BellSouth hits PR highs and lows in matter of 10 days

ATLANTA: BellSouth, the third-largest phone company in the US, ran the PR gauntlet this month with successive breaking-news stories of a discrimination lawsuit, FCC approval to sell long distance, and another round of layoffs.

ATLANTA: BellSouth, the third-largest phone company in the US, ran the PR gauntlet this month with successive breaking-news stories of a discrimination lawsuit, FCC approval to sell long distance, and another round of layoffs.

The stories broke within a 10-day period.

Company spokespersons Jeff Battcher and Necole Merritt declined to comment to the press on each of the negative stories, but issued statements by CEO Duane Ackerman.

Media coverage of the lawsuit failed to cause as riotous a reaction as Coca-Cola suffered from a similar suit last year. Battcher told PRWeek, "This is the tenth Atlanta company to be sued over discrimination in the last four years. He added that the fact that 27 of the Fortune 100 have been sued likely diluted the story's impact.

However, BellSouth was not so lucky with the May 20 layoff announcement - the second since Q4 2001. The media announcement coincided with a 2pm company-wide broadcast in which Ackerman addressed BellSouth employees.

But in between the tales of woe, the company got its best news in years: BellSouth finally received FCC approval to sell long-distance phone service.

Within hours of the announcement, Battcher placed Ackerman with live interviews on CNNfn and Nightly Business Report, as well as with The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

Battcher said his strong personal relationships with the media softened any possibility for backlash.

BellSouth closed the month with lauds heaped on Ackerman as a corporate steward in a Fortune magazine article critical of general CEO performance.

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