CAMPAIGNS: BT's Concert closes with minimal fuss - Internal Communications

Client: BT

PR Team: In-house team with corporate advice from Brunswick

Campaign: Announcing closure of its joint venture, Concert

Timescale: Three weeks prior to 16 October announcement

Budget: Part of ongoing corp comms budget



In 1989 BT and AT&T launched Concert, a joint venture that sought to

provide global telecommunications with corporate customers.



The logic seemed strong: in a globalising economy corporates would want

a single company to handle all their telecoms requirements.



However, the take-up proved disappointing, and it became clear Concert

was not going to succeed. This summer BT and AT&T decided to wind up the

venture, which employed 6,500 people in Europe and the US.



Objectives



The company was keen to integrate the news for internal and external

audiences.



Internally, staff within the two companies and the joint venture itself

had to be told what was happening, and why and where possible, reassured

about their futures.



Externally it was essential to explain to Concert's international

clients how their telecoms business was to be brought back within one of

the two companies.



Strategy and Plan



The path towards the announcement was smoothed by prior acceptance that

Concert's future was 'under review'. The specific detail as to how the

joint venture was to be 'unwound' (a decision was taken to use this word

rather than 'scrapped', or even 'dissolved') could not be leaked because

of its price-sensitive nature.



On the day of the announcement, a release was put out on the Stock

Exchange's Regulatory News Service (RNS) at 7am. Staff had been at work

since 5.45am, and a co-ordinated release to all the wire services was

the next step.



As key personnel were unable to get to a press conference, it was

decided the best device was to hold an 'audio call' - a virtual press

conference over the phone. This took place at 8.30am with more than 100

analysts taking part. A similar audio call for telecoms journalists

followed at 11.30am.



Internally, there was a briefing for key staff on the evening before the

announcement and the message was put out on the company intranet five

minutes after the RNS announcement.



The company website carried a letter from CEO Sir Peter Bonfield as well

as a Q&A covering the strategic picture, the customer strategy, and

'people' issues.



On 17 October there was also an audio call for the company's top 240

managers with the intention that information should cascade down the

organisation.



Measurement and Evaluation



BT says the logistics of the event worked well. The message was put out

quickly and received wide coverage, which was accurate.



Internally, BT says the small number of questions received on the

subject suggested the message was understood.



Results



BT's in-house PR unit, which of late has become accustomed to managing

the release of bad news, seems to have got its message across

clearly.



The story was widely covered, which, in the circumstances may not have

been wholly a good thing. But at least in postponing an earlier planned

announcement, BT avoided any accusations that it was seeking to bury the

bad news under war coverage.



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