A Public Relations Guide to Dealing with Layoffs

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Dealing with layoffs can be a draining experience for public relations consultants. The distraction of your own job being on the line — and the internal climate change that follows such announcements — make it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand: making sure your organization’s public image remains intact. If your company is facing the unfortunate prospect of layoffs, these are five public relations ideas to keep in mind.

Every organization deals with layoffs in a different way. One company I worked for could not have handled the situation any worse from a public relations perspective. Layoffs were announced via email and workers were then cobbled together in a conference room to hear their fate. When the local trade press came calling, the chief executive officer botched the interview and made it sound like those workers who were laid off had done something wrong.

Another company I worked for handled the situation more appropriately. The relatively small staff was called into a conference room and told that the company was shutting down. Management explained the reasons and specifically outlined a wind-down schedule, severance information, and other particulars. The news wasn’t reported until after operations had ceased, a sign that employees kept the information to themselves, and at the very least, felt they had nothing to gain by going to the media.

How can public relations professionals ease a company through a period of layoffs?

1. Don’t announce a workforce reduction unless necessary. Why give someone a reason to report bad news? However, if you don’t announce the layoffs and you get inquiries, be prepared and come clean. There’s nothing worse than an angry former employee getting his or her say in the media while the company stays quiet.

2. Public statements regarding layoffs should come from the chief executive officer and no one else. The CEO is ultimately responsible for the management of the company and that includes layoffs. A quote from the public relations department gives the outside world — and those directly impacted by the layoffs — the impression that the CEO does not want to take responsibility for the decision. That does not help the company’s public image.

3. Tell reporters how you are helping the laid-off employees. Were they given severance? Outplacement services? Told that they could be re-hired if business picks up? If your company is doing something to help those who are laid off, let people know. The information will, at the very least, be one positive in a negative story.

4. Explain the reason for the layoffs. Some workforce reductions are for strategic reasons such as increasing efficiency or cutting costs. Simply saying that the economy or business has gone south is not enough. Give the media an in-depth explanation of why your particular business or organization is experiencing problems. This information will paint a better picture of the challenges the business faces, generating sympathy instead of apathy or anger.

5. Don’t say things like, “These moves will strengthen our organization.” Such comments devalue the workers who have been laid off, and no one is buying the idea that less human talent is going to make a company better.

Regardless of the health of the economy, preparation is one of the key components to public relations, and preparing for the bad news, such as layoffs, is as important as preparing for the good.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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