Sergio Giacomo is communications chief of Brazilian mining giant Vale, dubbed the “biggest company you have never heard of” by The Economist. After addressing a Brazil-focused communications seminar in New York, Giacomo sat down with the Holmes Report to discuss why he is so focused on making his company better-known.

Vale has grown rapidly over the past decade to become the second-biggest mining company in the world, despite a low-profile. Why do you actually need to be better-known?

We have grown, we are present, we are doing great. But the fact that we have entered a neighbouring country with a project that respects the social needs of the country, that respects the environment, that brings top standards to this industry etc - helps us get the licence to operate. It is about helping develop and improve a reputation. Not per se - consumers don’t need to know us. For example, how would you feel if a company came to your backyard - and you had never heard of them? So we need to be very respectful. To do that, we need to be known.

Vale appears to take corporate communication very seriously. Why is that the case, when so many commodities sector companies do not?

I found my leadership very enlightened about communications and the role we can play. And I also believe this is one of Brazil’s suprising factors. We have one of the largest TV networks in the world. We have great advertisers, filmmakers, and communications is an industry that is well respected. In the corporate sector, the thing is that Vale is such an important player in the Brazilian economy and has such a presence there that our leadership never questioned why we need to communicate. The challenge now is to go to the global scene without those standards in mind - in Brazil we are big and everybody knows us. We never question whether we need to communicate.

What has Vale learned about PR in Brazil that it can apply in other markets?

In Brazil we have all types of issues that we face on other countries. So we can have this experience and we can bring it to bear. We don’t export and say this is the way things need to be done. But we can identify that this is similar to Brazil. Although local communities are very different, the basics are the same - they want respect, they want to be positively impacted, they want to participate in the benefits of growth.

In your talk, you mentioned the importance of the communications function being linked to business goals. How realistic is this for today’s communicators?

Our aspiration is to be more linked to business goals. But of course our daily job is maybe more 80:20 rather than 100 percent. But it’s pretty much a matter of how you position yourself. A doctor can be a prescriber of medicine or a person who helps you to better health. It’s about posture and what you aspire for. This doesn’t mean we will beccome consultants and not do brochures - you just have to balance that.

Are you happy with Vale’s global environmental reputation?

I will work on getting our reputation better known by our key audiences globally. I’m satisfied by the quality of it. The people who know us, know us for good reasons. But I think there are more people who should know us. The relationships we have with NGOs and associations is pretty positive - I think we are on the right path. The relationship we have is pretty open and frank - and that’s the beginning for a positive reputation.

You’ve worked around the world for Shell, Burson-Marsteller, Edelman. How important is this international experience to your work at Vale?

It’s absolutely valuable given what Brazil is going through now. The presence of Brazil globally is increasing. It is not just about exporting - it is about being present and representing something different in people’s minds. For this, it helps to understand what different people expect and where they are coming from. With the international experience we can tell this story so people can better understand our messages.

Pic Credit: Ben Gabbe/