Client: The Denver Newspaper Agency (Denver)
PR Team: JohnstonWells PR (Denver)
Campaign: Denver Newspaper Agency Launch
Time Frame: September 2000-January 2001
Budget: dollars 125,000
The decision by The Denver Post and its rival, Rocky Mountain News, to
combine business operations presented the the newspapers with many
audiences to inform - including readers, vendors and advertisers - but
none was more important than employees.
After all, workers at each publication were accustomed to viewing the
other as an enemy. Both newspapers and JohnstonWells PR, the agency
brought in to handle communications, were aware that this type of
scenario can lead to unrest and, in some cases, strikes.
'It was a 100-year war,' says Michele Wells, principal of
The combination would create a new entity, the Denver Newspaper Agency,
for the two papers' business functions, which include advertising,
circulation, human resources and information technology, while
maintaining separate editorial departments.
The deal had to be approved by the US Department of Justice, but no one
knew when that would happen. 'I got a lot of gray hairs over this,'
Wells says. 'The history is that the Justice Department always approves
these on a Friday at 4pm.'
Agency and client didn't want to upset the approval by speaking out
about the proposal beforehand. Once the Justice Department approved the
move, there would be a 10-day 'quiet period,' during which the public
The agency had until October 13 to put together an initial employee
communications plan. The idea was to hold all meetings and conduct most
of the communications on the Denver Newspaper Agency's first official
day of business.
'It was critical that the employees knew from the moment we began to
operate that we wanted them to be in the loop about what was going on
with this transition,' says Carol H. Green, VP of human resources and
labor relations for the Denver Newspaper Agency.
Sensitive communications areas included changing benefits, employee
relocations and workers' fears about layoffs, which the company was not
JohnstonWells focused on getting the written materials prepared as early
as possible. The most important was a Q&A sheet that would attempt to
answer most employees' questions. But even that wasn't easy. 'They were
setting policy as we were writing,' Wells says.
While awaiting approval, PR practitioners rehearsed presentations with
the leaders of the proposed new company.
The Justice Department's approval came down on January 5. The
communications team sent out a voice-mail message to the 3,850
employees, explaining what had happened and that the company couldn't
comment further for 10 working days.
The merger became effective January 22. Employees were informed the day
before via posters, and e-mail and voice-mail messages about meetings
that would be held.
To help employees feel welcome, lobbies boasted balloons, food, a coffee
cart and flower arrangements. They were given chair massages, coffee
mugs with the new company's logo and informational kits. Further
information was available on a Web site (denvernewspaperagency.com).
For the first day, 12 20-minute meetings were scheduled with the three
employee sectors - production, business and editorial (an important
audience, even though the journalists weren't part of the new company) -
at each newspaper for both day and evening shifts.
During the morning drive time, KOA, Denver's all-news station, began a
broadcast about the combination and speculated that numerous layoffs
would result. The station was called, and it corrected the story.
The campaign resulted in a smooth transition, despite the false radio
report. Employee reactions were low-key, according to Wells. Calls, and
e-mails to the employee hotline have been minimal. Ninety percent of the
calls were about parking. The remaining 10% were specific to the
According to the Denver Newspaper Agency, no employees have left their
jobs because of the arrangement.
The Denver Newspaper Agency and JohnstonWells are finalists for this
campaign in the PRSA 2001 Silver Anvil Awards. Winners will be announced