Trafigura : Spilling an opportunity

A robust defence is weakened by initial invisibility.

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The feature

Trafigura, a Netherlands-based commodities trading and logistics company, is overly restrained about polishing its public image. Trafigura promotes site content on its home page in a horizontally scrolling set of feature panels. These include a two-minute corporate video positioning its worldwide operations in the trading vanguard and two news items: In the news (an external story) and Our news, a company press release. Both were more than two months old (10 October and 11 October respectively) as of 18 December. More recent stories are included in a bigger selection on the Overview page of the site’s Media Centre section. Media Centre is the only one of the site’s four sections not to have a ‘In this section’ mouseover preview. Its six sub-sections are revealed after clicking through from the navigation bar. They include Responses, a collection of Trafigura’s position on “matters of particular interest to our stakeholders” that is trailed on the Overview page, and Probo Koala, a multi-section dossier dealing with a controversial discharge in 2006 of waste materials from a tanker (the Probo Koala) chartered by Trafigura and the high-profile legal action and criticism from Amnesty International and Greenpeace following on from it. The announcement on 16 November 2012 that all legal cases relating to the incident have been settled is included in Responses, with a link to full statements from the Dutch prosecutors and the company, but nowhere else.

The takeaway

Trafigura has maintained a robust defence over six years of its conduct in the Probo Koala incident, as is clearly evidenced in the dedicated areas of Media Centre. Indeed, in many ways its use of the site is a case study in how to take advantage of the control the medium gives to present your side of the story – and your response to criticism in hostile forums – on your own terms. The impact is diluted, however, by the material’s lack of visibility on the home page. The home page is where a company can present its image to the world and make a positive impression on, in Trafigura’s case, the many who will arrive there either on the back of bad news and adverse criticism fuelled through Twitter, or with their prejudices tainted by it. To appear to offer no response is to miss the chance to counter such impressions, and may even reinforce them. Trafigura is not short of options to show it is not trying to hide: a discreet link to the Responses or Probo Koala page, use of the Our news panel to flag up the settlement statement or a mouseover preview of Media Centre could all pull back the veil without risk of fanning the flame.
First published 18 December, 2012
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