We understand that Voith is celebrating its 150 year anniversary this year. Could you tell us a bit about Voith?
As you mentioned, Voith is indeed celebrating a significant anniversary this year. Voith is a B2B company and one of the largest family-owned corporations in Europe. It is headquartered in the beautiful German city of Heidenheim and looks back upon an impressive global success story.
Voith was started in 1867, when Friedrich Voith took over the workshop owned by his father, Johann Matthäus. Today, the company is a global technology leader with locations in more than 60 countries, approximately 4,000 active patents, and about 19,000 employees that represent Voith's four group divisions Digital Solutions, Hydro, Paper, and Turbo.
In your role as communications lead in North America, you are overseeing the efforts for the strategic planning and communications concerning all anniversary related events in the region. How have you coordinated the many moving parts?
You are correct. There are certainly a lot of moving parts. Voith has more than 160 locations worldwide, and in total we will have almost 260 anniversary celebrations. Almost every location is having an employee event, a family day, a sporting event to support a donation to a good cause, as well as local Corporate Social Responsibility activities which include a donation to a charity or community program. To support these many efforts we have developed internal and external micro sites; media and community relations campaigns; event plans including the writing of speeches, press releases, and working with local government; social media campaigns; and a number of other initiatives. We are also doing a lot of fun activities locally like human 150 anniversary banners, photo and video greetings, and the performance of our new Voith song. In North America alone we are handling more than 60 events with as many as 5,000 expected participants. How do we handle all of that?
Fortunately, we have an incredible team in our corporate and market communications department. And we developed a regional structure for the activities to ensure that we have various levels of assistance. The key has really been to designate a local champion at each location. With our support and assistance, this person, who typically pulls in a larger group of qualified people, helps with the planning and execution of the respective local employee events. We also utilize a lot of checklists, guidelines, protocols, as well as almost daily meetings and phone calls. Additionally, there is frequent communication between global headquarters, my office staff, and the local champions. Having a local champion also allows the individual locations and facilities to decide what is best for them and their culture rather than have corporate decide for them. That approach increases employee engagement and satisfaction as the local employees are participating in the decision making process.
You are based in Pennsylvania and have more than 3,000 employees in 18 company locations throughout North America participating in multiple events at each site. What are the biggest challenges you have faced in trying to balance event planning and the surrounding public relations?
Our biggest challenge is that there are only 24 hours in a day. As other communications professionals can attest to, when a campaign like this hits, responsibilities tied to running corporate and marketing communications do not go away.
Another challenge has been working with manufacturing facilities that are in operation 24/7 and making sure all employees feel that they are a part of the celebration. Many of our employees in the shop do not have company email addresses, and some are also hesitant to provide personal email addresses, which I completely understand. So we have had to get a bit creative in our communication methods in order to reach everyone.
Of course there is also the challenge of staying within budget for each location. And, frankly, getting 3000 polo shirts from Germany to the right employees in the correct sizes is also not as easy as one might think.
How do you ensure that global messages are effectively communicated in each local market? Something that works well in Germany may, for example, not translate well in a small town in the Midwest.
As communications professionals who work for international companies know, this challenge is not limited to an anniversary celebration. We need to ensure that global messages are relayed in the local market for virtually everything from product launches to sustainability campaigns, newsletters, and so on. Our goal is to take the spirit and sentiment of the message, align it closely with the local markets, and to communicate in a way that resonates with each internal and external audience. We focus on the specific business and communication goals to ensure the messages translate to the region by taking into account local habits, culture, pain points, opportunities, etc.
Across our region local culture has a big influence on the employee events. For instance, our colleagues in Hawkesbury, Canada enjoyed a wonderful employee event at a Sugar Shack location, and those in Shreveport, Louisiana had a crawfish festival party. While Voith is having a global anniversary celebration, we have to make sure that the activities are appropriate and effective at the local level.
This is certainly a multi-faceted and exciting initiative. What are some of the highlights and accomplishments you are most proud of?
We are very pleased with the spirit and closeness of the employees and view the festivities as an excellent opportunity for team building and enhancing our reputation. For example, at our offices in York we were recently shooting the "human banner" and more than 400 employees showed up in their new white Voith polo shirts. Our team was trying to get them in the shape of “Happy 150th
!” which turned out to be no small feat. However, what I heard was laughter, jokes between the employees, and a sense of family and genuine fondness for each other. It was special to witness and the increased cohesiveness will help Voith down the road in good times and in trying times.
I also want to highlight the donations we are making to the communities in which we work and live. All Voith employees were given the opportunity to submit suggestions for a local "good cause" that aligns with our company culture and values. As a result, we have made donations to a diverse list of organizations and causes that include a school robotic lab, Habitat for Humanity, First LEGO League competitions, and many more. It feels good to be part of a company that gives back.