Corporate Eye

The Perplexing World of Imperial Tobacco | FTSE 100 Website Reviews

ConfusedHave you ever had one of those “non deja vu” moments?  When you think you should be able to remember something you’ve already seen before, but try as you might you can’t remember what it is you’re trying to remember?

It’s a bit like walking into a hardware shop and staring at screws, before realising that it wasn’t screws you went out to get but was it …milk? No. Er, bread perhaps?  No.

So you say “hang it all” and buy the screws and go home.  Mid way through putting up a shelf, you realise you were supposed to pick up the kids from school 20 minutes ago and dash madly out of the front door.

Coming to the Imperial Tobacco CR website left me with similar feelings of confusion.  I started off on the home page and, as always, was happy to see “Corporate responsibility” prominently displayed on the main site menubar.

Then I clicked on it and had to do several double takes .. where was I?

Am I In A Hardware Shop Or The Newsagent?

My issue is not with the general layout of the Imperial Tobacco Corporate responsibility landing page.  It has the standard site-wide menu bar along the top with a side bar and three columns directing you to further content.

It was the content of the three columns which addled my poor brain.  The first is “Latest News”, which was full of news from a month ago about the company’s preliminary results and succession planning.

The next column is titled “CR overview” and contained BITC and ISO14001 in big green letters and some small text hyperlinks underneath.  Some CR content there, but only the very barest of bones.

The final column is headlined “Editor’s choice” and kicked off with the company’s annual report and preliminary results (again), before going on to list its submission to the UK Joint Committee on Human Rights and its 2008 Corporate Responsibility Report.

I was bewildered for a time.  Was I or was I not on the main CR landing page?  Of course I was, but I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t part of the audience.

Is This What I Came Here For?

Then I spotted a link to the online version of the company’s 2008 Corporate Responsibility report.  These usually fall into one of two categories: ultra-cool and well thought out, or simple online reproduction of the PDF file.

This is the first one which has left me feeling perplexed.  A flash animation at the top displays a wagon wheel and invites the user to “Click a segment to learn more…” .

As you mouse over each segment the picture is enhanced, but you receive no further information about what you will get when you click on it.

One picture has “London Stock Exchange”, so I presume it’s fiscal in nature.  Another has a fun “no smoking for teens” sign, so I presume that’s about the health implications of smoking.

Finally I picked the smiling blonde in a white blouse (or is that a dress?) and clicked her.  A small bit of the flash changed to say “Our people” followed by three lines of text and “Learn more”.

So really it should say “Click a segment to learn the ‘learn more’ category”.  Which just seems, well, baffling.

Ah! Now I remember!

The next item down the online report landing page is a quote from the Chief Executive and a hyperlink to his full introduction.  Good stuff!

This is followed by some facts and figures, using the same large green font as before.  “SAM Research for DJSI 2008 74%” and “2008 Carbon Disclosure Project 87%”

And that’s it.  Nothing to put these figures into context or explain what they mean about the company’s performance: just the figures and a hyperlink.

It was then that the penny dropped.  Last November, when the Lundquist Report on CSR Websites came out, Mallen Baker pointed me towards his blog “Are global CSR leaders failing to use the web effectively?

In brief, he says that the biggest problem with most CSR web content is “the lack of resolve behind the CSR community to actually talk to audiences external to itself”.

Some Very Good Content, When You Find It

Imperial Tobacco Notes, Glossary and Browser Arrow Tools

Now I don’t know Mallen’s opinion of the Imperial Tobacco website or it’s CR Report, but this sums up my feeling perfectly that the Imperial Tobacco website is talking to a very select audience and no-one else.

If you don’t understand what its talking about, or don’t know where to find the information you’re after, there’s very little immediate help to get you to that understanding.

(Actually there’s the menubar glossary, but I only found that after writing this review, which really makes my point!)

There are many many plus points about the actual content of the website: self imposed benchmarking; PDF factsheets and policies on specific areas of responsibility; CR specific presentations and a Five Year Focus.

To be fair to the website, some of these are easy to navigate to … but some you need to stumble around a bit before you find them.

But What About Communication? Explaining, Playing To The Gallery?

There are also some really neat little technical tricks on the website: the ability to make your own online notes on individual pages of the online report, or inbuilt back and forward buttons to allow you to flip through the report’s online pages (look for the little back and forward arrows next to the logo in the top left hand corner).

However, even these widgets are tucked away: you have to discover them by wondering “what happens if I click this?”, rather than being told they’re there and having their use explained to you.

Similarly, it doesn’t take much to put CR at the start of your CR website or to put figures into context … but this only matters if you think your CR website may be read by people other than CSR geeks.

Broad range communication should stand at the heart of every website, and once it is there is should be followed by engagement and genuine interactivity.

Without communication the message is in danger of being lost, no matter how much interactivity is piled on top.  Worse you could be accused of obfuscation which, if you have as a great a story to tell as Imperial Tobacco, would be a great shame indeed.

Picture Credit: Confused by Kristian D from flickr under Creative Commons Attribution License.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.