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How Microsoft announces layoffs will show the company's PR IQ

Gregg Keizer | July 18, 2014
Crisis communications expert spells out how smart companies handle job cuts.

"They should get out the news and onto social media before anyone else," Grabowski advised. "That message should be the same as what's used internally, it should not be any different. I'd get to reporters and bloggers quickly, all those who cover the company. And not in a press conference or a statement."

A press conference, said Grabowski, is too risky, because as a rule they're difficult to manage. "Reporters are a lot bolder in a pack," said Grabowski. "Try to reach them one-on-one, and give each something useful and unique, or apparently unique."

The choice of who talks to the press is also important, Grabowski said. "Companies have to be very, very careful about picking spokespeople. It's always best if they have a person who appears to be sympathetic. It shouldn't be a lawyer, and probably not the CEO unless he or she has a good relationship with the media and the public, someone who is perceived as a nice person."

Issuing a statement and calling it a day is a bad idea, Grabowski argued, saying that that implies the company is too corporate, too cold, too heartless. "You should retail news of a layoff, not wholesale it," he added. "Too often, companies in these kinds of circumstances work toward efficiency rather than effectiveness. A statement may be more efficient, but it's not effective."

Specific to Microsoft, Grabowski said that, assuming layoffs are announced this week, the company has already made one good move: Separating it from next week's financial disclosure.

"If you want to defuse the situation, it's smart to do it before [financial earnings] are announced," Grabowski said. "It will reduce the tension [of the earnings call], and more importantly, make sure that negative news doesn't step on the story of good financial news, if that's what they report."

Microsoft will hold its second-quarter call with Wall Street analysts on Tuesday, July 22, starting at 5:30 ET (2:30 p.m. PT).

Whether Microsoft ends up adopting any of Grabowski's recommendations is up to the company and its leaders. But going by past practice, it won't.

In 2009, when the company laid off 1,400 people immediately, and over the next months upped that number to around 5,800, it broke the news with a press release that, per regulations, was also filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The release mixed news of Microsoft's financial performance in the preceding quarter with that of the layoffs. It was quickly followed by a separate filing of a copy of the email that then-CEO Steve Ballmer sent to all employees early that morning.

That email was also a blend of financial and layoff news.

 

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