Goodyear, Job Cuts and PR

I’ll admit that it’s troubling to get up almost every day now and read about more job losses. And even more troubling — and scary — when the news comes from a major employer in your own community. Goodyear stepped up to the job-cutting plate again yesterday, announcing that some 5,000 more jobs would evaporate this year.

Yet it’s also troubling that the dead-tree edition of the Akron Beacon Journal didn’t — or perhaps more accurately, couldn’t — share much more information about the job losses other than the numbers involved. Here’s the key paragraph:

Goodyear did not say where, or when, it will cut jobs this year.

Yikes. Jim Mackinnon wrote the story; he is an excellent reporter. I’m sure he asked about the effect on Akron jobs and Goodyear employees who still work here. So what’s the story? Either Goodyear management doesn’t know the answer — or it won’t say. Why?

Well, this is my opinion obviously, with no inside information. But it’s based on my experiences with similar announcements involving BFGoodrich — which until the mid-80s was a competitor of Goodyear in the tire and rubber industry. Anyway, Goodyear management — and PR team — wanted this to be a business story. Not a people story. And they were successful.

The Beacon Journal story conveys most of the Goodyear business story: sales down, industry in shambles, thoughtful management stepping up to take drastic but necessary action and so on. And it’s all true. And even Goodyear stock jumped a little yesterday, closing at six bucks and change. (But, according to the ABJ, still off 76 percent from a year ago.)

But what about the people involved? The 5,000 who are going to lose their jobs sometime this year? It seems to me that Goodyear management has created an environment of uncertainty — one that will hurt financial performance in the weeks and months to come and one that could undercut the trust and confidence in management for years to come. Hard to be all that enthusiastic about the task at hand if you think it’s the Goodyear office in the morning and the unemployment office in the afternoon.

Now saying all that, there may be union agreements, severance packages, special retirement plans and other considerations that are still being worked out. And if Jim Mackinnon can’t squeeze any more specifics out of Goodyear, then we will just have to wait for the company to be more forthcoming on its own. For the many employees involved and for their families, I hope that happens soon.

In the meantime,  if anyone wants my advice, here’s what I would tell Goodyear management:

  • Let the people who are losing their jobs know as soon as possible. It’s agony coming to work every day not knowing. That’s true for the employees who eventually get the tap on the shoulder and for the coworkers who are left to pick up the pieces. And a job loss is devastating whether your collar is white or blue. But for employees represented by the union there is some structure for severance, benefits and so on. And some hope, I would expect, that you might eventually be able to get your job back. In most cases, layoff doesn’t apply to a salaried job.
  • Treat people with some sensitivity and humanity. Please — don’t pull one of those stunts where people have to call an 800 number and get the news good or bad by recorded phone message. Hey. It happens. (And note to those making the announcement: You may be next. Think about it.)
  • Give those losing their jobs the opportunity to exit gracefully. It’s shameful when people are forced out of a building within an hour or so of getting the news and carrying a box with all their personal belongings.
  • Take the time to explain severance and health benefits. And make sure everyone understands how to take advantage of the provision in the economic stimulus package that applies to COBRA. People who are losing their jobs only want to know what this all means to them. They don’t give a rat’s ass about declining sales or earnings projections.
  • Do the right thing and offer everyone some outplacement counseling. It doesn’t cost all that much.
  • Focus on those who remain. Make sure they understand what happened and why. They are also the ones who are now the most vulnerable to further cuts. And they are the ones who will never forgive or forget if they believe their coworkers were treated unfairly.

Oh, and from a PR perspective: In the end this really is a people story, not a business story. And better you get the numbers and the full story out quickly. Otherwise, there will be at least one reporter out there somewhere with enough interest to call once a week and ask for update for the job cuts. At that point — it resembles a war story. Trust me.

And, full disclosure here. I own a modest number of Goodyear shares. Although fortunately (for me) I sold most of my shares when the stock was still in the $30-a-share range. But that means I get the company’s annual report and proxy. The company said yesterday that in addition to the job cuts it was going to freeze salaries. It will be interesting to see the compensation — salary, bonus (if any), stock awards and so on — that CEO Robert Keegan and the other top execs got last year.

At that point it will be a business story.

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7 responses to “Goodyear, Job Cuts and PR

  1. Thanks for the insight Rob,
    I noticed the story in the ABJ neglected to mention bonuses; however, comments posted on the online version of the story brought them up several times.

    Goodyear would be smart to release more information for a “people story” before the annual report is released or management could be cast as the bad guy.

  2. As I watched the news from the treadmill this morning I thought…Rob’s going to blog about this today! Must have been some treadmill running psychic connection.

    What’s up with the new facility GY is building…some state-of-the-art facility? Bet that ticks Joe Shmoe right the heck off…

  3. Chris,

    I agree with you. This really is a people story. And I don’t know why, but I don’t believe Goodyear handled it very well externally. Maybe they did a better job yesterday internally with communications directed to employees.

    And Kait,

    The early-morning treadmill. Ugh. You must be seriously training for a half-marathon 🙂 And the ABJ story indicated that the new Goodyear headquarters project in Akron has been delayed — but it is still a go at some point. Of course the question is how many of the 3,000 Goodyear employees in Akron will still have jobs by then. All? None? Somewhere in between?

  4. No matter how many have jobs when the building is up, there’s no doubt the 5,000 that got canned prefer working in an old building to hanging out in the unemployment office. I should read more about the need for a new facility before I spout off, but I’m willing to wager I’ll feel the same no matter how “needed” new conference rooms are.

    I’m not irritated…really…

  5. Pingback: News, Perception and Public Money « PR on the run

  6. Pingback: Communicating Cuts « Recession PRofession

  7. Pingback: Goodyear, Jobs and a Watchdog Press « PR on the run

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