When hostilities broke out in 2006, Stefan Schwarz toiled on the front lines, leading an anti-merger publicity effort that pitted his company, the steel giant Arcelor, in a fierce duel of competing websites with its stubborn suitor, Mittal.
Now Schwarz, 31, is presiding over Arcelor Mittal Web TV, which is documenting the union of these two international steel manufacturers with an ongoing saga that offers a glimpse of the awkwardness and anxieties of the standard corporate shotgun marriage, at www.arcelormittal.tv.
“We got married, but we can't say the bride was entirely happy with it,” Schwarz said. “We knew there were a lot of issues and things that needed to be solved.”
Schwarz brought in two companies to work on the production, Vanksen and Connected Pictures, that had ties to the rival camps before Arcelor Mittal ultimately announced a merger last August.
With the backing of the company's top management and a budget of $467,000 (Rs2.06 crore) to pay for teams to record video interviews around the world, Arcelor Mittal's reality show has appeared biweekly since February, unfolding to a basic company plot: “Will they succeed? At what cost?”
The first episode begins with a view of bright orange molten steel and the ominous notes of Star Wars—style music. Then the screen cuts to the anxious faces of workers worrying aloud: “What does this mean for my job? What does this mean for my department?”
That edgy approach is what the producers say they are aiming for.
Schwarz said that the producers have tried to bring fresh candor to the show to give more credibility to their communication with far-flung employees and the outside world.
“For internal communication, it's pretty much the way to go,” Schwarz said. “The old-fashioned way of communicating was a Pravda approach, telling employees what they need to believe. We don't want to be the Voice of Moscow.”
The danger, though, is that corporate websites can swiftly transform their offerings from information into thinly disguised advertising.
In May, the company will introduce a new corporate logo and look, which the channel is leading up to with a series of episodes exploring how the merged company is developing its shared values.
Arcelor Mittal, based in Luxembourg, has committed to churn out new episodes about its merger throughout the year, and the channel's producers insist they are not under pressure to make the news more pretty.
“We don't censor it,” said Troy Bankhead, a director managing the project for the marketing company Vanksen in Luxembourg.
The first five episodes, each lasting less than five minutes, have already been broadcast, exploring topics from corporate social responsibility to the uneasy divide between Arcelor Mittal's research and development units in Europe and the United States.
Criticism from employees about the web TV format has revolved around technical issues. Others have written in to praise the concept and the chance to hear directly from the company's top leadership.
Francois Perlade, an Arcelor Mittal logistics support employee in a steel mill in Florange, France, said he believed that the company's online channel was giving more workers a better view of the thinking in the executive suite and the opportunity to share their own opinions in return.
He posted comments on the site to dispute a claim in the episode on research and development that the company was shifting the manufacturing of Usibor steel from his plant in the Lorraine region to the US because of sea salt corrosion problems during transportation of the product.
“The system is really open,” Perlade said, adding that the company's top executives seemed to be listening more closely to the shop floor. "But we also know that the decision-taking process is much faster than it was, so information has to be accurate and words must be even more carefully chosen. Then the only limitation is self-censorship."
Arcelor Mittal's top leaders are also making cameo appearances in the episodes, including chairman, Lakshmi Mittal.