Guide to Plant Tours

Goal

Inviting the public to tour your facility is an excellent way to demonstrate your company's commitment to the community, including your company's contribution to the local economy, the jobs it provides and, where appropriate, its environmental efforts and successes.

A plant tour allows the public to gain an understanding of the company's importance to the community and to see first-hand how your company works and how current issues relate to your facility. For instance, it is much easier for people to understand the complexities of making plastic bottles out of recycled materials by seeing it happen, rather than by reading about it.

Whether you invite legislators, students, employees' families, the news media or others, each group will have slightly different interests in touring your facility. However, the key messages you want all groups to carry away are:

  • Your company plays an essential economic role in the community (and in the case of larger companies, in the country);
  • The safety, health and medical benefits attributable to plastics' durability, shatter-resistance and other performance characteristics enhance the quality of our lives; and
  • Your company - and the industry - are responding to consumer concerns about the role of plastics in the environment.

In planning each tour, consider your goal. In some cases, you simply will be building goodwill. In other instances, you will be educating those touring the facility about your company and the industry. Sometimes you will want to build support from those who can speak out for your company and the industry. In other instances, you may want to ask individuals or organizations to take a specific action, such as writing their legislators. In the case of visits by legislators or other government officials, you may want to persuade them to consider a specific position on proposed legislation.

In all instances, you will want to discuss current issues affecting your company and demonstrate the responsible actions your company is taking. You likely will want to use the economic facts and other information about the industry that can be found on SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association's Website, www.plasticsindustry.org.

Audiences

A number of groups will have an interest in touring your plant, including:

  • Legislators and other government officials
  • Business organizations, including chambers of commerce
  • Media
  • Students and educators
  • Professional organizations - plastics and others
  • Employees' families
  • Customers, suppliers and distributors

Preparation

Planning a plant tour is not difficult; it just takes careful attention to detail before, during and after the tour.

Selecting a Committee

Select a committee to coordinate the program. The committee should be representative of your organization and could include the employee relations manager, newsletter editor, government relations manager, plant workers and personnel manager. Input from each of these individuals and groups will ensure a well-rounded program, enabling you to anticipate the questions and concerns of your visitors.

Issuing Invitations

In all instances, issue the invitation in writing. In the case of legislators, deliver the invitation in person. Other suggestions:

  • Use your company letterhead.
  • Make your letter direct and short.
  • Suggest several dates that will work for your organization, and issue the invitation as much in advance as possible.
  • For schools, include information on the recommended ages for children, for both safety and interest levels.
  • Arrange for photographs. If your plant policy restricts outside photographers, mention that fact in advance, but offer to take any pictures they request. Such photos can be used in internal newsletters, industry publications and by the organization that tours the facility.
  • Once an invitation has been accepted, telephone the contact's office to confirm logistics, including time, date, number of guests and length of the tour. Mention whether media are expected to attend. Find out whether any guests have special restrictions, such as not being able to use stairs. In the case of school tours, indicate appropriate attire, if necessary.

Announcing the Tour to Employees

Once the logistics have been confirmed, notify employees about the plant tour. Use your newsletter, have supervisors announce the tour or distribute a memo. This is especially important when legislators or other government officials will be touring the facility. You may want to invite employees to make suggestions for the tour to help build their enthusiasm.

Other Preparations

Make sure key machinery and equipment are functioning properly, so that your visitors can see them in operation.

Prepare your remarks in advance (see below for details).

Select the tour guide carefully. It is important that the guide be articulate and knowledgeable about plant operations and the company's issues, and that he/she knows by name any employees the visitors are likely to meet during the tour. Select one or more key hourly employees to be part of the tour and assist in planning and preparations.

Plant Tours for Lawmakers

Plant tours are an excellent way for you to represent your company and the industry to lawmakers. Plant tours provide lawmakers with exposure to real jobs, real people and real concerns. Tours for lawmakers require some special planning in addition to the preparations for other tours.

Following are tips on planning a tour for a lawmaker:

  • Contact the scheduling secretary in your lawmaker's local, district or state office to find out his or her availability when home. This person will coordinate the schedule with the state capitol or Washington office.
  • Explain why a tour of your plant is important to the lawmaker. You might want to stress what you manufacture, how many people you employ, how long you have been in business, how much money you pay in taxes and other facts of interest.
  • Include a meeting with your company's managers in your planning. Whether it's a luncheon in the conference room or a brief chat in the president's office, this is the chance for them to express their legislative interests and concerns.
  • Include your workers in the plant tour. Be sure that both hourly workers and salaried employees have a chance to meet the lawmaker. If yours is a union shop, you may want to include the shop steward in the tour.
  • Find out what the representative would like to get out of the tour. Are there any special interests or concerns the legislator would like to discuss? Would he or she like to address your employees? Find out and include these interests in your plans.
  • On the day of the tour, stick to your plan. Lawmakers are on tight schedules and probably have other events planned for the day. You should remain flexible, however, in case you visitor is late or decides to leave earlier or stay longer than planned.
  • Introduce the lawmaker to all employees you see along the way; remember, these people are the lawmaker's constituents.
  • After the tour, follow up with a thank-you letter to the lawmaker. You also might want to include a list of the people who participated in the meeting.

Plant Tours for the News Media

Consider inviting the news media to attend a tour you are giving for a group or giving them a tour of their own.

To invite the news media to attend a group tour:

  • Send a written invitation to your local paper's "metro" or business reporter, and telephone him or her, as well.
  • Invite the reporter to bring along a photographer. In some instances, the reporter may not be able to attend but may simply send the photographer.
  • If a reporter cannot attend, offer to send a news release and, if possible, a photo from the tour. Prepare the release in advance, add a quote by a guest right after the tour and send it immediately to the reporter.

To give a separate plant tour for the news media:

  • Contact newspapers and broadcasting stations in your area to determine the appropriate person at each outlet. Explain to them why a tour of your plant is important to their understanding of the industry and the issues facing it.
  • Arrange a briefing by your company's managers as part of the tour. Give background on the company and on the plastics industry. Be as forthright as possible with the facts about your own firm-products, sales, revenues, ownership, etc.
  • Give the media group a comprehensive tour of the plant. Show off any new or unique products or processes.
  • Remember that television and print media like "visuals". Be sure to show them any parts of your organization that are especially visually appealing. It is acceptable to prohibit photos or video footage in any area of your facility that contains proprietary information or materials.
  • After the tour, follow up with a thank-you letter to the media people participating. Be sure to ask members to share information or photos from their tours with SPI for promotion in the weekly member newsletter, SPI Link. For more information, contact Paula Weis, (202) 974-5282; e-mail pweis@socplas.org.

The Tour Itself

Mapping Out the Tour

The first task is to make your guests feel welcome. The key to making the tour go smoothly is the advance planning you have completed.

  • Begin the tour in a meeting room. Explain what the visitors can expect to see.
  • Wait for all members of the group to arrive before starting the remarks.
  • Use a microphone if the group is large, so everyone can hear.
  • Keep your remarks brief, but interesting. Include anecdotes about the facility and employees to add a personal touch and use appropriate humor.
  • Call attention to specific machinery and displays the visitors will see.

Scripting the Tour Remarks

Regardless of your audience, you will want to include the following information in your remarks:

  • Products manufactured
  • Number of people employed
  • Dollars paid in federal, state and local taxes
  • Dollars paid in property taxes
  • Dollars spent locally to buy supplies, materials and services, and other companies in the area that buy from or sell to your company
  • The safety, health and medical benefits attributable to plastics' durability, shatter- resistance and other performance characteristics
  • Efforts on the part of your company to respond to consumers' concerns about the environment.
  • Environmental programs, new equipment and their costs
  • Safety and health standards in the plant - protective equipment, facilities and technology
  • Uses made of profits - including site improvements and research
  • Philanthropic activities by your company - donations to local organizations; employee benefits; aid to schools, hospitals and the community, and all your community involvement initiatives.

Ending the Tour

End the tour, as you began it, in a meeting room. That will provide the opportunity to answer final questions from your visitors and to hand out any additional materials or product samples.

After the Tour

Immediately following the tour, you may want to send a news release to any local media that did not attend, along with photos if they are available right away. The media are most likely to use the information if a lawmaker is involved.

Include an article about the tour in your employee newsletter, mentioning the names of all individuals who participated and assisted in planning. Also, send information on the tour to Karen Bolton, Manager of Industry Relations and Communication, so we can inform other industry members about the success of your tour and demonstrate the benefits of conducting such tours.

Write thank-you letters to the group that visited your facility. The letter is an opportunity to reinforce major points, to remind them of any actions they agreed to take and to mention your availability for return visits or questions. Include copies of any photographs of the tour.

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