AOL's PR team aids restructuring announcement

NEW YORK: As news broke that up to 2,500 employees would be let go at AOL while it separates from Time Warner, the PR team worked to help explain the news to both employees and media.

NEW YORK: As news broke that up to 2,500 employees would be let go at AOL while it separates from Time Warner, the PR team worked to help explain the news to both employees and media.

The media company is asking employees to voluntarily leave their positions, beginning December 4, as part of its restructuring, said ricia Primrose Wallace, EVP of corporate communications for AOL. Time Warner and AOL merged in 2001 but have agreed to separate on December 9. If 2,500 employees – about a third of AOL's workforce – do not voluntarily come forward, the company will continue layoffs on its own.

“My number one constituency was employees,” Wallace said regarding her team's communications goals.

She emphasized that the company has been talking to employees regularly and transparently about the restructuring in the months leading up to this announcement. This has included messages from its CEO Tim Armstrong, who joined the company in March, two months before it announced its separation from Time Warner.

“Tim has been talking to employees… that the restructuring would have significant impact on headcount,” Wallace said.

To announce the voluntary layoffs, an e-mail and a video with Armstrong was pushed out to its 6,900 global workforce and posted on the company intranet, Wallace said. Part of Armstrong's message to both employees and the media is that he is forgoing his bonus this year.

Because the layoffs are beginning as a voluntary process, she did not know how many of the 35 on her communications staff would be affected.

Wallace and her team handled dozens of media requests the day the news emerged with the aim of, “helping journalists cover this company and help them be as accurate as possible… that they had the facts as quickly as possible.”

Their primary tools for the announcement were e-mail and telephone; they did not use blogs or social networks, she noted. The communications tasks were handled by internal staff, without the assistance of a PR agency.


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