29-year-old Mathias Scheithauer from Cologne is a trainee in the Communications Coordination, Issues Management & Site Communications unit at Bayer AG headquarters. His duties include planning and performing a range of PR strategies relating to Leverkusen and the other 20 sites in Germany. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visit to the aspirin production plant in Bitterfeld is an occasion that he remembers particularly well.
I stand anxiously in front of Bayer’s main office in the middle of the chemical park. I am not alone; other employees are scurrying around excitedly, clutching their clipboards. We are all waiting for the head of state’s arrival. Any moment now, his convoy is due to appear between the production buildings. I stand, smartphone poised, ready to take a photo for Twitter. At long last: the bus drives up, Frank-Walter Steinmeier gets off, Bayer Board member Hartmut Klusik goes to greet him with a handshake. The momen thas come! My camera ‘clicks’.
I experienced this first-hand last September. As part of his annual “informational and contact-building visit” with international representatives from politics, business and the church, the German President used the aspirin production plant to demonstrate the region’s successful economic development since German reunification to his fellow visitors. The high-ranking officials’ visit provoked a great deal of interest from journalists. Our colleague at Bayer’s on-site press office was run off her feet by the hordes of media in attendance. That’s why three of us from my team in Leverkusen traveled down the day before to provide additional support. I was charged with reporting on the event for Bayer’s Twitter channel, while the other two members of the team helped to organize and assist the journalists.
Corporate communications for the German sites
I have to admit that my daily work is not always so unusual, but, nonetheless, my traineeship is highly varied. In fact, no two days are the same because my job covers a broad range of project-driven activities. The six members of my team develop PR strategies based on upcoming local events and provide information to the media and local people in a range of different ways. We provide in-house services in Leverkusen, but we also have an important advisory role supporting the other sites in Germany and offering guidance and assistance as necessary.
I’ve now been at Bayer for almost three years. After completing my master’s in communication management at the University of Leipzig, I took an internship at Bayer Business Services, which provided me with a stepping stone to move to a traineeship at Bayer’s headquarters. The two-year entry program gave me the opportunity to try out many different roles and be involved in several campaigns in addition to President Steinmeier’s visit. This allowed me to familiarize myself with a variety of corporate communications issues. These ranged from overseeing journalists at a press event when the light fixtures in the Bayer Cross were changed to distributing flyers during a demonstration outside headquarters. On one occasion, I worked with an agency to create a temporary website for the Germany-wide ‘Woche der Industrie’ campaign. I am also responsible for keeping the information about Bayer’s German sites up to date on an interactive map. There’s never a dull moment.
Different channels, different audiences
It is particularly exciting that the work I do isn’t for a specific target audience or channel. Instead, I deliver our thematic content and communications to different target groups via a range of channels. It is therefore also important to work closely with colleagues from internal communication, digital communication as well as Public and Governmental Affairs in advance, and to collaborate closely when implementing communication strategies. Rather than simply being beneficial, the ability to network successfully is absolutely essential, because it allows communications officers from other areas to refer to events taking place at different sites in the employee newsletter or at political meetings.
Networking is indispensable
In a large corporation with over 100,000 employees, having a network of contacts has proven time and again to be an essential part of daily work, above and beyond our project work. That’s why my team regularly organizes full-day meetings with all of the communications specialists at our sites across Germany. In addition to the large sites in Leverkusen, Berlin and Monheim, this includes medium-sized sites such as Dormagen, Wuppertal, Bergkamen and Frankfurt, as well as smaller plants in Kiel, Wismar and Jena. The work of the PR teams at each site is as different as the size of the plants themselves. These meetings with the site communications specialists give everyone a platform to discuss issues that are relevant to all sites and to put names to faces in a relaxed atmosphere.
As I come to the end of my traineeship, I’ve asked myself with the benefit of hindsight whether I’d apply again. With my master’s, there’s no doubt that I would have gained direct employment elsewhere and could have hit the ground running two years ago. One advantage of the traineeship is that you can develop your skills in a targeted way ‘on the job’ thanks to the aspects incorporated into the program, such as initially rotating around different departments, doing an external placement and taking practical seminars. The entry program also offers the scope to try your hand at a range of areas within a safe environment, without taking full responsibility, and means you can become familiar with all the complexities of Bayer’s corporate environment. In any case, I always wanted to work for a large corporation involved in global challenges. If you want to do the same, you will need to be in it for the long haul to get to know this vast company and its business activities, structures and products. So, if this sounds like you, I’d recommend that you check out the traineeship program and the places at Bayer offering traineeships. I certainly don’t regret my decision. I’d probably never have come to Bitterfeld otherwise.
This post is also available in: German