The announcement on Christmas Day that parcel delivery company City Link was going into administration stood out as the story over the festive period – for all the wrong reasons. It was almost a text book example of how not to handle bad news. What lessons can be learned?
Develop clear, concise messaging
Bad news is bad news. City Link going into administration and employees losing their jobs was always going to be bad news thus the need for clear messaging to explain why this was happening was even greater than when communicating a good news story. Although the statement issued by Ernst and Young contained the relevant key messages, all were overshadowed by the timing of the announcement which became the story.
Develop key messages, refine them and test them with media training to ensure that they can be easily and effectively communicated.
Identify and prioritise all stakeholders
It was clear that the most important stakeholder, City Link employees, was overlooked. Media coverage was full of reports of staff being interviewed and stating that they found out their fate from the media.
Identify and prioritise all stakeholders and plan your communication from there. Where possible, plan for simultaneous communication to stakeholders so that they are receiving the message at the same time and you are in control of the message and ultimately the story that will be reported.
Understand your stakeholders
City Link either never considered, or completely underestimated the key stakeholders and how they were most likely to react to the news. When it came to the unions, they saw it as an opportunity to criticise not only the announcement itself but also the fact that it had been made on Christmas Day. As for employees, they felt betrayed. Christmas is the busiest time of year for parcel delivery companies and many staff had gone the extra mile to get presents delivered that very week. With the absence of any communication from City Link management to staff, media had no problems finding disappointed and angry workers for interview.
Understand how stakeholders are going to react and plan your communication accordingly, especially how and when you will communicate.
Assign clear ownership
It was clear that nobody really wanted to take ownership of the communication. In the end, the official communication came from administrator Ernst and Young. Nobody in management at City Link was quoted in any of the media coverage and it took until the 29th December (4 days after the announcement) for Jon Moulton, founder of City Link’s founder company Better Capital to give any interviews to media.
Following the stakeholder mapping, assign ownership to each stakeholder to lead the communication to that group.
Timing and external factors
In all the media coverage which has ensued on this story it was clear that City Link had been struggling for a while. There were early warning signs that the company would need to cease trading over Christmas and yet it seems that management adopted a ‘bury head in sand’ approach to handling the actual communication which resulted in staff learning that they were losing their jobs on Christmas Day – the one day of the year that purveyors of bad news stories will be vilified in the media, like the baddies in a Christmas pantomime.
Remember that you cannot communicate in a vacuum. Be aware of external factors and how they could affect your story and plan it accordingly. Whilst you cannot bury bad news, you can try to avoid being the main story on all news bulletins on a national day of celebration.
Do you need communications advice? Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss.