It’s happened. The company or client you work is shutting down, shuttering one of its services, or discontinuing a product.
As part of the PR team, management brings you in to seek your help in communicating the message. But what is the best way to handle internal and external communications in such a scenario?
“Rumors are bound to swirl around a business closure, so put these to bed as soon as possible. Release a statement to both press and customers providing as much factual information as you can,” says Hayley Smith, director and owner of Boxed Out PR, who went through this with a former employer.
Make sure the news come from you, not from another source. “Use trusted journalists, or set up an exclusive interview with an industry magazine,” Smith says.
Much like a crisis communications situation, a business closing requires assembling the right team and collaborating with the right colleagues.
“Bringing in the correct members of your team including PR, legal, finance and HR and being open and honest from the very beginning, you will be able to effectively manage the closure with fewer problems,” Smith says.
Be sure to notify employees yourself before they hear or read about the news somewhere else. Give them ample notice, if you can. Make sure those communicating with employees have been trained in how to convey the information with empathy and clarity.
Be very clear about what you’ll provide to help them as they transition to a new job. Will you offer career coaching or resume writing services, for example? Tell them what you can do to assist them.
Make sure company leaders stay involved. This is news that should come from the top of the organization, so keep everyone in the loop. All announcements should come from the CEO, division manager or head of the business unit.
“A closure or a downsizing is not an excuse for leaders to go into hiding. To the contrary, it’s an occasion when people need to see their leaders,” says Kenneth Freeman, dean of the Boston University Questrom School of Business.
As you announce the news, provide reassurance that a plan is in place to make sure your customers are taken care of.
Publicize that the business will remain open until a certain date to allow customers to complete any transactions that may be underway or in the case of retail, to let patrons use any gift cards, loyalty points, and so on. If you’re liquidating inventory, publicize that.
And be sure to thank your customers for their patronage over the years.
Have compassion. It’s okay to express that you’re truly sorry (and sad).
While showing emotion may not a good way to run a business on a daily basis, in times of crisis like this, you can reveal your human side. It may be hard for them to hear this news—but it’s hard for you to deliver it, too.
“When my tears revealed my true feelings for my employees, they understood I was crying not because I couldn’t handle the situation but because I understood the human consequences of my decision: it wasn’t just a business that was closing; people’s lives were involved,” says Susan T. Spencer, entrepreneur and author.
“Because I communicated openly and honestly with all the employees, every worker stayed on and saw the company through until closing day, saving me from even greater losses,” Spencer said.
Adopting an approach that considers all your audiences and allows for planning and transparency is best when a business shutters.
“Overall, business closures are very rarely unforeseen,” says Smith. “There is usually a chain of events that lead up to them. With a clear communications plan, the announcement will not seem as shocking.”