Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
The end of the year is approaching. It is time to reduce the balance sheets, to look back at the year that is behind us and take a look at the 2021 that is coming our way.
2020 will be remembered around the world for the challenges brought to us by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everything turned upside down. December this year and December last year do not look alike at all. Coronavirus is major topic in the world every day. It should get better next spring.
There is almost no company that has not experienced changes in their business, good or bad.
Today we are talking about the chalenges that Nestlé, the largest food company, faced during this year. The company culture, and the values that Nestlé has been building for years have proved to be right in this situation as well.
We are speaking with Neli Angelova, Nestlé’s Communications Manager for South East Europe.
Media Marketing: 2020 brought along many surprises. Now that it has almost come to its end, how would you summarize the year from Nestlé‘s business/operations perspective? What were the key challenges, and what were the situations that marked the year?
Neli Angelova: Yes, it is true that we are almost at the end of a whole year of doing business in a pandemic environment, in any sense – from assuring the supply of raw and pack materials for our manufacturing processes, to taking care of our employees and ensuring healthy and safe working conditions for them. Last but not least, staying close to our consumers, customers, and society by providing our products, support, and commitment.
Since the first day, we at Nestlé stayed focused on business continuity, understanding our business role, and our strong social role as the biggest food and beverage company worldwide. From the very beginning, we knew how important it was to continue supplying food and beverages to our end consumers. This continuity’s significant role was to ensure all our employees had proper safety and health conditions at their workplace. Sometimes, it was not easy – if you remember first months of the pandemic, there was a shortage of masks, disinfectants, etc. But we did not give up, and our Procurement team managed to assure everything needed on time.
The key focus for our internal communication was, first and foremost, being close for our employees, providing constant, timely, and precise information on the priorities of the company in these uncertain times, giving instructions on the continuation of work, primarily focusing on preventive health measures, giving tips and ideas how to manage with new work-life from a distance and recognizing our first-line employees. These already eight months of new working and business reality were challenging, but they showcased the best in all of us and underlined the human ability to adapt and deliver results in an environment in which no one of us had previous experience.
Media Marketing: You are Head of Communication for SEM, including Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Romania. How drastic are the differences between these markets, and how is this reflected in communication?
Neli Angelova: I wouldn’t say that there are drastic differences in this broad geographical scope. We have similar historical roots, very similar cooking and eating habits, strong coffee consumption culture, and live values rooted deeply in the societies of all those countries. But they have their specifics as well, which go more in the direction of how these commonalities are executed in daily life.
Nestlé is a consumer centric company in everything we do – from product development, and continuous renovation in order to meet evolving consumer needs, to ensuring accessibility and affordability of our products, as well in communication to the final consumer.
Our values are deeply rooted in respect – towards ourselves, others, and the future. All of this is reflected through our communication strategy as well. We follow consumer dynamics towards content, channels, and we build our communication strategies taking them into consideration and positioning our product and brand respectfully.
Media Marketing: Corporate social responsibility seems to have significantly gained in importance this year, probably more than ever before. How much has your work changed in this field? Have you redefined your priorities/goals?
Neli Angelova: Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not a trend anymore, as it seemed to be a couple of years ago, but a reality for both companies and brands nowadays. Millennials were the first generation that loudly asked, “What are you, a company and a manufacturer, doing for me, for the society, for the planet”. And their challenge was so strong that companies understood that CSR is not a campaign activity, but a new way of doing business.
In Nestlé, we strongly believe that in order to be long-term successful, we have to give additional value to both our shareholders but also to societies in which we operate. This way of thinking is fully embedded in everything we do. We stay consistent in our promises – through our production process, by improving products to provide consumers with more nutritional benefits (e.g. less salt, sugar, more milk, cocoa, fibers, vitamins, vegetables); through our educational programs tailor-made for children and their parents/caregivers and teachers (Nestlé for Healthier Kids Project, which is rolled out under the name: Zdravo! in BiH, Vrtim Zdravi Film in Croatia, and Zdravo rastimo in Serbia); towards young professionals, helping them to be better prepared in starting their careers (e.g. possibilities for work, internship, career consultations, and mentorship programs); and to the planet – aiming to have zero negative impact with our business operations and support nature preservation for future generations (e.g. constant optimization of water usage in our production processes, recyclability of plastic packaging).
So, we didn’t redefine our commitments, but we reconfirmed that they were valuable and important, so we stayed persistent with them. However, this doesn’t mean that we stopped making additional ones. At the end of October, Nestlé made new commitments in the area of youth employment, which once again reconfirms the company’s strong willingness to support them on their professional journey. Living and working during the pandemic, solidarity with first-line public workers (e.g. medical workers) is of paramount importance. We are proud of our fast reactions in the spring, joining forces with the Red Cross and contributing to local communities throughout the region.
Media Marketing: This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Nestlé for Healthier Kids initiative in the region, and on this occasion, you organized a regional conference for experts in the field of nutrition, health, and education. How challenging is it to continue implementing such projects today (e.g., how did you adapt to the situation), and what are the plans for the next period?
Neli Angelova: Having clearly defined commitments and willingness to contribute to developing healthier habits in kids worldwide makes us confident that we are moving in the right direction, making meaningful steps for individuals and society. The ability to change is one of the key success factors, and today, it is even more valid. We quickly adapt our approach to the kids, their parents, and teachers, without changing the program’s fundaments that we are implementing in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (Vrtim Zdravi Film, Zdravo Rastimo, and Zdravo!). Being closer to them via digital channels helped us to significantly increase reach and provide more ideas on how to live healthier, even if we are staying at home.
Media Marketing: In parallel with social responsibility, companies’ focus on the employees is increasing. This is significantly due to new circumstances, such as the increasing rate of employees working from home, which imposed numerous challenges to the HR department. Given the fact that the Nestlé team consists of more than 720 people in the region alone, how do you deal with these challenges, and what new trends in HR do you see?
Neli Angelova: We at Nestlé believe that people are our company’s heart, which is one of our competitive advantages. There are many processes, internal programs for employees, and success stories that prove that. The function of the HR department is certainly a leading one in creating and maintaining a culture within the company, but the line managers are the ones who make culture a reality. In the South East Market, the Nestlé team has more than 2200 employees. They are not only spread throughout different countries and hubs, but they also have different occupation profiles – working in offices, factories, logistic centers, and sales. All of this brings complexity when it comes to providing a transparent and high-quality people management strategy. As I already mentioned, our people are in the heart of our business, and providing them with both fair treatment and working conditions that allow them to perform their best is on top of our agenda. Today, we often talk about change management. During the pandemic, employers had to understand how important work from home is for people’s health, as well as business continuity. But for us in Nestlé, it wasn’t anything new, having flexible working hours policy implemented for a couple of years now.
Media Marketing: What can we consider good communication today, and what a bad one? Have the standards changed (and how)?
Neli Angelova: Reliability, focus on the target group, uniqueness and, outstanding creativity are well-known communication foundations. Nowadays, elements like empathy and care for the staff are coming to communication reality more and more. It is clear that the world is changing, generations are changing, and they are becoming more demanding because they seek certain values. Good communication lies in two-way communication with consumers, which allows them to react and share their opinion. I think the days when you used to say, “I’m brand X, I’m very good for you, use me,” are over. Today, a brand needs to have a purpose.
What I would emphasize as a non-recommended communication approach is inconsistency across different channels, and today, as an example of this, collaborations with influencers could be highlighted as important points of contact between consumers and the brand. Qualitative parameters like the number of their followers are really important, but evaluating the reputation of an individual representing you and the security of the brand is very important once the collaboration begins. At the end of the campaign, of course, a detailed analysis of engagement with the audience and how the message is understood should be done.
Media Marketing: The digitization process seems to have been more efficient this year than in the previous few. What impact did the “sudden” digitization have on Nestlé?
Neli Angelova: Certainly, the role of e-commerce as a channel for shopping, but also communication, is increasing, and this was clearly seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumers spent much more time inside their homes.
Also, I would like to emphasize the importance of communication through digital channels, not only in the context of reactive communication with end consumers, but also in building long-term relationships by maintaining closeness with them in challenging times.
Media Marketing: What are the business trends, and which in communications that you think will be crucial in the coming year and why?
Neli Angelova: In 2020, companies learned how to stay focused in a completely new reality – health, economic and social, and maintain business continuity and continue to deliver. At the very beginning, many companies asked the question, “Should we continue or stop communicating?”. At the same time, the first reactions of consumers were directed towards communication – they demanded that brands continue to communicate by changing/adapting their narrative in accordance with the new reality (for example, not too promising, nor too enthusiastic).
So, the big question for 2021 is how to stay close to consumers in a situation that will no longer be new but may still bring different limitations (e.g. offline activities). How to build an emotional connection between a brand and consumers in challenging times? The key component of the answer is – a brand with a purpose will succeed on this path, despite all the difficulties.
Media Marketing: Several well-known brands decided to stop their advertising at the very beginning of the pandemic. What new advertising trends have brought us a change in brand strategies, and what are Nestlé‘s practices in this regard?
Neli Angelova: Nestlé is one of the companies that have decided not to stop communication and to remain in dialogue with consumers and societies where we operate, as well as continue implementing set plans. It was really challenging, some of the channels we usually use were no longer applicable in lockdown times (e.g. samplings, events, ceremonies), but we adapted to the new conditions. We saw the potential of e-commerce channels, increased cooperation with influencers (micro), and especially those whose focus is on topics such as sustainability and cooking (e.g., cooking with children) topics.
Media Marketing: How do new trends affect the client-agency relationship and the role(s) of the agencies?
Neli Angelova: Personally, I don’t like using the word “agency”. I prefer to use “communication partner”, but not as another phrase, but truly respecting its meaning. This is one of the priorities I have with my Nestlé communication team – to build a culture of working with our partners on a strategic platform. Starting with selection, which is sometimes demanding but necessary, through building trust and common priorities, to celebrating success and establishing a long-lasting relationship. These are business values that I believe in and put into practice every day when working with our strategic partners.
Media Marketing: Finally, tell us what the plans for next year are? What will be the focus of Nestlé‘s business and communication?
Neli Angelova: Our ambitions and goals remain unchanged – to be recognized as the largest food and beverages company globally, delivering additional value to all our stakeholders, but also to the societies in which it operates. Thus, our plans, which focuses on providing relevant food and beverage options, developing innovations in response to food trends and consumer needs, will be even stronger. The focus will be on education, which contributes to building healthier eating habits in children, youth employment, and sustainability. Communication will continue to remain at all points of contact with consumer journey touch points in regards to “where”, in order to maximize the echo.