HR in Practice: DHL is delivering a message that sticks

How DHL has successfully outsourced the way it delivers strategic messages to senior managers.

The business

DHL is one of the best-known operators in the international express and logistics industry. Products range from express, air and ocean freight, overland transport and international mail services. The company employs around 300,000 people in more than 220 countries. DHL is a brand of Deutsche Post World Net and the group generated revenues of more than 63bn euros in 2007.

The challenge

Every year DHL has a messaging session for senior management to get across the essential key messages for the upcoming year and to set targets. Maverick Events Worldwide, which has worked with DHL’s marketing team for six years, was asked to create this year’s event in February. Carron Edmonds is Maverick’s managing director. (Unusually, DHL’s HR function does not handle the internal messaging.)

“DHL’s marketing team handles the internal messaging,” explains Edmonds, “and we talk to marketing all the time as every aspect of what we do for DHL has to have a clear business message. We have to think of a way to deliver the message that they’ll remember and buy into. DHL monitors us to make sure it is delivered in the right way.”

The two main messages DHL wanted to get across to its top managers were to understand the competitiveness of the market so that they were always in ‘top gear’ in the race for clients and to ensure that they maintained DHL’s position as first choice for customers throughout the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

DHL’s head of marketing communications for the EMEA region Faruk Akosman describes the brief as “No Powerpoints!” He says: “We didn’t want to take people hostage with them. We have spent our whole careers in those kind of presentations. We wanted control of what people were presenting.”

To create interactive and interesting explanations, senior managers of the emerging regions were given a video camera and their challenge was to make a short film of how they had achieved ‘pole position’ last year and how they were going to hit targets this year.

The solution

Kenya was chosen as the location and Maverick went into action, delivering the set to Mombassa. A mere month before the event, the political unrest in Kenya surrounding the general election made the area too volatile to be suitable and the location had to be switched to the Bahrain Formula 1 circuit. Edmonds says she is still “in a state of disbelief that we managed to move everything. I don’t know how we did it”.

The organisation had to work incredibly quickly so that the change of venue did not have a massive impact. “We created an immense snowglobe dome, which was an inflatable structure with a 360-degree projection. When the 200 delegates got to the Bahrain international circuit, they were taken into the dome and throughout the day we held various team-building events, like go-kart and Audi racing,” Edmonds says.

The temperature in Bahrain was 30 degrees, which some delegates found a little warm, so Maverick created a second, partly open structure, which housed the catering and staff in the day. In the evening it was transformed into a nightclub.

To ensure that the business messages were still getting across, Edmonds created an Oscars party, with the full red carpet and paparazzi, at which the films the managers had made were screened. “To create a memorable finale, we put together a treasure hunt all round Bahrain. Everyone had questions, a map and a Bahraini-speaking driver. When they came back, we judged it and then had lunch on a private island at the Ritz Carlton,” she says.

The outcome

Akosman describes the event as pre-eminent. “They loved it! It was something that is still being talked about.” he says. “Bahrain was the ultimate and I am struggling now as I don’t know what to do to beat it.”

Feedback, both formal and informal, certainly gave DHL the impression that the messages had been acquired and absorbed. “No matter how hard you try, when delegates are walking out of an event they remember very few things – the food, if you’re lucky!” says Akosman. “We only wanted the delegates to remember four or five things, but they were the really important things. And it worked. ”

Employee experience

Malcolm Rees, global head of sales for DHL, attended the event. He considers himself to be something of a conference veteran and reckons he knows what works. “It was particularly well run. The whole atmosphere was good and I’d say the business message got across and people understood it,” he says. “It was a good format for communicating in a way people liked. Everything was interactive and interesting.”

Akosman certainly achieved his desire that people should be kept engaged. “Most of the invitees found themselves on the stage, either in a quiz or a surprise question session.” says Rees, who believes that the key to communicating key messages is more about the logistics than the presentation format. “It all has to be like clockwork, as disorganisation takes away from the messaging.

“The thing is,” he notes, “when the coffee breaks over-run and the buses don’t turn up on time, that’s the stuff the delegates remember, not the messages.”

If I could do it again…

Akosman had to accommodate a last-minute change of venue that involved switching location to a different country. The event was intended to be held in Kenya. Equipment was out in shipments in Mombassa.

Akosman takes up the story: “I was watching the news just after New Year and heard about the political situation in Kenya, and the riots. We realised very quickly that we had to make some major changes. Some of our senior managers were concerned about flights and questioning security. We had less than a month to find a new venue.

“I made an executive decision, as at times like that you cannot have a democracy. You have to ignore the misled optimism of people on the ground. Even if the managers felt OK about it, what about their families, worrying while they were away?

“Maverick managed to get all the shipments out of Mombassa and, as we’d used Bahrain for the previous year’s event, Maverick was very familiar with it. So we just switched to Bahrain. In the end, I realised the important thing was to make the decision fast, focus on the alternatives and be prepared to spend some more money.”

Guide to… holding the perfect event… in 8 steps

  1. Planning ahead is key but don’t get too caught up in the minutiae – there needs to be an element of fluidity too.
  2. Ensure you know who you are aiming your event at. There is nothing worse than pitching it at the wrong level.
  3. If you have a mixed audience, make sure everyone feels equally involved, irrespective of hierarchy or job title.
  4. Use the event as a team-building activity, encouraging people to bond with their colleagues and build relationships within their teams.
  5. To really engage with people, take them out of their day-to-day environment and organise the event at a unique and memorable venue – that way, people will remember the message that was given to them and really relax.
  6. Make sure you consider the timing of the event carefully to really maximise the returns.
  7. Events should not be standalone. Integrate them into your overall strategy so employees believe you genuinely have their best interests at heart.
  8. Don’t view events as simply an added expense. They should be seen as an integral part of ’employee investment’, particularly during the credit crunch.
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