POSCO Brings Silky Touch to Steel Image
This is the second in a series on Korean brands explaining how entities in business, government and society in general are trying to make themselves outstanding amid a sea of competitors, and what products they are marketing. ― ED.
By Jane Han
Clear blue skies, neatly aligned homes and shiny windmills, picturesque bicycles and a happy crowd of students headed to school on an electric train in Germany's green city of Freiburg ― these are the scenes depicted in POSCO's latest television commercial featuring the soft a capella music of The King's Singers.
Nowhere in the 35-second clip do you find a trace of the steel industry's robust image and rough-and-tough nature.
Having been privatized less than a decade ago, once state-run POSCO has consistently tailored its communication with the public in such a way as to shake off its rigid appeal.
The steel giant first took a few letters from its former name, Pohang Iron & Steel Company, to be reborn as POSCO in 2002. Then, it repositioned the new corporate identity (CI) as a brand that is friendly and familiar locally and globally.
``Coming across as the leader of the nation's economic growth is important, but we also wanted to portray the company's efforts in other aspects of society,'' says Choi Young, POSCO's promotions planner. ``The point was to transform people's image of POSCO from stiff and cold to soft and warm.''
To do this, the company kicked off a series of print and television ads starting 2000.
Fronting the slogan, ``We move the world in silence,'' the world's fourth-largest steel maker aired various versions of commercials, some of which featured a crowd of children eagerly circling a corn-popping machine in an African town, and a little child following his father's footsteps in the snow in a secluded Korean forest.
The company says it believes that each message stresses the importance of critical issues, such as the environment, cohabitation and societal cooperation.
``Saying something is one thing, and showing it in action is another,'' says spokesman Kim Dong-wan, who adds that POSCO prioritizes contribution to back up its campaigns with aggressive hands-on work.
POSCO's internal data shows that the company's nearly 19,000 management and employees participated in 550,000 hours worth of community service last year. This means almost 90 percent of the entire staff contributed, with each putting in about 21.7 hours annually.
Employees say that giving back is made easy from the start because their corporate atmosphere is already centered on co-growth.
``Volunteering used to be a burden, but nowadays, I feel privileged to serve after seeing so many happy faces,'' says one 30-something POSCO employee.
Another staff member, who works in the steel mill's Pohang plant, says routine service is a good opportunity for his entire family to learn the value of contributing to society.
From building homes, providing food to the needy, planting trees to sending off goods to underdeveloped countries, POSCO offers plenty of options for its employees to choose from.
One of the areas it is further expanding is giving back to needy areas outside of domestic borders, particularly in regions rising fast as the world's next leaders.
In India, POSCO is carrying out active medical volunteer work to help treat children suffering from cleft lip and palate and other health conditions. A total of 5,000 patients were treated last year, says POSCO.
Its contribution slightly differs in China, where POSCO focuses more on educational efforts to improve the learning environment in poverty-stricken districts.
From 2003 to last year, POSCO handed scholarships to 547 students studying in five major universities, including Beijing and Tsinghua universities, in China.
Aside from these, the company built a computer center in Bangladesh to help foster IT talent, provided medical support to towns in the Philippines and Cambodia, and sent out relief packages to Indonesia and Pakistan.
All of this made POSCO the best corporate citizen among local conglomerates in August. A poll of 450 college students done by an online recruiter shows that the majority thought POSCO will best fulfill its social responsibility, ahead of Samsung, KT and SK Energy.
The survey also ranked POSCO as the best company for raising public awareness of the environment, making it the most sought after employer for the majority of respondents.
``The public nowadays look up to companies that not only benefit the national economy, but those that set out a healthy, solid and forward-looking vision,'' says Lee Eun-hae, an expert at Valucid, a corporate image consulting firm.
Cultural and sports contributions also help POSCO improve its brand image to the general public.
``We're not a consumer products maker, so it's not easy for us to communicate with the public in typical methods used by other companies,'' says Kim of POSCO. ``So we try to indirectly appeal by teaming up with arts and sports groups that have a direct appeal on people.''
The steel group's monthly concert held at the lobby of its Seoul headquarters is one example.
Inviting some 2,000 local citizens every month, the ground level of the modern tower transforms into a classical concert hall and, at times, even a stage for rockers.
When guests visit to attend the show, they get a chance to tour the lobby of the famous high-rise dual tower, which houses a steel museum and a showroom for contemporary art.
``It gives people a chance to become more friendly with our company and the steel industry as a whole,'' said Kim.
For those who can't make a trip to the POSCO building, the steel maker sponsors multiple symphony concerts in various universities nationwide to support musicians and provide free entertainment to students and local citizens.
The POSCO-driven Mecenat (partnership of corporations and performance groups) also branches out to the soccer field. The company currently runs two top league soccer teams, Pohang Steelers and Chunnam Dragons.
``POSCO's brand ultimately boils down to how the public perceives us through what we show,'' says Kim, who adds that the company will continue to beef up its efforts through new and creative ways.
Last year, the company spent 2.2 percent of its operating profit, which amounts to 96.5 billion won on funding various social contribution activities.