What corporate predators do to reveal who they are
DP World’s takeover of ports in the US has raised a political storm there to match the one in Europe kicked up by Mittal’s bid for steelmaker Arcelor. While they and other
|DP World||Grupo Ferrovial|
Four corporate websites must have had a surge in visitors recently. Mittal Steel, DP World, E.ON and Grupo Ferrovial have all said they will or might bid for companies abroad. Lots of people – the targets’ employees, customers and neighbours, as well as officials and almost anyone else in the country – will want to find out who these companies are. The obvious place to turn is their websites. Have they realised this, and what have they done about it?
The answer is yes, they have realised. But none is as well prepared as it should be.
Provision for the target-country audience
Only one of the companies, E.ON, the Germany-based energy supplier, has made a specific effort to talk to people about its bid for Spain’s Endesa. A new mini-site (www.eon.info) is linked from the home page and asks first whether you want the English, German or Spanish version. This is a good start – the main site is in English and German only. The legal preamble shows the mini-site is aimed primarily at investors, but it is likely to leapt on by all sorts of people in Spain.
I am unsure how impressed they will be. An About Us link leads to a single page of text, which insists that E.ON “benefits all group companies and countries where it operates”, but provides no evidence. There are no links to the strong responsibility section on the main site, for example. Spaniards might also look at the video webcast of a press conference about the bid. The most promising material here is the Q&A session, which is dominated by Spanish journalists gently grilling the German bosses. It is in English only, even where the question is in Spanish, which seems perverse (or perhaps excessively investor-centric).
This half-hearted approach to languages is repeated by India’s Mittal Steel. A link at the top of each page leads to a message that “this website will shortly be translated into various languages”. I would have thought, given the controversy a bid for France’s Arcelor was bound to cause, that priority could have been given to getting a French version up and running.
DP World, the UAE-owned port operator, has a site in English only, apart from a rather charming Kids Zone, which is also in Arabic. As the main complaints about its takeover of UK-based P&O are coming from the US, DP World can argue that it does not need to speak to people in French, Dutch or Spanish, even though P&O owns ports in countries where these languages are spoken. Ferrovial, the Spanish infrastructure specialist, has a different problem. With UK airports operator BAA in its sights, Britons must be looking at the Ferrovial site carefully, and are likely to be unimpressed by the disastrous number of spelling mistakes: “infraestructures” and “net icome” are two prominent examples. The problem is not one of comprehension, but of underlining the (from the British point of view) foreignness of the company. And it really would not require much effort to put the mistakes right.
Mixed initial impressions
Most visitors get their first impression of a company from its home page. Mittal Steel used to have a dire couple of sites to serve its predecessor companies, Ispat and LMH. Its new site is carefully designed to give off a big company feel, with changing images and messages on the home page and prominent share prices from the New York and Euronext markets (more to give a message than to inform, I suspect). The changing sequence is useless if you are trying to find anything out – it takes the best part of three minutes to run through – but the immediate impression is of a slick and serious company.
Digging around in the corporate information area, there is rather less to Mittal than meets the eye. It has plenty of plausible but rather meaningless statements (“Our people are our culture”), a strange management chart and thin content in the Communities section. By far the best company information is in the Fact Book, which is only available as a download. Interestingly, the customer is notably well served, not least by a large product catalogue. It seems to me that Mittal is still better at making steel than presenting itself to the world, which is of course better than the other way round..
Ferrovial has a thoroughly modern, quite minimalist look: one of the new generation of south European sites that is starting to show northern rivals up. The history section is particularly good – in fact it is the best place to find out what the company actually does. As with DP World, more detail on the bosses would help the image. I doubt the site has been revamped specially for the BAA bid, but there seems little doubt that it is intended to give off a strong ‘We are slick and professional’ message.
Internationalist credentials underplayed
DP World is intriguing. Its home page says ‘hello and welcome’, in a comforting sort of way, then send visitors off to either the UAE (United Arab Emirates) site or the international one. The local site has some good material, including a virtual tour of the Jebel Ali port, schedules of ships and the Kids Zone – but it is the international area that is designed to impress foreigners. Like Mittal, it is over-fond of animation but succeeds in giving off a reasonably dynamic air and has notably well-written English. More details on senior management would be helpful – companies are less frightening if they are personalised – and it would also pay to play up existing overseas operations, such as the Adelaide container port. With US politicians implying that it is dangerous to let a Dubai-owned company run American ports, DP World should surely do everything it can to come across as cuddly and really not very foreign at all.
E.ON has a dull home page, but strong corporate information. It is, however, oddly reticent about playing up its international strength. There is an excellent feature, E.ON World, that allows you to find out what it does in all its subsidiaries, but I found this via its UK site (www.eon-uk.com). It appears not to be linked from eon.com. Surely, if E.ON is to convince the Spaniards that it comes only with goodwill in its heart, it should do everything possible to present itself as a thoroughly international citizen.
First published on ft.com 24.02.06
First published on 01 March, 2006