Case Study of FedEx: A Powerful Partnership of Strategy and Corporate Communication

FedEx, an international company that provides shipping by air and ground and a range of logistics and trade consulting services, must provide speed and dependability globally not only for its core businesses with customers but also in its communications with constituencies about key business objectives. Employees at FedEx work in 200 countries 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. The corporate communication function must operate in as broad a landscape with speed, high impact, and precision.

Given the company’s core businesses, communication challenges can arise in many quarters—in anything from crisis management, such as managing communications in the aftermath of a plane crash or computer outage, to e-commerce initiatives, to the rapid implementation of a new business model.

According to corporate vice president Bill Margaritis, the corporate communication function needs to add significant value to the business and must be fully aligned with those making high-impact strategic decisions for the company. But how has he accomplished this at FedEx? First, Margaritis conducts annual audits with executives to find out what they are trying to accomplish and to establish a scorecard for success. Among these are the company’s new “customer-facing go-to-market” strategies to improve growth and profit. This structure allows the team to devote complete attention to proactive opportunities rather than getting bogged down by a plethora of operational issues, which are important to manage but uniquely different. Since the company formed cross-functional groups to address these strategies, which are at the heart of FedEx’s business. Margaritis assigns corporate communication people to each of the cross-functional groups dedicated to a “go-to-market” strategy. In this way, the perspective of corporate communication on issues like messaging about a new product launch, sending out news about mergers and acquisitions, pitching to the media, and assisting in the management of government relations in the highly regulated environments in which FedEx operates, are voiced alongside concerns about finance, operations, information systems, and long-term strategic goals.

By segmenting corporate communication staff in “go-to-market” groups, that is, customer-facing functions like sales, customer service, and information technology, Margaritis achieves a significant side benefit  He has developed a multi-talented group of communication professionals who can help solve strategic-level problems that cut across functional areas like marketing, finance, sales, technology, and strategy. His team members do not just fill a narrow niche, like writing a newsletter for pilots or drafting speeches for senior executives. Instead, his staff can rotate through projects to build broader knowledge of the business and to contribute value-added counsel to those decisions.

Senior management at FedEx realizes that when the company embarks on a new strategy, such as offering new services, and makes commitments to the marketplace, the company’s brand is on the line with multiple constituencies—opinion leaders, the media, investors, employees, as well as customers. For the strategy to work, the company’s culture must also migrate in the new strategic direction; employee behavior, motivation, and emotions must change accordingly.

Using the example of a company’s need to get buy-in for a new customer initiative, Margaritis summed up the potential partnership between corporate communication and a company’s larger strategic decision making in this way:

When companies are considering transformation of their business strategies or business models at a rapid pace, the corporate communication group should play a vital role in the planning and execution process. To transform quickly, the company needs to get this news out in a compelling, multi-faceted manner quickly to key constituencies and has to get buy-in from them. If, for instance, the company makes a new pledge to customers, the organization must have a program that links employees to this new objective. A company wants the loyalty of employees to be linked with the new value proposition and to translate the new pledge into shareholder value. Employees need to deliver on the new strategy. If not, the company’s brand and reputation can suffer  One of the things corporate communication can do is corre­late research between employee behavior and actions with customer service and, hence address performance gaps with actionable communication programs. Corporate communication must play a leadership role in a change environment.

FedEx takes a holistic approach to corporate communication across all channels and audiences: from the workplace to the marketplace and from planning and executing new strategy to measuring attempts to link employee behaviors and attitudes to marketplace impact.

Credit: Corporate Communication Practices-MGU