When sales are not what they once were or what they are expected to be, companies generally face the tough choice to lay off workers. But, no matter how necessary those decisions may be, they don’t happen in a vacuum. Every time a major company is forced or chooses massive layoffs or pay cuts, it makes the news and triggers the need for careful PR messaging. This is especially true when the media is reporting four-figure layoffs, as they are in the case of engineering firm Rolls-Royce.
According to various press reports, Rolls-Royce is cutting 4,600 jobs over the next two years as a result of a “major reorganization effort.” These reports indicate that middle managers and back-office staff will be the most affected positions.
For Rolls-Royce, the first step in the difficult process of defending its actions is to state the primary reason. In their case, that’s the company’s shift to a focus on civil aerospace, a growth industry for the brand that will bolster or replace other areas that are struggling or not meeting expectations.
Another aspect of the messaging should be to explain the move to investors and stockholders. In this case, Rolls is hoping to save about 400 million pounds… at a cost of 500 million pounds. If you read that correctly, you’re wondering if there’s more to that story. There better be, because people are going to be asking why the company is taking a 100-million-pound loss in the short run. The answer? Rolls will be saving 400 million pounds each year… not just next year. This aspect of the messaging should be emphasized redundantly, so it cannot be buried or misunderstood.
Now it’s time to consider details or ancillary messaging that could be added to better explain or better position Rolls-Royce in the market. In this case, there’s a fairly large elephant in the room: the Trent 1000 engine. The engine has been reliable overall, but there are parts within it that are wearing out faster than expected. This might sound good if all the company wanted to do is sell engine parts, but what it really wants is repeat business. At this point, airlines have been seeing far too many planes with Rolls engines being grounded for repair. If they’re not flying, they’re not earning, so that’s a huge deal for the airlines, the companies building the jets, and the company supplying the engines.
Rolls took this opportunity to communicate that they are working on the engine problem, implying that this move will allow them to better accomplish that goal. That’s a good move, because it puts a forward-thinking face on the messaging.
There is a human angle missing from the message, though. Reporters and consumers will want to know what, if anything, is being done for the people losing their jobs. Most people realize business sometimes necessitates tough decisions, but it never helps to look heartless.
5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian is the founder of 5W Public Relations.