By Roberta Jackson
Our journey took us to the Atlanta based company UPS’s Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) headquarters. We met with the thinker and talker of the public relations team. Jim Daniell, the thinker, was a UK native and had been with UPS for four years. Carsten Helssen, the talker and manager, had been with UPS over 26 years. As with every presentation on this study tour, we were taken on a historical tour of the corporation. Since we are from the world headquarters of UPS, most of us were familiar with their origin, but were not aware of the development of their international reach. It was interesting to learn that UPS did not travel outside of the US until 1976.
The site we visited was not an operations center (that is located in Colon Germany) but the regional headquarters where the communications department is housed. The team consists on a total of 18 communication professionals with 5 dedicated to public relations. They work with all factions of the company. Carsten described their position as being sandwiched between the corporate office and local offices with the responsibility of ensuring there is always one voice; that both sides communicate the same message.
The UPS mantra is think global, act local. In addition to my explanation on a previous post, this also means they follows the rules and regulations of the host country where they conduct business. This also includes their relationship with the media. The public relations department has several media targets that are ranked in order from most to least important; national and business press, newswires, regional publications, logistics trades, vertical press (fashion/healthcare publications), broadcast media (TV and radio), and social media. Carsten told us generally the press in the Northern European markets are skeptical of/cynical towards “big business” and there is a difference in the press by country in approach and expectation, including language. They stressed that not speaking the same language can greatly hinder building trust.
UPS has three brand ambassadors each with equal importance. The drivers are the first level and are considered the grass roots of the organization. They are trained and know how to establish and maintain the “proper” relationships with the customers. Next is employee communication. UPS employees talk to the customers and provide exemplary service. UPS keeps employees abreast of everything that happens within the company, positive or negative, so they are well informed. The third and last level is public relations. They described their job as making sure the public is aware of what they do. UPS is very big on being involved and giving back to the community. When that happens, the public relations department sends out the information to the media, who then disseminates the information to the public at large.
I was particularly interested in the newest global initiative of healthcare for UPS’s future endeavors. As health communications is my area of focus, I wanted to know more. UPS works with pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies to ship prescriptions around the world. Carsten allowed one of my colleagues to take his healthcare sales kit with her, and offered to mail another to me. I exchanged cards with him during one of my side conversations, that I have become infamous for during this trip, to inquire about their needs and what they were looking for in a candidate. While learning, we are also networking. Although that is not my area of focus, I will definitely pass on the information to my colleagues and my program, should someone wish to pursue an opportunity. At the end of our visit, Carsten gave me his UPS lapel pin and gave us all pens and a UPS truck!
I left knowing much more about the company, information that could not be obtained simply by looking on the website. We had the unique opportunity to meet with people this week who are working in the field we will be employed before or upon graduation. I’m glad that I chose this study tour as my summer international experience. I have gained a lot of insight and perspective on operations outside of the US.