Chrysler's 26,000 job cuts leave comms staff unsure of the future

AUBURN HILLS, MI: Chrysler, awash in 4th-quarter 2000 red ink, held a hurried news conference last week to detail a three-year cost-savings plan calling for early retirements and layoffs of up to 26,000 employees in North and South America.

AUBURN HILLS, MI: Chrysler, awash in 4th-quarter 2000 red ink, held a hurried news conference last week to detail a three-year cost-savings plan calling for early retirements and layoffs of up to 26,000 employees in North and South America.

AUBURN HILLS, MI: Chrysler, awash in 4th-quarter 2000 red ink, held a hurried news conference last week to detail a three-year cost-savings plan calling for early retirements and layoffs of up to 26,000 employees in North and South America.

It is as yet unclear how Chrysler's 60-strong communications staff will be affected by the news. However, Ken Levy, Chrysler VP of communications, said he expects to have to make cutbacks.

The company's PR staffers called key media at their homes during halftime of the Super Bowl on Sunday to advise them of the 8:30am press conference the next morning. Chrysler supported the media event with a complete bag of communications tools: a detailed news release, satellite TV feeds, internal telecasts to company facilities and even a personal e-mail to employees from Chrysler president and CEO Dieter Zetsche.

According to Levy, the decision to hold the news conference was finalized over the weekend after company and union officials met to work out the details of the 20% staff cuts and their impact on production. Once the bad news was made public, Chrysler PR worked fast to execute its previously developed communications plan.

Faced with growing speculation about plant closings and workforce cutbacks, Chrysler not only had to get costs under control quickly, it also had to head off the rumors, Levy told PRWeek. 'We wanted to take away the uncertainty,' he said.

Levy expects his staff of 60 to be affected. 'We're going to look at a lot of things where we can make our contribution,' he said late Monday.

Staff cutbacks in the auto industry traditionally have been accomplished through a combination of attrition and early retirements.

In addition to in-house PR staff, Chrysler and other automakers have a cadre of contract PR functionaries, some of whom are provided through PR counselors.

Therefore any staff cutbacks could benefit consulting firms, according to a former Chrysler PR executive.

'It actually creates more opportunity,' he noted, 'because when a customer cuts staff to the bone, the jobs still have to be done.'

Chrysler Group's principal outside consultant is Golin/Harris. The agency is on retainer but also performs jobs on a project basis.

Chrysler is owned by the German Group DaimlerChrysler.





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