DPK Public Relations Founder Daniel Keeney, APR was cited as a crisis communications expert in a Washington Post story about how businesses can navigate through an online attack. The story, "A company under Trump attack makes a bold move: It repeatedly ignores him," by Danielle Paquette examines how Rexnord Corp. handled a series of tweets from the President that sought to shame the company for its decision to move manufacturing work from Indiana to Mexico eliminating 350 jobs.
For its part, Rexnord privately explained its rationale for the move to its union but has kept a very low public profile -- even when faced with blistering criticism from the President. In fact, a review of news coverage in the days and weeks after the plant closure news went public shows Rexnord officials declined to comment again and again.
As often happens when companies come under scrutiny, Rexnord's decision to hunker down and avoid the spotlight allowed others to frame the story. Union leaders emphasized how they made sizable wage and benefit concessions. Much of the media coverage has focused on the plight of workers.
Finally, in December, Rexnord issued the following statement:
"Together with the local Steelworkers Union, we have reached a mutual and final agreement regarding the relocation of our Indianapolis manufacturing operations. Completion of the relocation continues to be in the April to June timeframe.
"From the outset, we have appreciated the open dialogue with the Union. This has been a very difficult decision and we understand the human impact it will have on our associates, their families and the Indianapolis community. It is our intent to provide support and transition services for our impacted associates during this difficult time.
"While some of the Indianapolis positions are being relocated to our existing facility in Mexico, we are also retaining general office positions in Indianapolis and creating new jobs in Texas. We have been manufacturing products in America for 125 years, and our U.S. operations continue to be home to approximately 4,000 associates – more than half our global workforce. Difficult decisions are a part of today’s business environment. To be a viable company that contributes to economic growth, we must meet customers’ needs with high-quality products at competitive prices. We work diligently to do this while making responsible decisions for the people and partners who depend on this company and its long-term health."
Not surprisingly, Rexnord's reasoning for the layoffs was purely economic. Union leaders told the media that Rexnord figured the company will realize net savings of $15.5 million in the first year due to an 80 percent reduction in hourly wages.
I wanted to cover this ground to be clear that DPK Public Relations does not endorse Rexnord's overall approach to driving forward with this important initiative with little if any regard for how it would impact the company's reputation. Even when a company has no intention of changing the course it has chosen, it is advisable for company officials to show that they care through their actions and words, and publicly articulate a message of compassion for the workers and community effected by the closure.
To the company's credit, Rexnord apparently thought better of its iniital fairly terse statement and added a more compassionate tone in later statements to CNN and others:
"This has been a very difficult decision, and we understand the human impact it will have on our associates, their families and the Indianapolis community.”
See, that wasn't so hard, was it? This really should have been coming out of the mouths of Rexnord spokespersons starting on the day the closure was announced. Late is better than never, but not by a lot.
All of that aside, the Washington Post story focused on how Rexnord's low profile extended to the unwanted attention it received from the Oval Office. As I explained to the Washington Post, there is very little to be gained from responding publicly to tweets from anyone with nearly 30 million followers. When you know the track record of the President on Twitter is to continue attacking viciously when engaged, multiplying the potential for inflamatory negativity to be imprinted on your brand, the stakes are even higher. It is the digital equivalent of "Greener's Law," which states, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel."
In that case, the decision NOT to take action can be a strategic act.
This is not one-size-fits-all guidance. Some organizations can greatly benefit from engaging with the President, especially if their leadership has thick skin and a self-depricating sense of humor.
These are complicated times and companies have a responsibility to educate the public about how businesses work. We see a growing distrust of businesses in general and a sense that profit is an unworthy motive. When people fail to connect the low prices they see at Walmart with the low wages paid to overseas workers who manufacture those goods -- and fail to understand that each of us is partially to blame for the loss of a manufacturing base in America -- a backlash is inevitable. Let's hope that going forward, Rexnord will embrace a more open communications culture and showcase the good stories the company has to tell.