Zuckerberg, Musk and Layoffs: Revisiting PR roles in internal communications

Zuckerberg, Musk and Layoffs: Revisiting PR roles in internal communications

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By Queen Nwabueze

Yet again, the management role of public relations just as the good, old Mexican Statement preaches has come rattling. 

Truthfully, it messes up everything when leaders claim they believe in transparency and empathy, but when the time comes, they aren’t always showing it. Who would have thought that Elon Musk who so empathized with Donald Trump when he was ‘fired’ from tweeting, promising to buy the platform just to enthrone freedom of speech, finally took over and now wants all his $44billion recouped immediately.

Actually many of us trusted him when he promised we’d all be free like that Twitter bird if he eventually took over. Commenters like John Cloutier had hailed: “I believe Mr. Musk when he says he wants to restore Twitter to a forum for free speech. Free speech is one of the foundations of the United States.”

Interestingly, many people also saw through  Musk’s sudden free meal in Freetown. In an opinion entitled, “Twitter Under Elon Musk Will Be a Scary Place,” Greg Bensinger was one of the men who saw today, yesterday.

Oh well, let’s leave this matter for Matthias like we’re wont to saying in our local Naija parlance!

The concern today is internal communications and handling in times of layoffs.

For a refresher, the Mexican Statement, agreed on by the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations in Mexico City in August 1978, read:

“Public relations practice is the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counselling organisation leaders, and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organisation’s and the public interest.”

The indispensable muscle, everyone has always loved which this ballistic definition of PR flexes is that it recognised that PR is a management function, having its footprint in every department of an organisation, lest, we continue to joke!

To enliven this, in the layoffs galore of dear Musk and Zuck, HR (W.H.O. are the CEOS in this context) should have worked with PR. That way, management could have tempered justice with mercy not even for the sake of the guys who lost their jobs but for the company’s reputation; the CEO and the employees who remain.

This is because: “No matter how hard this may be for those in charge, it is far harder for those losing their employment,” says Anne Green, principal and managing director, G&S Business Communications.

Job cuts are never handled in a freewheeling communication style. Honestly, the Chief Twit and the Meta papa’s poor handling of the job cuts utterly failed to build a trust bank with the employees left behind. Remember Twitter employees were actually bracing up for the worst when Musk grabbed the helms? Now he has proven them right. Sad!

Let’s emphasise this some more: Making the difficult choice of conducting a large layoff still faces many companies especially in this economic instability across the globe. But, delivering this news need not plunge the company into a reputation crisis – the one Twitter and Meta currently suffer.

At this juncture, could we please continue this walk, using some crutches from the Mexican statement: “…analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counselling organisation leaders, and implementing planned programmes of action.”

Here a trend has long been established for PR practice – RESEARCH! “Analysing trends” would imply the need for employing proper research methods to gain feedback on audience attitudes. “Predicting their consequences” emphasises the importance of forecasting, based on research results.

“Implementing planned programmes of action” emphasises the execution of carefully planned PR activities and programmes. In fact, the foregoing ado is the summary of the entire communications steps, which also implies that PR practice is a meticulously planned process. Not firing a member of staff via video call simply because you hired him via Zoom!

Oh well, do we continue to flog this dead horse? Oh no! Let’s just move on and get it right, going forward.


“Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well,” should be our ONLY caress here.  Therefore, let’s revisit PR roles in internal communication and do good to implement these roles to the letter. We’d need to ALWAYS break the news to the outgoing staff in such a way that they’d look forward to the journey.

To do so:  Cat Colella-Graham, employee experience leader, says, leading with empathy and respect can honour the privacy and mental wellbeing of those affected.

“I always recommend humanizing through town halls, then small groups led by managers with manager guidance,” she says. “Don’t go straight to drafting the email. State the what, why and what’s next, and leave room for Q&A. And if you don’t have the answer, say that.” 

Green notes that while time is always of the essence during such news, delivering it quickly is not always the best option. Leave time for a dialogue between employees and the employer.

“Remember that the most ‘efficient’ or ‘expedient’ way to approach layoffs is often not the best way when it comes to communications,” Green says. “Seek to have one-to-one conversations with each person being let go, unless the scale is such that this is operationally impossible.”

Speaking to people as individuals can cement respect due to them, and help to remind employees that it is not their fault the layoff is happening.

Rick Lyke, executive vice president and managing director of public relations and public affairs at Mower, reminds communicators to not use technology as a crutch during a difficult news delivery.

“Things are complicated in today’s remote work world,” Lyke says. “Many people have been hired via Zoom calls, so it can almost feel natural to do job cuts via video call. However, it’s important that layoffs be handled humanely and with respect to the staff members.”

Sincerely, identifying stakeholders, preparing leaders and fielding media inquiries will certainly keep communicators busy after a layoff announcement. Developing clear, proper strategic messaging for these audiences is essential and very quickly too.

When identifying stakeholders, be sure to acknowledge their personages especially their psychographic makeup and most of all, what that message will mean to them on various levels.  

Indeed, honing the messaging and its delivery is most important in internal communication because a former employee today, could make the company huge referrals tomorrow.

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