Visits to company headquarters are becoming an important action for communication and reputation, and eventually, attracting talent. All of this without tickling revenue.
Companies, especially industries, maintain visitor structures that seek to create—or endorse—a positive image for their brands among various audiences (or, in the sector’s jargon, “stakeholders”), which can be neighboring communities, consumers, or students in related fields.
In Brazil, companies in São Bernardo do Campo, in the ABC region of São Paulo, are the ones that benefit the most from a minimally organized program with municipal support.
The industrial tourism program, created by the local government in 2013, takes residents and visitors into companies such as Wheaton, Scania, Ecovias, Omnisys, Friozem, Unipar, Grob, and Braskem, among others.
The visits, which adhere to a pre-produced schedule, earned the city the title of “Brazilian capital of industrial tourism”—there wasn’t much competition for the title.
Caxias do Sul, a city in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which once structured something similar for its metal-mechanical and clothing sectors, is currently experiencing a lull in its program.
Regardless of how fair the title awarded to São Bernardo do Campo is, the city reaped dividends from the initiative.
In 2019, it became a municipality of tourism interest in the state of São Paulo, thereby becoming entitled to a slice of the state’s budget for tourism investments.
As a glass producer for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, as well as glassware for end consumers, Wheaton has been participating in the program for ten years.
During the visits it hosts, the company seeks to promote the properties of glass, a material that, according to the company, is entirely recyclable and better for preserving aromas than plastic compounds.
“We reinforce the general impression that products such as perfumes and drinks are better preserved in glass packaging,” said Dener Goudinho, HR and Logistics Manager at Wheaton.
During the factory tours, Goudinho highlights what he considers to be an important visual moment on the tour: the burning process that generates the initial drop of glass. The sight of the “birth” of the material has, therefore, the ability to impact the visitor, leading them to choose glass.
As a manufacturer of caustic soda, chlorine, and PVC, Unipar has maintained the “Open Factory” program for almost four decades at its Cubatão unit in the Santos region. More recently, it has also extended the program to its units in Santo André and Bahía Blanca, Argentina.
For Rodrigo Cannaval, who will become the CEO of Unipar in April, the main goal is to inform and provide visibility of their production processes to various stakeholders, such as the community of residents who could be affected by potential environmental accidents.
“I compare the program to ‘visiting our kitchen’ at restaurants,” Cannaval said in a teleconference interview with Folha.
“In the case of Cubatão, a city that was once considered the most polluted in the world, it is important not to feed opposition. We want to improve our social license to operate, turn the tolerance that neighbors have with our factories into an even more positive coexistence.”
The program, which was resumed in 2023 after the years of the pandemic, has already taken 124,000 people to Unipar’s facilities since its implementation in 1985. The company does not disclose how much they invest to maintain it, but said that this amount comes from the Communication and Sustainability Department.
These visits are, after all, a matter of image and reputation.
Historical birthplace of Brazilian automakers, the ABC region witnessed the emptying of the automotive segment, which moved in search of cheaper labor and, above all, tax and real estate incentives.
Among the companies that remained is Scania, which participates in the industrial tourism program of São Bernardo and is also responsible for one of its highlights, according to its organizers: visitors take a test drive in a truck that has just been assembled and completed.
Toyota, which recently left the ABC region, preserved the visitation program at its manufacturing plant in Sorocaba. Otacílio do Nascimento, Corporate Communications Manager of the Brazilian operation, said the program aims to disseminate the “values, commitments, operations, and history” of the Japanese brand and establish a “deeper and more genuine connection” of Toyota with its stakeholders.
“The program caters to a technical appeal, focusing on environmental initiatives, and is a way to bring the brand closer to the community,” he said. “By targeting groups such as academics, employees, customers, and the community at large, Toyota personalizes the messages conveyed during the tours.”
The executive also mentioned that the company invested R$800,000 in a 400 m² visitor center at the Sorocaba plant.
According to Mitsuru Yanaze, coordinator of the postgraduate course in communication and marketing management at ECA-USP and author of books on the subject, “promoting visits to its facilities provides companies with a connection and experience with their audiences that are as rare as they are essential for the appreciation of their brands.”
He continued: “Since the contact is personal, the company can conduct surveys and record information that will facilitate the analysis of the results of the investments made in this activity.”