How to communicate on its solidarity actions?

The point of view of Béatrice Mandine, Executive Vice-President, in charge of Brand and Communications at Orange

All major companies are now conducting solidarity actions, whether in the form of funding (direct sponsorship or through their corporate foundations), or sponsorship/volunteer skills. Yet the communication on the actions dedicated to the general interest does not always appear at the rendezvous, even passed under silence. Béatrice Mandine, Executive Vice-President, in charge of Brand and Communications at Orange, shares her experience within a particularly committed group.

Companies often seem reluctant when it comes to communicating about their solidarity actions, how can one explain this?

Remember that for any company communication is an investment and must, like any other investment, promote the company. Regarding communication on solidarity actions, I would distinguish 3 major periods. 15–20 years ago all investments were dedicated to business, including communication. Communication on solidarity was not a priority. With the economic crisis of 2008 this situation was exacerbated because it was necessary to rationalize all the costs. The communication on solidarity actions was no longer a priority; it was almost “the 5th wheel of the carriage”. For the press relations too it was the an impossible mission. We were in the midst of greenwashing, sponsorship washing, it did not interest the journalists; we had very few echo from them.

When did things change?

A radical change occurred 4 or 5 years ago. Until then the investments were arrow to the business, the commercial actions. We realized that we had abandoned corporate communication. It was necessary to find a new balance between the two. Communicating on the best offer, the best price was not enough anymore. There was a saturation of the whole commercial, perhaps partly due to the wave of low-costs, which did damage with a communication centered exclusively on the prices. All other messages had become inaudible. Today the price is no longer the only selling point and we can now communicate on other topics such as quality for example

What about today?

2017 marked a turning point in companies’ communication. At Orange all external and internal studies lead to the same conclusion: consumers expect, from brands consciously or not, a little extra soul, something emotional on the part of brands.

An example: what makes a company like Apple have “something more” compared to an Asian brand, which makes it different and unique to the public? What makes you prefer a Starbuck coffee?

It is clear that the commitment of brands in society has become unavoidable. By setting up “Human Inside, innovation for the benefit of man, Orange has decided to go beyond a traditional communication on engagement. It is a true philosophy on which we base both our lines of communication and our daily actions. The M6 “start-up stories” program is a good example of what we want to do in terms of committed communication: highlighting the work of start-ups who want to move the world forward. It seemed important to us to support some very beautiful projects such as enabling the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate by telephone, to give everyone the opportunity to recycle and to geolocate abandoned objects, or to provide care to people living in remote areas of Africa.

Orange, like many other large companies, has a large budget for its corporate foundation. How do you communicate about its actions?

It seems to me that one cannot treat the communication on the actions in favor of the general interest like the other subjects of the company because it has to remain generosity. Trying to absolutely derive a benefit, even in terms of image, would be contradictory. Information on projects and achievements of the Orange Foundation are therefore treated autonomously by the Foundation’s team, which relies mainly on social networks. However, they are widely distributed internally because they are part of employee engagement. We wish to encourage the spirit of solidarity of our co-workers through volunteering, sponsorship skills or funding associations they support. The Foundation is therefore fully involved in our “Human Inside” philosophy, one of whose three pillars is to build “a more intelligent society that is responsible and open”.

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