Tata Steel a large and very old private sector steel company which face a peculiar crisis when it was performing well and was a model company.

BIG BUSINESS IS BAD !! That was the slogan in the Government corridors of power of the Indian government at one particular time. The Industries Minister, who had successfully pushed multinational giants like IBM and Coca-Cola out of the country, spearheaded it; saying big multinationals were bad for the country and should not exist in the country.

Having succeeded in this, he had turned his attention to large Indian and foreign private sector companies, and was determined to nationalize them Tata Steel, an Indian company within the TATA Group (with 100000 employees and over 80000 shareholders, and a turnover of about Rs. 10,000 million i.e. about $ 300 million) was a target. This was despite the fact that it had been in existence for over 100 years in the core sector of the economy, providing leadership in supply of quality steel for the nations need. And was a major contributor to the Government's exchequer, a big source of employment, and a recognized good corporate citizen with a range of programs for community service and development.

Communications, PR and Image Status
Indian public sector companies, as in many other countries, are huge in size but awfully managed. With poor products, systems and a large number of unproductive workforce about which hardly much can be done. As a result these companies are white elephants in the country's economic scene. Tata Steel despite being large was entirely the opposite. It was profitable, professional and progressive in al respects of corporate practices and management.

If Tata Steel was nationalized and came under government control and management, just as the other public sector companies, its character, operations and working efficiency would be reduced to far lower levels than currently so. It would directly affect its products, manufacturing, marketing. Most of all it would affect its employees and their morale. The very thought of it, as rumored in industry and government circles, had demoralized the staff and got them worried and angry about it.

An open and fairly vocal resistance to the move was building up, both at the management level and general staff and employee level. At the plant in Jamshedpur, near Calcutta in Eastern India, the head office at Calcutta and all major offices across the country.

There was a kind of panic at the Tata Group Headquarters in Bombay, with the top brass very concerned at losing one of the two top companies in the group. It was being looked upon as amputation of one of its corporate limbs! Everyone was helpless and sad. And were discussing the pros and cons and at some action the Tata Group as a whole needs to take to stall and prevent this sudden and uncalled for demand by the government.

Problem On Hand and Objective
At that point of time, there seemed no way out of the situation for Tata Steel. The government was bent on its take over. More for a political benefit and not because it was in any way profiteering, or antisocial exploiting its employees, customers or the community.

While lobbying in the corridors of the Parliament and other efforts to influence the government continued, the company felt there was need for an organized communications and PR program to counter this draconian move. The program conceived was a long -term one, planned for a period of three years, with adequate commitment of resources behind it. It was directed towards policy formulators in the government, decision-makers, and opinion leaders in business and society, highlighting the fact that Tata Steel has done and is doing an excellent job as a company and it is in the national interest to leave it alone.

Communication and PR Strategy and Program
The task at hand for the company was to evolve an effective, impact oriented, strategy and program to tackle the government's attitude and put across effectively the company's arguments and true facts.

The strategy was to influence the government by influencing of different target groups through public and nonpublic media. Within the strategy and campaign a "selling proposition" running through the entire program in the form of a theme was evolved. It read as follows:

Tata Steel is not only a superbly managed steel company, it is also a unique example of a company which has recognized that its social commitments extend beyond its employees, to the community and the rural population around it. Jamshedpur city, created by Tata Steel, is a living embodiment of our nation's dream of a better life for our people. India needs many more Jamshedpurs today.

With a clearly defined task and theme, the company launched its program with simultaneous activities in various media on a schedule planned for the whole year.

In the public media of Press, the company released an advertising campaign comprising six ads around the selling proposition/theme and giving detailed facts on the company's employee welfare, rural development, community development, shareholding, trusteeship, and its superior steel making technology offering customers a better product.

The advertising campaign was supported with special TV talk shows in which a prominent public commentator interviewed and anchored a debate on the issue with senior business, political and social leaders. With the ultimate rub off and message that Tata steel should not be nationalized.

Specific target group oriented activities in the nonpublic media formed the main thrust of Tata Steel's program.

To reach government officials, bureaucrats, and politicians the company activated its Government Relations Department in New Delhi towards high powered lobbying and supported it with material and fact of all kind - ad pulls, direct mails, and other print material. It was given defined and focussed list of government officials and opinion leaders to be contacted and influenced in New Delhi and Calcutta and Patna and Bombay, the capitals of the States of West Bengal, Bihar
and Maharashtra. J R D Tata the then Chairman of Tata Steel, and one of the most respected industrialist of the country sent person memoranda to Ministers, Members of Parliament and Members of the State Legislatures explaining the situation and highlighting Tata Steels contributions to the national industrial and social fields.

To obtain employee support and to create awareness for Tata Steel for the company's broader operational activities and contributions among them, specially prepared audiovisuals were prepared and screened. Documentary films on the company and it social activities were produced and screened in cinema houses and clubs and gatherings of employees and their families in Jamshedpur city. A large number of posters were splashed at offices, plants and at street corners. A printed docket on the subject was given to each Manager at offices and plants outlining for his or her benefit the need for an overall communication program, what was planned, and how they could contribute to further the cause of the company among their contacts. Senior Managers were also given specific background material and information for incorporating in their speeches and presentations they make at various for a to plug the company's position and point of view.

To get its over 100,000 shareholders, already a predisposed target audience, to be a force that champions its cause at various levels, a number of activities were undertaken by the company. For instance, the Annual report was designed to pictorially portray the selling proposition of the communications program. A full-scale exhibition on the problem was put up at the Annual General Meeting. A comprehensive and factual audiovisual was screened at the AGM. The Chairman's speech was tailored and drafted to explain the problem and generate support against the nationalization. Each shareholder was given a full note on the problem explaining the government's attitude and the company's stand outlining the role shareholders as a group could play to support the company.

To tap the support and build on the goodwill of the trade, another section of the public favorably disposed towards it, Tata Steel issued simple and explanatory handouts to all of them. This was followed by specially called dealer meetings and conferences especially for the purpose. Company Managers address these and called for the trade's support and representation to authorities.

Simultaneously, Tata Steel and Jamshedpur city were kept in the news in the media through activities such as:

Articles and features on the life in Jamshedpur city.

  • Letters to editors from prominent citizens and friends of the company among readers of newspapers and magazines.

  • Important feature journalists were taken around the company's plants and Jamshedpur City for them to see for themselves the company's contributions to the welfare of its employees, the community and the rural areas.

  • Regular meetings between editors and journalists and the company's senior management to keep them abreast of developments and sold on the company's view point constantly.

  • Sending mailings and printed literature to journalists on the company and important activities and events.

  • The Chairman meeting journalist on his trips abroad. He took the opportunity of not only projecting the company view, but to talk of the country's development and growth. In that he projected indirectly Tatas as Indians, and that they had India's progress at heart.

Last, but not the least, customers were reached through seminars and get-togethers on steel making, technological developments in industry, and Tata Steel's performance and contributions in its growth and progress. Even the chairman made it a point to attend some of these meetings and seminars.

The Tata Steel audiovisuals and films on the company and Jamshedpur were shown at Rotary Club, Lions Clubs, meetings of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry Association, wherever possible, to project what can and had been done for all round better life of people at Jamshedpur and in the company.

Final Outcome
The outcome of this planned and massive campaign was that the government's plan to nationalize Tata Steel was put in cold storage. And with the publicity and public opinion that was generated the government stopped its tirade against the company and gave the subject a rethink.

In the meantime, as a result of a political turmoil the government had to go through new elections, and it lost out to another government. The concept of nationalization or taking over of big business houses did not figure in the manifesto of the new government. Tata Steel heaved a sigh of relief.