This is David Geddes, chair of the Institute for Public Relations Commission on Measurement and Evaluation.
Today I am talking with Sergio Giacomo, Director, Corporate Communications at the Brazilian mining company Vale S.A. The Economist describes Vale as the “biggest company you have never heard of.” I met Sergio at the 2nd Brazilian Corporate Communications Day held in New York in April.
Sergio, to begin, tell us about your role and responsibilities at Vale.
As Communications Director, my role is oversee the different areas of Vale’s corporate communications, which include media relations, internal communications, sponsorships, advertising, branding and research, among others.
Since Vale is present in 38 countries and is constantly growing and diversifying its business, my main challenge is to make sure we communicate in a coordinated and strategic way in order to reach all our stakeholders.
Could you describe your overall approach to communications research and measurement, especially since you are a global company in an industry with a number of high profile issues including the environment?
First I think it is important to establish that while Vale has long been a dominant force in the Brazilian mining industry, its entry into the global scene is very recent (hence the comment made by The Economist). Furthermore, many of the major acquisitions that contributed to our significant growth, such as Canada’s Inco, have only recently transitioned to the Vale brand.
Moreover, it is important to note that levels of awareness concerning the mining sector as a whole are very low, especially when compared with other commodity segments such as oil and gas, which have higher exposure (and a direct relationship) with consumers.
That said, at Vale we understand that effective communications research should be the basis for any type of short- and long-term strategic planning. Since 2006 we run a comprehensive bi‑yearly research study in Brazil that targets the population of every single one of the areas where we operate, as well as major cities. We are currently working on adapting this study to other countries too.
In addition, we run a global stakeholder tracker that measures our reputation among key groups of stakeholders and with regards to global benchmarks in mining and other similar industries. We also have an annual internal research study that targets employees in 16 countries.
Finally, we use media tracking tools that measure our presence across traditional and social media, and identify major trends and themes.
The use of all these different but complementary research tools allows us to effectively measure our strengths and weaknesses among our many different stakeholders and to plan our strategy and actions accordingly.
You said in New York that a major role for corporate communications at Vale is to protect your license to operate. How do you measure and evaluate your success in this area? How do you demonstrate value to your senior executives? It would seem very difficult.
As a mining company, Vale’s communications does not deal with individual consumers. Rather, to ensure the feasibility and success of our operations, we must effectively communicate with an (increasingly informed) civil society, governments and administrations at all levels, as well as activists, media, analysts, community leaders, etc. This means a continuous and transparent dialogue with all stakeholders, so that we can communicate the benefits of Vale’s presence as well as how the minerals we produce become products that are essential in people’s everyday lives.
In Brazil, our national population study (mentioned above) serves as a very effective and precise tool to measure our success. This study explores levels of familiarity and favorability, but also delves into the population’s perception of issues that have allowed us to successfully operate over the years: environmental management, social investment, relationship with employees, and integration with the community. The comprehensive nature of this study allows us to determine the progress of each issue down to every town or city where we operate, and to develop a local communications strategy accordingly. The results consistently demonstrate Vale’s high levels of favorability in operation areas as well as major cities, and also identify the company’s strong points, such as environmental management and integration with the community.
Vale’s senior management is aware of the value of our metrics to the company as a whole. Our commitment and belief in the relevance of these metrics is made evident by the fact that we include them as part of the Communications department’s (and my personal) yearly evaluations. By placing our reputation metrics as a department priority, we communicate their importance to the rest of the company.
How do you report research, insights, and results to your senior management?
With the conclusion of every major study, we make sure to present our results to senior management in person. We also hold workshops for each of the major divisions within Vale to make sure that the results and their relevance are properly communicated.
We are currently working on a single reputation dashboard that presents a comparative analysis across different stakeholder groups (employees, government, clients, investors, etc) and tracks our performance over time.
Do you have any practical tips for communicating PR measurement results to senior management?
It is important to communicate results with a precise notion of context, how issues have progressed or regressed over the years, and appropriate and meaningful analysis. In this field, our roles as communicators is to bridge appropriately our business colleagues and our stakeholders, and to make sure that our decisions are made to increase the exchange between those two groups. In this sense, having relevant and trustworthy data collected through research is paramount.
Thanks for talking with us today. Please stop by for future installments of Five Minute Conversations, or read past interviews at https://instituteforpr.org/blog/.