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Local PR Mess – Dell

Posted on: July 28th, 2012

Crisis Management: Local PR Mess – DellFrom archives

(First written in 2009)

After watching the slow-motion public relations train wreck of computer giant Dell in the area where I live, I may need a new saying. “If you’re in financial difficulty then PR is the last thing on your mind.”

Financial challenges are the only rationale I have for Dell’s stonewalling of North Carolina in general and Winston-Salem and Forsyth County in particular on layoffs. There’ve been three cuts in six months and Dell says “for competitive reasons” it will not specify the size of the reductions or the payroll. This isn’t idle curiosity. These governments committed millions of tax dollars to entice Dell’s plant and provide 1700 jobs. Some incentives are linked to the jobs created. Fewer workers weakens the economy and might require incentive refunds. Quoting from The Godfather, “It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business.” Yet, operators of the facility that opened in 2005 have lately been stiffing the very leaders and taxpayers who labored to get them here. And all this on the heels of earlier reports that Dell might sell or close plants.

A Dell spokesperson said a representative would speak to city council in May and “we value our relationship with the city of Winston-Salem.” I hope so. We “locals” are part-owners of your company. We worked hard, paid taxes and gave much for you to join us. We are not bystanders. We are stakeholders.

Rebuffed by Dell, reporters have estimated job losses by talking off-the-record to employees. One guesstimate of 150 prompted the company to criticize journalists for overstating. Well, if Dell had been forthcoming then estimating and mistakes could have been avoided. Last week’s layoff was estimated at over fifty people but some told the Winston-Salem Journal it could be 100-300. That is a significant disparity.

You know that Dell has fouled this up when it forced one of the most low-key, thoughtful, likable mayors – Winston-Salem’s Allen Joines – to publicly demand Dell account for its layoffs. The Journal quoted Joines saying, “The City Council and I really find it unacceptable that we’re not able to get more specific employment figures… I certainly understand their right to privacy, but on the other hand, we do have a public-private partnership here, so to some extent that should trump their concerns.”

Dell makes a good product with good service. I’m a customer. Founder Michael Dell is struggling mightily to restore market share and strengthen the bottom-line in a horrible economy with declining purchases of desktops like Dell assembles here. We sympathize. But if Mr. Dell would look up from his spreadsheet and plans we humbly offer some principles of crisis PR 101.

Take care of victims. This region and state will be victims if you strip or close this plant. Talk to us.

Fix the problem and keep all stakeholders in the loop. Our tax dollars give us a seat at your table. Get transparent. Heck, we might be able to help.

Get it over with. Talk now! Speed saves!

Don’t make it worse. Stop needlessly angering some of our best leaders who worked their tails off to get you here. By the way, do you seriously think you’ll ever get incentives again anywhere after this?

Reassure. We want to know if your plant/our plant is safe. You should reassure us that it is. If you can’t, then here’s one final principle.

Tell the truth!

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