Local in Seoul: Coca-Cola Korea

One of the best things about being in Korea and taking part in this study tour is the opportunity to see the global practices we’ve been discussing and debating in class for that past year actually being put into practice right in front of us. Our visit to Coca-Cola Korea and the meeting with the Director of Communications and Public Affairs and the Corporate Communications Manager of last week was the perfect example of several global communication practices we’ve discussed before, and I wanted to share them here. 

Obviously Coca-Cola is a huge success as an international company, being ranked by Interbrand as the third on its list of top 100 global brands. With its headquarters in Atlanta, the Coca-Cola Company is a frequent subject of interest and a prime example of different communication methods and practices for us aspiring communication professionals. That being said, the Coca-Cola Korea we experienced surpassed all our expectations. They were not only very welcoming, they were also very eager to share their insights with us and talk about Coca-Cola Korea. Their pride and passion for their work clearly showed and definitely set the positive tone for the whole meeting.

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While we covered several subject areas, I was primarily struck by their outlining of how the staff of Coca-Cola Korea had adapted the brand for the local market. While they remained true to the essential policies and principles of the Coca-Cola Company, there were changes that they made in order to fit the Korean people and Korean lifestyle. From developing products that older generations would like (due o Korea’s aging population) to creating smaller drink packages to suit Seoul citizens urban lifestyle, Coca-Cola Korea is constantly focusing on its impact on the local markets and citizens. They explained how the “manual” a good starting point for policy-making and crisis situations, but localizing is better for the real-life situations they encounter.

Even the Coca-Cola Korea office has a localized adaptation, mainly because they’re a smaller office. Rather than establishing one individual per communications position their smaller staff means that, for example, one communications director does some corporate communications, some internal and some marketing. Sounds hassling, but it actually works to create a tight group of working individuals. (Social Media is still a separate section because South Korea is such a major tech hub).

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Because I’m interested in internal communications, my questions mainly centered around how they worked to communicate Coca-Cola’s global policies and principles internally to a such a localized office branch. We learned that Coca-Cola Korea had just recently in the last year and half implemented the Coca-Cola Ambassadors program in their branch, which is the company’s internal method of turning their employees into brand ambassadors to the local market. It’s designed to not only communicate Coca-Cola’s vision and principles to their employees all over the world, but also to their employees’ immediate communities as well. I found this very interesting because it is a new program for South Korea, and thus they’re still exploring with the best methods of not only sending communications out but also with receiving feedback from their employee’s communities in return on Coca-Cola and how the brand is being perceived by actual local markets. It was one of the most engaging discussions on global and local communications we’ve had yet and I’m so grateful we had this opportunity.

Some quick bits of fun info I took away from the meeting:

  1. Mobile and social media are of course an essential for everyone and every company who wishes to endure and succeed in a networked-world. But in Korea it matters more than most because 98% of Korean teenagers possess a smartphone – making mobile a definite must.
  2. Obesity concerns aren’t a major problem here – yet. Coca-Cola Korea is continuously working to maintain that standard and improve its reputation as not only a maker of soft drinks but other products as well.
  3. Coca-Cola in general has huge programs at work for becoming more sustainable and benefiting the environment, improving local communities, and basically becoming an awesome company for all. I don’t have room to go over everything we talked about, but check out Coca-Cola’s programs on their website when you can!
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