Business Executives Weigh In On Reputation Management In South Africa
McDonald’s, Uber, Sasol Gas, Burson-Marsteller — all are huge multinational companies that do business in South Africa, and they’re paying big bucks to make sure that what you think of them is good for business.
One way they can do that is through the quality of communications with their employees, who are very good at spreading news about corporate culture, according to the HolmesReport, a website for public relations professionals with offices in New York and the U.K.
Sechaba Motsieola is corporate affairs director for McDonald’s South Africa.
Turning employees into brand ambassadors
Turning employees into brand ambassadors is an important part of his job, Motsieola said at the inaugural African edition of The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit series.
“We are a customer-facing business,” Motsieola said. “We have to help our employees understand that they are our brand ambassadors.
Ditto for Alon Lits, general manager for Uber sub-Saharan Africa, who also attended the summit. Uber drivers play a broad role in Uber’s brand and reputation. This includes their interactions with customers and addressing political issues, Lits said.
The reputation of CEOs just generally is under attack, said Robyn de Villiers, chairman and CEO of Burson-Marsteller Africa. A global public relations and communications firm, Burson-Marsteller has 67 offices and 71 affiliates in 98 countries on six continents. Company headquarters are in New York City.
Few people understand the role of CEOs and ordinary people trust information from the company receptionist more than the CEO, de Villiers told an audience of 150 PR professionals.
“It is part of our job to clarify the message from the boardroom down to employees, and also to deliver messages from employees to the boardroom in such a way that they are taken seriously,” Motsieloa said.
Making mistakes is part of the evolution of a company from start-up to multinational brand, Lits said.
“We have come a long way over the past couple of years … and we have learned a lot about the importance of communications,” Lits told the group.
The job of handling public affairs at the ride-sharing pioneer has changed a lot recently, Lits added. In fact one of the few people who can tell Uber CEO Travis Kalanick “how he should be doing things and when he is stepping out of line” is Rachel Whetstone — Uber’s senior vice president of communications and public policy.
Wrenelle Stander is managing director of the Johannesburg-based international energy company Sasol Gas. Sasol develops synthetic fuel technology and produces chemicals and electricity. The largest corporate taxpayer in South Africa, Sasol employs 30,400 people worldwide with operations in 36 countries. It’s listed on the Johannesburg and New York stock exchanges.
Stander talked about the evolution of the communications function at the company.
“When I joined a couple of years ago, (communications was) the ‘champagne department,’” Wrenelle said. “I came from the business side—I am not a communications person by training—and I wanted to make sure that we were absolutely focused on managing stakeholder relations.”
“You have to be able to communicate what the perception of the organization by employees looks like, or what the community perception is,” Motsieloa said. “But you have to be able to translate what that means so that senior executives understand what it means for the business, in terms of recruiting better quality people from the community, or minimizing the impact of potential disruptions.”