How Nestlé Purina Engages Hard-to-Reach Factory Employees

Imagine you’re a corporate communicator based in St. Louis. Part of your role is to connect employees at the main headquarters with essential information.

But that’s only the start.

You also need to reach frontline employees at more than 20 factories scattered throughout the country, in places like Flagstaff, Ariz.; Dunkirk, N.Y.; Fort Dodge; and Allentown, Pa.

These employees are primarily hourly workers. They’re always on the go. They don’t have corporate email addresses or even computer access.

They’re hard to reach.

Purina SpeakersLaura Lee and Margarett Wolf don’t have to imagine this scenario. They live it every day as communications professionals at Nestlé Purina.

“Our factory workers are on the factory floor all day doing their jobs, and they don’t have easy access to work email,” said Lee, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. “So, it can be a challenge to reach them.”

That’s why Purina uses a communications platform called – appropriately enough ­– The Pack. Powered by Dynamic Signal, it includes a mobile app feature that enables Purina to put information into the palms of employees’ hands.

But while the technology matters, it’s what Purina does with the platform that explains the success in engaging this dispersed workforce. Lee and Wolf, a Senior Communications Specialist, have developed an innovative program highlighted by localized content for each factory location. That way, employees feel like the platform speaks to them.

The special ingredient?

They’ve cultivated onsite community managers who know what colleagues want.

These are the communication leaders of The Pack.

“We’ve learned that we can launch at a factory, but if someone there is not willing to be the advocate and post content, it doesn’t go as well,” Lee said. “We recruit local champions who have complete autonomy. We want them to put the content on their page that’s localized and important to their factory employees. For some locations, that may be birthday messages or work anniversaries. For others, it might be community events. It’s all about what makes sense for them.”

A wealth of research links the level of employee communication and engagement with organizational success.

ECE AwardsCompanies with higher employee engagement see 17 percent greater productivity, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report. Meanwhile, a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit of more than 400 U.S.-based executives said inefficient workplace communication leads to breakdowns that result in increased stress levels, delays or failures to complete projects, low company moralemissed performance goals, and lost sales.

Purina understands this power of engagement, which is why it launched The Pack. It provides employees with company information while also enabling them to share approved content to help raise awareness about Purina on social media. At Dynamic Signal’s 2019 ECE Awards, Purina received the Best Newsletter Series honors, and Lee was a finalist for Communicator of the Year.

Of the approximately 8,000 Purina employees, nearly 2,800 are at the St. Louis headquarters. Because these employees typically are working at desks, it’s easier to reach them. As a result, they make up the majority of the several thousand employees who are active members of The Pack or receive regular information through the platform, such as Purina’s award-winning weekly newsletters.

But as every communicator knows, it’s much harder to get the attention of frontline workers.

Those local community managers help solve that problem. Any employee is eligible to be in The Pack. But there are eight factories with their own pages of content specific for their employees.  Typically, the HR manager serves as the content manager. Also, Purina has found that having several managers per location can be helpful in terms of getting more content published.

“They’re our boots on the ground,” Wolf said. “They understand that employee communication is vital around things like benefits enrollment. They’re already doing everything possible to make sure everyone knows the most important information – especially the deadlines So, we understand their pain points. We can say, ‘Here’s a way to know that you’re reaching your hourly workforce with a piece of communication to make sure they’re fully aware.’ They get it right away.”

The Pack has a content mix strategy that’s sometimes called a “glocal” approach. Lee and Wolf create global content from headquarters intended for every Purina employee such as workplace injury prevention services – regardless of their location and role in the company. Then the community managers fill their own content streams with local information tailored specifically for employees at their sites.

They train these champions on the platform’s functionality, provide best practices, and serve as guides.

But they’re not moderators.

Community managers are let off the leash. (Hey, it’s Purina!) The result is that each platform factory stream has its own identity and look.

That trust, flexibility, and freedom is the secret sauce.

“Every factory is like its own kingdom,” Wolf said. “Our content champions know the pulse of each of their locations. They’re the people who know what’s going on within each factory. They know the priorities. The culture.”

Daniel J. Yount, a Senior Customer Success Manager at Dynamic Signal, said one factory in particular – the Dunkirk, N.Y. location – is the “shining star” because the community manager is always thinking about content that highlights the human element. For instance, to celebrate Veterans Day, there was a heart-tugging post about an employee’s relative who served in the military.

“Laura and Margarett have built a model program because they’re identifying champions who believe in The Pack and are willing to put in the time,” Yount said. “They want them to take risks. It’s why they’re breaking the mold of stale, traditional communications. They understand the importance of humanizing the communications experience, so it’s relevant to factory associates and also not all about the corporate employees.”

Purina Employee PostAbout 45 percent of employees using The Pack now are factory workers.

The local emphasis also has another benefit. Regular frontline workers feel more empowered to become company advocates.

Garry Moore, a maintenance technician at the Bloomfield, Mo., plant, is consistently a Top 10 advocate on The Pack for the entire company by telling the Purina story from his perspective.

Employees like Moore have powerful, unique voices because it’s clear they believe in what Purina stands for and are showing that pride by sharing all of the good things they hear and know about their colleagues and the company on social media.

“Because you work at Purina, people always think that you know everything about pets,” Lee said. “So, we use the platform to share tips about pet care and nutrition, so that when you get asked these questions, you know how to respond. Employees are your best salespeople because they’re authentic and our workers are with our products every day.”

Just like when it comes to training a pet, patience is required. Lee and Wolf have the goal of setting up champions in every factory and continuing to increase the reach of The Pack at each location.

“It’s a work in progress for us,” Lee said. “We don’t claim to have all the answers. We’re all learning this together.”

Lessons Learned

  • Find your champions. “Unless we have someone who is physically at a factory and willing to load content on a weekly basis, it’s going to struggle,” Lee said.
  • The importance of training. Purina has a program both for community managers and employees who raise their hands to be advocates. “It’s not just about teaching your champions,” Wolf said. “You also need materials available to train your advocates.”
  • Link adoption to events. “We’ve seen success in tying adoption around a specific event like benefits enrollment or large staff meetings. Having a larger audience allows us at corporate to focus our communications effort and help out local factory content champions with signage and incentives for their factory employees who use The Pack,” Wolf said.
  • Content is key. “You have to provide fresh content,” Lee said. “And it has to be content that they care about seeing.”
  • Friendly competition. Platform leaderboards can go a long way to encourage more social sharing of content, Wolf said. The corporate headquarters displays photos of top members of The Pack.
  • One size doesn’t fit all. “We partner with each of the factories to figure out what works best for their deskless workers,” Wolf said. “What works at one factory might not work for the rest of them, and we’re OK with giving customized communications solutions. There isn’t one silver bullet.”
  • Employees are the best salespeople. Recommendations from people you know have the greatest impact, Lee said. “Being informed is great, but it’s also important to have our employees tell our stories because they are so trusted,” she added.

Want to learn more about the Nestlé Purina program to engage hard-to-reach factory employees? Laura Lee and Margarett Wolf recently joined Robyn Hannah, Dynamic Signal’s Senior Director, Global Communications, for a fun webinar. You can get the recording here. 

Post Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the storyteller at Dynamic Signal. He previously was a newspaper reporter at the Detroit Free Press, the Orange County Register, and the San Jose Mercury News. He reluctantly uses the Oxford comma.