Bringing a global brand to life

As the third-largest defense and security company in the world, BAE Systems is continually adapting and responding to changing market conditions. Core to the company’s strategy is a new brand narrative that is helping the organization tell its story in a way that is relevantly localized and business-sustaining in key geographic markets where BAE Systems expects to expand.

John Suttle leads communications for BAE Systems’ U.S.-based business that employs more than 46,000 employees across 130 sites around the world. On Tuesday, April 23, at the 4th National Summit on Strategic Communications in Washington DC, Suttle will share these and other insights into the processes and assumptions the company used to develop the narrative, as well as the best practices being applied to bring it to life both internally and externally.

THE SCLI: Building inspiring “brand narratives” is a recurring topic at the 4th National Summit on Strategic Communications. How do you summarize BAE Systems’ brand narrative?

JOHN SUTTLE: Our narrative centers on the idea of Inspired Work for a Changing World. The essence of this idea is an unwavering commitment to our customers, delivering the results and performance they need. It’s shown in how we solve their most difficult problems, whatever that mission might be. This idea is proven in the way we work with our customers to understand their challenges, and respond with expertise and innovation. And, it’s embodied in our commitment to ethical, responsible behavior that extends from our belief that what we do matters. It’s a belief that we do hard, important work that makes a real difference in the world.

 THE SCLI: Employee engagement through thought leadership and narrative are key drivers for the BAE Systems brand identity. How do you achieve consensus around a brand narrative among some 88,000 people working in very different cultures and geographies across the world?

JOHN SUTTLE: It starts with listening. As we formulated the Inspired Work narrative, we talked with employees, customers and stakeholders in each of our five key markets to understand their needs and expectations of BAE Systems as well as how they perceived us. This helped us find a common thread within the Inspired Work narrative that could be appropriately localized to each key geographic market. With that foundation, we are now conducting storytelling workshops for people representing various disciplines – from communications to business development to finance – in each of these key markets so people understand how to personally own and communicate the narrative in a way that is relevant to their market, but stays true to the core essence of Inspired Work. Just as important, our Executive Committee made Inspired Work a core component infusing all parts of our company’s strategy and we are now seeing it flow through all parts of our organization in a directional way.

 THE SCLI: The annual Strategic Summit aims to identify best practices at the intersection of corporate communications, military public affairs and government relations. Although the narratives are different, is the process of sustaining them different for each of those three sectors?

JOHN SUTTLE: Inspired Work is about doing hard, important work that matters and that message can be tailored to each of these sectors without compromising its essence. Sustaining that narrative is about empowering our people to personalize it and socialize it in meaningful ways across each sector. A case in point is our Bradley Industrial Base campaign going on now. This is a story of how maintaining a Bradley Fighting Vehicle isn’t a simple task. It takes highly skilled workers who care deeply about their work and are motivated by making sure the Soldiers who use them return home from any mission. Our factory line employees are telling the stories of their commitment to our troops and how their work can’t be done by anyone off the street (e.g. it takes three years to train a ballistic welder). This is a personalized story of hard, important work. It started being told locally and is being continually adapted for Congress and the Pentagon, particularly as our employees and suppliers prepare to gather on Capitol Hill to speak directly to Army and Congressional leaders this month.

 THE SCLI: Does the nature of your work for the military, in cyber security and intelligence inhibit your company’s ability to be transparent publicly? How do you balance the need for seemingly conflicting requirements for customer confidentially and public transparency?

JOHN SUTTLE: We strive to be transparent with all our audiences, yet we are also deeply committed to our customers and follow their lead in what should and shouldn’t be shared publicly in regard to our work that is classified. To us the balance tips toward upholding national security. This does, at times, limit our ability to proactively tell the story of our work in these arenas, but that is the nature of being a trusted partner responsible for helping to protect our nation from all types of threats – on and offline.