A clean delivery

CorpComms Magazine meets Andraea Dawson-Shepherd, formerly SVP of global corporate communications and affairs at Reckitt Benckiser

Andraea Dawson-Shepherd is 'agnostic' about traditional print media. In fact, Reckitt Benckiser's senior vice president of global corporate communications and affairs does not fret if the Nurofen-to-Durex company fails to feature on the financial pages at results time. And don't expect to read a profile of chief executive Rakesh Kapoor; it's not in the media plan.

The simple fact is that the audience with which Reckitt Benckiser is trying to engage, graduates and young people, does not get its news from traditional sources, while, as Dawson- Shepherd sees it, analysts and investors do not need to rely on financial journalists to inform them about the company's performance.

She does not actively seek coverage for RB, and declares that her team do not proactively engage with traditional media but act instead as marketers for the corporate brand. 'I don't employ anybody with a traditional PR background. We're not particularly interested in newspapers,' she says. 'They have definitely got more sensationalist. Also, we don't have a huge number of small shareholders who like to read about their investments.'

Former chief executive Bart Becht, who took home £12.5 million last year, agreed to a rare 30 minute interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2010, with the proviso that all questions on pay were banned.

It is certainly a different approach from most in-house communications teams, who often consider the extent of media coverage when evaluating their performance. The company recently also abandoned the traditional quarterly reporting cycle. 'You can't run a consumer goods business on a quarter-to-quarter basis,' explains Dawson-Shepherd. Flu is a case in point. One quarter's figures will be affected by stores buying flu products as they get ready for the season, another quarter is affected by the severity of the flu attack while the infection has no discernible impact on the remaining six months. 'You can't compare the quarters,' she explains.

Dawson-Shepherd joined Reckitt Benckiser in 2008 from Cadbury Schweppes, where she had been global corporate communications director. The divestment of Dr Pepper Snapple had slashed annual turnover from £6 billion to £3 billion and created a business with more muted global ambitions. It was time for a change.

She arrived at RB's headquarters in Slough and found a global business with an investor relations function and 'a little bit of communications'. Dawson-Shepherd recalls: 'There was no corporate affairs function.' Investor relations was spun off into finance, but 'we worked together on messaging. That was part of my remit'.

But Dawson-Shepherd was in no rush to make any changes. 'I needed to spend some time taking a comprehensive look at our internal sites, our web agenda and our digital outreach. I needed to find out what Reckitt Benckiser meant as a corporate brand,' she explains. 'I needed to find out what its footprint should be.'

Her research found that few people, if any, could articulate the corporate brand. Graduates were actively seeking careers at consumer goods giants Procter & Gamble and Unilever, but failed to recognise that there was another international company behind such household names as Dettol, Cillit Bang and Vanish. In short, RB was missing out on a wealth of talent.

When she joined Dawson-Shepherd had not intended to rebrand the business, but that was the conclusion of her analysis. 'I wanted to bring clarity,' she explains. 'We had been growing so fast and that had got left behind. I wanted to demonstrate that Reckitt Benckiser was the power behind the brands.'

The Workroom was tasked with creating a new corporate brand. It focused on four colours, adopted the more manageable RB in corporate and marketing materials and created the strapline The Power behind the brand while emphasising the company's dynamic approach.

'We are a great company for self-starters,' explains Dawson-Shepherd. 'People get responsibility early on.'

There is no bureaucratic structure that dictates graduates must finish a set period of training before progressing their career. People are given the opportunity to make mistakes and to learn from them. But the company will also support new ideas.

Indeed, its growth in recent years has been driven by innovations within its so-called 19 power brands. For example, Nurofen has transformed from a pain relief tablet into a range for specific ailments, ones that dissolve in the mouth, express versions and, more recently, extra strength.

'Graduates had no idea who we were. But we are not a fuzzy company. We are crystal clear on our objectives. We have a great story to tell,' says Dawson-Shepherd. This was particularly problematic in the UK, while graduates in Pakistan, India and Italy, for example, were better informed because of the company's long history within those countries.

Young people get their information from websites and, increasingly, over the past four years, social media. 'The website is a big part of what we do. We needed to get content for that so we appointed a group of people from different divisions [such as human resources and sales] in our target countries to blog about their jobs,' she says.

RB's interactive website concentrates on careers and opportunities, what it's like to work at the company, stories behind the brands and corporate responsibility initiatives. Dawson-Shepherd's six-person team, which includes three interns, has a six-week content plan for www.rb.com and RB's Facebook page. In synch with the company ethos, she encourages her team to make their own decisions.

Each year there will be at least one big challenge to attract new followers and create original content. Last year the company launched a Facebook competition, open to anyone aged between 18 and 32 in ten countries, to win an Experience of a Lifetime.

Competitors were offered the choice of five opportunities, ranging from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to trekking the Great Wall of China. They had to select the experience and explain why people should vote for them to be given the opportunity.

The five winners needed to achieve at least 1,000 votes by the closing date. More than6,000 people applied, and the first winner set off in May along the Inca Trail in Peru. RB covered all costs and made a donation to Save the Children, a charity with which it works closely. RB will also donate $1 for every picture that each winner persuades people they meet along the way to upload onto the Experience of a Lifetime website. Each winner will blog, upload videos and post pictures on their journeys.

'The great thing about social media is that you can try things, and if they don't work just move on,' says Dawson-Shepherd, citing one online game that failed to catch on while other games, which find out if players have  what it takes to work at RB, have proved extremely popular. 'But it doesn't really matter. You just have to jump and go for it. Facebook is about relevant stories and creating an active dialogue.'

RB's journey on social media has coincided with that of its brands, and the divisions share stories of successes and failures, including experiences with local social networking platforms. 'We're all learning together,' she says. The company is currently exploring geo targeting.

But has the experience been successful to date? As far as recognition among young people, the answer is yes. Graduate applications have risen dramatically. Among young people in Brazil, awareness of RB has risen from single digits to more than 60 per cent, in Australia from 'high single figures to mid 20s' and in the UK from 'high teens to high 50s', says Dawson-Shepherd, who may just be the real power behind the brand.