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Arrow's Richard Kylberg : Untold Story

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Arun Sudhaman 14 Apr 2013

Arrow Electronics is probably one of the largest companies that you have never heard of.

The Fortune 500 company plays a key behind the scenes role in the supply of electronics components and computing solutions. Its position deep within the supply chain probably explains a low profile that has persisted despite sales of over $20bn and a workforce that now numbers more than 15,000 people spread across 52 countries.

Richard Kylberg, Arrow's VP of corporate communications, is hoping to transform the company's brand positioning by linking it more clearly with innovation. To assist this effort, Arrow recently launched its first-ever advertising campaign during the NCAA Final Four tournament,  

The Holmes Report sat down with Kylberg at the recent Arthur Page Society Spring Seminar to discuss why Arrow is making such a visible play for a higher profile.

Why a TV ad, and why now?

That’s the exact same question the CEO asked me. First, have you heard of Arrow? There is some awareness that this company exists, but it’s time for the company to improve awareness of it’s existence. If you don’t tell people who you are then your competitors will do it for you. We would like for our efforts to be recognised and appreciated in the world. For employee retention, and for future employee recruitment.

This company has conducted 20 acquisitions. Many acquisitions retained their names. When you start reeling that in and have one common message, then you can have transition in the marketplace. Without a unified consistent communcations campaign, it’s just hit or miss as to whether the employees come together.

Then there’s an attempt to get some acknowledgement that this is a good company that has been doing good things for quite a long time. We’re introducing an industry to the world, as well as a company. It celebrates innovation. It’s the same team of creative thinkers that worked on the IBM Smarter Planet campaign. They have translated some of their learning there to our capability.

What is the message you want to leave with the public at large?

The larger message is ‘hello, we’d like to introduce ourselves.’ That’s where we are today. The more tactical objective is for people to see this and if they are at all intrigued, they will come to the website. You visit our website after this ad, then you will have access to much more content on the 'Innovators Club'. We would like to see people engage.

Why is the innovation message so important to you? Why does that matter to your customers?

This campaign started by asking Arrow’s employees what the company is good at. This company’s essence is that we guide innovation forward. We’re not the innovators, but we guide the people who do. We do it in technology. We use the analogy of Edmund Hilary. We like to think of ourselves as the sherpas of the tech industry. Innovation is central to our ecosystem.

Why ask employees? Isn’t that risky?

I’ll tell you what I find risky. Not asking employees. If we put out messages and concepts that our employees don’t accept and see themselves in, this is dead. And also, just by asking, people buy in and feel like they are part of it. And not just asking, by listening. Our employees don’t look at this as a board initiative. They look at this as our initiative. The only risk is if they lie. For anyone to be successful, they have to ask the core constitutencies of employees, what the hell are we supposed to say? From there we take it out to current customer suppliers, media and the mass market.

Were there any perceptions you wanted to overcome through this campaign?

Just utter silence. ‘Who?’ How many times have you bumped into a $21 billion company that you hadn’t heard of? All we want to do is say hello. We’d like to introduce ourselves to you.

Why choose the Final Four?

There's a lot of eyeballs. Here’s these young people striving for excellence, trying to perform at the highest level of their lives. That sense of sport, competition, accomplishment and teamwork is very resonant for us. These are student athletes, not professionals. The fact it's related to universities, education and competition is very resonant for us.

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