BIG PITCH: How can a company minimize negative press reaction to layoffs?

KEN PHILLIPS, Director of Business Communications, Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector

KEN PHILLIPS, Director of Business Communications, Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector

KEN PHILLIPS, Director of Business Communications, Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector

You need to put layoffs into context in terms of the business situation.

When we announced layoffs a week ago, we also made it known that we had actually been cutting expenses since last fall as the chip industry entered one of its periodic downturns. I think it's important for you to provide the media with as much information as you can. Also, the company needs to show compassion and caring for the people who are being let go That includes things like outplacement centers and generous severance packages.

I'm not sure you can ever eliminate the negativity, but by putting it in context and by showing what you're doing for the people that will be exited, you can at least keep it in the right perspective.

LAURA KANE, SVP Communications, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce

When we're trying to show our position, we compare how Atlanta is doing against the rest of the country. There's a slowing of the economy everywhere.

Compared to the rest of the country, Atlanta isn't doing too badly. The balance you're looking to show is that you've created enough new jobs to help laid off employees find work. We have really good relationships with the local press and we spend a lot of proactive time promoting new job growth, new companies and expansion of existing companies. I think local reporters tend to track the whole picture. Bad news travels faster, so keeping the good news in front of the local media, whether they print it or not, at least helps them see the balance.

TR REID, Senior manager, Dell corporate public relations

Practice mutually beneficial, common sense media relations before announcing job reductions or other difficult actions by your company. Reporters are generally willing to hear about and consider our view of the big picture in the tough periods because we have the same kinds of thoughtful, hyperbole-free conversations with them the rest of the time. After the announcement, accessibility and accommodation are critical. They allow you to describe the action in the company's terms, and anticipate and meet the needs of reporters - especially from the electronic media. This reduces their inclination to have others tell the story. It's OK to be human. Eliminating people's jobs is distasteful, so acknowledge that at the same time you're describing the genuine business need.

CHRIS ATKINS, Partner/director, global corporate practice, Ketchum

Let's not delude ourselves that there's a way to put a good spin on layoffs.

A layoff itself signals that the company has hit a bad patch. What you can do is handle it well. Companies that just give a pink slip and escort employees out the door come off as soulless. I know of some companies that set up outplacement for employees. The surviving employees are watching and they're paying attention to how you treat their colleagues. It's crucial that you not only say you care about these people, but that you actually take steps to help them find employment. The press will appreciate that too. So few companies actually do that, so the press pays good attention to those that do.

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