in mind that each social media channel has its own protocol and
culture and requires specific skills to communicate effectively. If a
company lacks channel-specific expertise in social media, engaging
outside help is essential.
Centralize All Communications
With lots of moving parts — multiple audiences, tailored communications, different online and direct channels — the potential for inconsistent messaging and inaccurate information is very high. To manage
those risks, establish a very simple and strict protocol with respect to
how and when transaction-related communication is managed. The
game plan should include individuals covering multiple disciplines.
A single individual should be responsible for implementation and
keeping the team informed of progress and problems at all times.
Start & End With Employee Communication
Employees have a personal stake in the company’s future and a
direct influence on customer satisfaction and loyalty. At all times,
depending on how they are treated, employees can serve as strong
brand ambassadors or insidious brand terrorists. Because a restructuring strategy’s success will rely, in some measure, on their cooperation and support, a communication plan should be heavily weighted
in tactics designed to keep them informed and to give them a voice
in the process.
Anticipate Unpleasant Surprises
Plans designed to protect brand equity during a restructuring rarely
follow the script. Part of the initial planning process should include
a whiteboard session to address all the possible “what if” scenarios,
ranging from union problems to negative media coverage to legal
or regulatory problems. It’s unrealistic and unproductive to create
detailed communications strategies for all of these potential issues,
but considering them in advance enables identification of their early
signs and a quicker response should they occur.
Despite the negative connotations, restructuring can serve as
an opportunity for a company to demonstrate its true character and
to build respect and loyalty from existing and new audiences. If, as
Hemingway suggested, “Courage is grace under pressure,” then a
company’s behavior during a restructuring — in terms of what it says,
how well it manages the process and how it backs up promises — can
significantly strengthen its brand equity.
To accomplish this goal, advance planning is more critical than
good intentions. A company of any size, without a deep bench of
internal talent, and lacking specialized communications experience,
can preserve the brand equity it has worked so hard to establish. That
effort starts and ends with a commitment to transparency and an
acknowledgement that brand equity is a very fragile asset. abfj
GORDON G. ANDRE W is managing partner of Highlander Consulting
Here are some primary considerations in preparing
and implementing a game plan:
Treat Restructuring as Crisis Communication
In terms of its potential to inflict long-term damage to
brand equity, a restructuring can be as significant as a
product safety recall or financial fraud. Most audiences
won’t understand the purpose or logistics of the transaction. Many will assume restructuring is simply a tactic to
enrich senior management. The overall impression will be
that the company is in trouble or going out of business.
Don’t underestimate the significance of the turnaround
or the sense of urgency that’s required to communicate
properly with key audiences on a real-time basis.
Refine the Core Messaging
How well and how consistently the company explains
what’s happening and what’s likely to occur will have the
greatest impact on how audiences respond. It is critical
to provide an accurate, clear and concise description of
the reasons for the transition and provide insight into the
company’s plans and expectations. It is critical to express
empathy for those affected, especially for those who have
lost their jobs. Internal pressure from legal advisors to say
very little about the restructuring or to communicate in
legalese often requires pushback from management.
Tailor Core Messaging for Each Audience
There is no “one size fits all” strategy when communicating
a restructuring event to diverse internal and external
audiences. Because employees, customers and business
partners all have very different motivations and concerns,
the company’s core messaging must be tailored to address
the “what’s in this for me?” factors relevant to each target
audience. The substance of the messaging remains the
same. The tone and details will change relating to areas of
greatest concern for each audience.
Select & Manage Communication Channels
Tailored communications are of little value if they are not
delivered to the intended audiences through an appropriate channel. Employees, for example, will respond more
positively to email, and face-to-face (or televised) meet-ings/town halls, than they will to statements posted on
the company’s website or intranet. Communication with
business partners may best be managed through personal
phone calls from their company contact. Ideally, establish
dedicated channels (an internal microsite, for example),
and do not mix restructuring-related information with
normal course business communication. In all cases, the
most damaging scenarios occur when an important audience receives restructuring information from a third party
or indirect source — the news media or on social media
— before hearing it directly from the company.
Apply Listening Tools & Respond Immediately
Several online tools, with capabilities far beyond
GoogleAlerts, can provide real-time insights into where
a company is being mentioned and what’s being said.
This window into market sentiment is a necessity during
a restructuring, but it will be of tangible value only if a
company has the capability to respond immediately
and appropriately to rumors and misinformation. Keep
At all times, depending on how they are treated, employees can
serve as strong brand ambassadors or insidious brand terrorists.
Because a restructuring strategy’s success will rely, in some
measure, on their cooperation and support, a communication
plan should be heavily weighted in tactics designed to keep them
informed and to give them a voice in the process.