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The Role of PR in “Change-Management”

3 min read
The Role of PR in “Change-Management”

Now that corporate-crisis season is over for some companies, we witness the era of ‘change management’: namely managing changes that take place after a crisis. Is it possible that the most crisis-struck companies are the same ones still neglecting basic PR practices? Following the latest in BP and HP vis-à-vis public opinion response to recent decisions there, PR is still lacking.

Just this past Friday HP shares plummeted roughly 3% as a new CEO was announced. The last time this kind of drop hit the company was when HP revealed the internal investigation of its CEO Mike Hurd and his relationship with a marketing consultant, allegedly involved in business misconduct. Replacing the meteorically-successful executive, HP made a decision to hire SAP’s former CEO Leo Apotheker from Germany. What the company paid less attention to while fishing for a big name to fill big shoes, is what the move will signal the public. And boy did it make an impact! A 3% drop in shares is substantial. What communicated message did the public receive that drove this fall?

First – the ambiguous selection of a software guy, to take the helm of a hardware giant. Being an athlete doesn’t imply you’ll be good in every sport. The public out there, who are in part direct investors in the company, didn’t quite understand whether there is a new direction for HP by making this selection.
Second, what the public did pick up on was the new leader’s reputation for putting the company first before its human resource. Practically speaking, – he is known to make those necessary “hard decisions” of layoffs fairly easily. That ignited much tension internally.

In the BP case, as a company striving to leave its horrific summer behind, one of the first significant decisions taken by new CEO Bob Dudley is to create a ‘safety’ division. Nice thought but reckless choice of who should run it. Mark Bly would now run the much-focused safety unit, after leading the team which investigated the summer’s oil spill in the Mexico gulf. An investigation that pointed only one out of eight malfunctions that BP believes it could stand accountable for. An internal appointment for a highly-scrutinized company externally.

Management PR in particular takes possible unanticipated implications into account when communicating any sort of change. Both the BP and the HP management reshuffling may be valid and justified, but both companies are still under extreme public opinion exposure for past mishaps.

As we’ve been practicing for long with our corporate clients, several unique Public Relations elements are crucial to apply:

1. Balance: a company is responsible to communicate both to its external public, as well as to its internal “stakeholders”. The employees are the first to notice changes from within, just like they’re the first to respond to it or share dismay. Communicate to your internal publics in a way that makes them feel their success and the company’s general direction was taken into consideration. This should stand in balance with the external communications so no employee needs to learn of a company’s new path by reading a daily newspaper.

2. Reputation: when change is made take into account that a new blend of reputation emerges. First, the company’s ongoing reputation of its brand. Second, the reputation of the person taking the new role, and third – the reputation of his former job and whatever accomplishments he or she bring to light. The point being – there will be light shed on all these components. If there is something the public should know, THIS is a good time to share it. Stick to the truth and communicate clearly while funneling all three reputations into your company’s single strong message of how you see the future.

3. Positiveness: though a general strong message I convey for my employees, clients, and colleagues, it is especially vital for ‘change management’ communicators to be extra positive. Remember: ‘change-management’ comes in most probably after a crisis. People were hurt, uncertainty rises. Communicating in a positive way is valuable. Conveying strong confidence towards the decision the company made, towards the future the new management will bring, and towards the goals you have set, will portray the full picture to the public without a need to fill gaps with guesses and speculations.

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