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