3 Ways PepsiCo Got Internal Comms Right in a Crisis

A global leader in the food and beverage industry, PepsiCo serves more than 200 countries and territories around the world. Their products include household names such as Lays, Doritos, Cheetos, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Quaker, SodaStream, and others.

At the onset of the global pandemic, PepsiCo had to adapt to changes in the market fast. As a matter of fact, they experienced sales declines for beverages in almost every region they operate in, because Covid-19 restrictions lowered consumer traffic to convenience stores and gas stations. In order to overcome this challenge, they had to ensure their 290,000 workers around the world - a mix of front-line workers delivering products, and knowledge workers who were now working from home - remained aligned, engaged, and productive.


Here are some of the principles they applied to their internal comms strategy:


1. Staying close to the teams and keeping a finger on the pulse

Proactive internal communication makes employees feel reassurance and trust. PepsiCo’s internal comms teams worked proactively to ensure employees received company news first, before anything went public.


They organized weekly townhalls, where leaders shared updates on the state of the business and its people, and employees were encouraged to share their opinions and feedback. Team leaders encouraged their team members to have coffee calls every morning, where they discuss business, and focus on strengthening their interpersonal relationships.

The PepsiCo Way: PepsiCo's organizational values and virtues

These initiatives fall under PepsiCo’s virtue of voicing opinions fearlessly. To learn more about how your internal comms can promote your values, check out this article.


These initiatives allowed the organization to better understand the needs of their employees, give them reassurance to continue being productive at work, and keep them aligned by frequently updating them on the state of the business.


“Employee communication has been the biggest lever for us to reinforce certainty and make sure that everyone has access to information about company operations and performance”, said Pavitra Singh, CHRO at PepsiCo India, for HRKatha.


2. Leveraging the right communication channels in distributed settings

As the pandemic went on, PepsiCo started sharing news about COVID-19, tips, and guidelines around the new ways of working, and advice to help employees better adapt to “the new normal” in their internal newsletter.

Ronald Schellekens, PepsiCo CHRO, talks about the Smiles initiative

In August 2020, PepsiCo launched the Smiles2Go Platform, a tool employees use to recognize each other. The goal was to maintain communication, connection, and recognition between employees, which are all known to increase engagement in remote settings. PepsiCo’s 2020 internal survey showed that their employees felt high levels of pride, were motivated to work, and had confidence in the company’s future success.


Want to learn more about how to improve your internal comms? Check out our insight - 6 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Internal Communications in Your Company.


3. Upskilling internal comms teams & upgrading content

PepsiCo’s internal comms team produced large amounts of content to support the organization. In addition to informing employees about Covid-19 and company updates, internal comms engaged employees through various content formats.

“There’s more risk to being ‘exciting,’ but internal communications cannot merely be informative,” said Joan Cetera, Vice President of Communications at PepsiCo Foods North America, to Ragan, a provider of information and services for corporate communications. In this feature, Joan spoke about how PepsiCo North America upskilled their internal comms teams during the pandemic, and improved their video creation skills. One example of this team’s output is this video, a tribute to PepsiCo’s frontline workers, who were the most exposed to the virus due to the nature of their jobs.


The Results

PepsiCo exited the crisis with exponential growth: the company generated $70 billion in net revenue in 2020. While this success is largely credited to the many business initiatives that PepsiCo successfully implemented, such as keeping supply chains resilient, the role of internal comms in keeping the organization aligned and productive cannot be overlooked.


PepsiCo’s internal comms teams implemented many of the learnings from the peek of the crisis, in their long-term approach. For example, they doubled down on their focus on employee feedback and transparency. “In the long run, [internal comms during the pandemic] is teaching us that we don’t need to be perfect. It’s better to just communicate and be open and know that we’re going to have to go back and tell people more”, said Michelle Projekt, Vice President and Global Head of Internal Communication at PepsiCo.


PepsiCo was also shortlisted for the National Internal Communications Award in 2020 for Best Crisis/Emergency Communications from the Institute of Internal Communications in the UK.


At Cosmic Centaurs, we publish resources about internal comms to help you better align and engage your organization. Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date with our content!