In an article at Ragan’s Grapevine, UPS executive communications director Steve Solis and UPS executive communications manager Bruce Danielson write on how their company created high-powered conferences to introduce the company’s vision of synchronized global commerce to the business world.
According to Solis and Danielson, UPS changed its logo in March 2003 to signify that it was no longer just a package delivery service but had expanded to greater capabilities in the supply chain arena to provide synchronized commerce for its clients. UPS Chairman and CEO Mike Eskew then challenged senior leaders to communicate the new brand promise. Thus, the UPS executive communications team created the international Longitudes symposium series to help articulate and give credibility to the UPS vision in the business world and to establish the term “synchronized commerce” as a legitimate business term..
The authors describe synchronized commerce as “a business trend where the flow of information, goods and funds are converging to better optimize supply and demand cycles.” UPS simplifies this process for clients by synchronizing all aspects of commerce.
The Longitudes symposium series, say Solis and Danielson, feature third parties - thought leaders - who talk about the UPS vision and share their insights. The goal is for these people to create a “tipping point” effect in seeding the concept, thereby building the brand, and to serve as a platform for customer relationships by giving customers “a real learning experience through high-level, sophisticated discussions on the future of commerce and supply chain management.” The third parties and speakers are composed of academics, industry experts, association executives and media representatives who closely follow supply chain and trade issues.
The audience of clients and prospects, on the other hand, is limited to 200, representing a wide range of industries such as retail, manufacturing and services. UPS asks Harris Interactive to conduct a pre-event survey among attendees, focusing on supply chain and global trade issues affecting them. The results are compiled, announced via press release, and used in speeches and other communication.
The authors report that the Longitudes series was launched in 2004, held twice yearly in New York City, Paris, Chicago and Shanghai, with events planned in Eastern Europe and again in Chicago in 2006. The New York symposium was intended to raise consciousness about the symbiotic relationship between global trade and supply chain development. In Paris, the focus was on how Europe was going to compete in a global economy and a global supply chain. The Shanghai conference tackled the role of Asia as the leading growth catalyst of world trade.
Solis and Danielson list three thematic tracks followed by the Longitude series, supporting the thesis that supply chain management drives globalization and world trade:
1. macro discussions of global economics and policy issues, led by experts such as Robert Rubin, Willem Duisenberg, Carla Hills and Thomas Friedman;
2. micro discussions of supply chain strategy - in-the-trenches views from academics and practitioners including Hau Lee (Stanford), Marshall Fisher (Wharton), Yossi Sheffi (MIT), William and Victor Fung (Li & Fung), Ed Mueller (Williams-Sonoma), Brad Anderson (Best Buy), Joe Hatfield (Wal-Mart) and Bob Moffat (IBM); and
3. discussions on the notion of social responsibility and the social implications of corporate global actions, with keynotes delivered by politicians such as F.W. DeKlerk, Vaclav Havel and Jimmy Carter.
According to the authors, UPS was careful not to make its corporate messaging too visible in New York so that the audience would not think that it was positioning its own solutions throughout the content. Feedback showed, however, that many of its customers wanted to hear about UPS solutions to their issues. Since then, the conference has included a brief presentation of the company’s priorities and solutions.
Internally, Solis and Danielson say, the Longitudes series is a joint venture between UPS executive communications and the company’s worldwide sales and marketing group. Executive communications handle content, theme, speaker selection and preparation, media and third party outreach, and all repackaging efforts from the event; while worldwide sales and marketing handles customer engagement, hospitality, and the event staging and production.
Externally, UPS has partnered with Harvard Business School Publishing, with HBSP compiling an executive summary of each event and a detailed conference report integrating commentary from speakers and presenters, to be posted by UPS on its website. The executive communications team then repackages the content and lessons from each conference into executive speeches, by-lined articles, white papers and other support materials.
Solis and Danielson report that the company monitors media coverage of the events, as well as how third parties use the content. Academics have reportedly used the material in classes and other conferences as envisioned in the project’s goals.
The company has also seen how customer attendees’ business with UPS has increased. Thus, even if originally intended to last only until 2007, the Longitude series is under consideration for extension.
Indeed, a company’s external communications will succeed if it provides value for its audience, as well.