop or on a website where all they need to do is click a mouse to pay for the item, which turns up a few hours later.

In an effort to inform and educate, NYK’s Japanese global president introduced “Bringing Value to Life”, describing how NYK provided global shipping and logistics services.

Together with other major container shipping companies, NYK established and funded the $3m Container Shipping Information Service (CSIS), based in London, as a means to publicise the global benefits this fundamental industry brings to people across the planet.  As the regional corporate communications head, I was NYK’s representative on the Board of CSIS.

The vital role played by the humble shipping container was illustrated in Marc Levinson’s book: “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger(see here).  It was reading this book that sparked a project idea in the mind of the BBC’s Business and Economics Unit Editor, and caused him to contact CSIS to ask for help in ‘bringing the book to life’.

The Solution:

Instantly recognising the enormous corporate communications opportunities offered by this project, I replied to the BBC immediately I read the email, as I waited for a flight to Tokyo at London Heathrow airport.  Conveniently en route to NYK's Head Office, I quickly conferred with regional communications’ colleagues gathered in Tokyo and obtained their support for this exciting project in their respective regions of the globe.

After several meetings with the BBC and multiple global emails within NYK, a project framework was agreed and objectives set: to follow ‘The Box’ around the globe for 12 months, enabling 3 key news items to be broadcast globally and fifteen additional news stories to be covered regionally.  A suitable NYK container was identified and filmed being repainted in BBC colours.  It was further modified to have a satellite-tracking device fitted to allow its position to be monitored constantly (see here - The BBC Box ends its year-long journey).

Working together with NYK operations, sales and marketing and senior management across the globe and the BBC project team, we were able to meet all of the BBC’s routing requirements and ensured suitable cargo so that ‘The BBC Box’ was always transporting goods: whether whisky from UK to China or general freight from North to South America.

On completion of its journey, ‘The BBC Box’ was transported to South Africa, where NYK-supported charity Breadline Africa converted it into a classroom as part of their work with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It was officially opened by the wife of the Lord Mayor of London and continues to support ongoing learning.  

The Achievements:

The Box achieved significant media coverage throughout its 12 months of operation and generated far more news stories than anticipated by the BBC project team and Head of Business and Economics Unit editor, across TV, radio and online.  It surpassed the coverage objectives set by the BBC and was envied by rival media organisations who wished they had thought of the idea first.  The reports were always widely read, reaching the top three most read news stories on the BBC’s global news website.  After the completion of its journey, the BBC commissioned a thirty-minute programme dedicated to the project.

The Box itself generated copycat websites and was featured in countless school projects with children tracking its progress around the world as they learnt about global trade.  

NYK staff reported seeing coverage of the project on the BBC around the globe, thus generating additional pride in their employer.  NYK’s trade customers were also delighted to see their industry being given global exposure.

Despite the fact that Lehman Brothers’ failed the week after The Box left Southampton, we modified the route and cargo of The Box to highlight not just global trade, but the ongoing impact of the global financial crisis and linked the project into key news stories running on the BBC around the world.  It was by far the most successful initiative of CSIS.

In short, this project brought the industry to life and so demonstrated the enormous value that is brought by the transportation activities of NYK and other shipping lines.  By being able to quickly recognise the strategic importance of an email, I not only enabled NYK to enhance its corporate communications, but also took care to ensure the results were of benefit to all members of CSIS and the wider maritime industry. 

Key Lesson Learnt:

 The importance of proper prior planning could not be underestimated with this project. This was illustrated beautifully when the BBC started filming The Box’s arrival into America, live on BBC News 24 - as the container vessel carrying it docked in Los Angeles, The Box, unique in its BBC livery, had been positioned perfectly amongst the several thousand containers onboard, and was clearly visible in shot (see footage here).

This fantastic project also provided a privileged opportunity to discover more about the operation and structure of the world’s most recognisable broadcaster, not to mention the chance to frequently sample BBC coffee at the old BBC TV centre.