Denver Newspaper Agency Launch
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Denver Newspaper Agency Launch

JohnstonWells created and implemented a comprehensive communications plan for the newly formed Agency to inform its employees what had just happened and what was going to occur as a result of the JOA.

Paul Holmes

 
In May 2000, the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post filed an application with the U.S. Justice Department to enter into a joint operating agreement (JOA).  On Jan. 5, 2001, the application was approved.  After a mandatory 10-day waiting period expired, Denver’s two daily newspapers combined their business functions while maintaining separate editorial departments.  The JOA called for the creation of a new entity, the Denver Newspaper Agency.  The Agency assumed responsibility for all business functions of The Post and the News, including advertising, circulation sales, production, finance, human resources, information technology and distribution JohnstonWells created and implemented a comprehensive communications plan for the newly formed Agency to inform its employees what had just happened and what was going to occur as a result of the JOA.  The plan reached 3,850 Agency employees and delivered crucial information quickly. Despite the short timeframe for preparation and the sensitive and complex subject matter, JohnstonWells’ program successfully achieved its objectives by delivering clear, accurate and consistent messages to the employees of the Agency, resulting in a smooth transition.  The success of this program can be measured against other JOAs that have had to deal with high employee turnover, union strikes and diminished morale.

 

CHALLENGES

 

Timing – An approval date was not guaranteed or predictable.  JohnstonWells had from Sept. 2 to Oct. 13 to get the initial employee communications plan in place.  JohnstonWells was constantly on “red alert” waiting to implement the plan.

Distribution – With 3,850 employees at multiple locations the Agency needed to get information to all of them as soon as possible after approval.

Misinformation – Rumors were rampant.  Many employees feared the worst – that they would be fired or that the editorial competition between the two newspapers would cease.

Coordination among multiple groups – JohnstonWells worked in conjunction with the Agency, its advertising firm, 17 Agency consultants, vendors and numerous department managers from both newspapers.

 

RESEARCH

 

JohnstonWells conducted extensive research by:

  • Interviewing employees, the general public and city influencers to assess current attitudes.
  • Researching previous JOAs and company mergers to see what had worked and what hadn’t.
  • Researching and strategizing with Agency executives and consultants to find solutions for integrating all business functions.
  • Meeting with the department heads of the telemarketing, human resources, single copy, finance and call centers to determine their specific needs. From these meetings we were able to determine what communication devices would be needed and how best to deliver them to employees.

 

PLANNING PROCESS

 

  • Timelines and budgets were prepared.
  • Daily meetings were held with the Agency executives and transition team. 
  • Weekly meetings were held with 17 consultants hired by the Agency to help implement the business functions. 

 

OBJECTIVES

 

The main objective of the communications plan was to provide a smooth transition for employees, limit turnover and maintain morale.  To accomplish this the communications needed to:

  • Reach employees as quick as legally possible following approval of the JOA.
  • Provide employees with clear, accurate and consistent messages that would answer their questions honestly,
  • help calm their fears and make them feel comfortable about the transition.
  • Reassure employees of job stability and retain top employees.
  • Motivate disillusioned employees who were in the midst of a newspaper war that had lasted more than 100 years.
  • Immediately clear up any misinformation/miscommunication among employees.

 

STRATEGIC APPROACH

 

Assign clear responsibilities and facilitate communication among the implementation team by creating detailed timetables and contact lists.

 

Develop multiple channels for communicating with employees, i.e. employee kits, voice mails, e-mails and meetings.

 

Make senior Agency executives visible and accessible.

 

Involve the executive team of the Agency by having team members deliver key messages via meetings, e-mails and voice mails.

 

Ensure consistent messaging.

 

Plan exhaustively in order to ensure prompt, seamless, multi-layered communication on approval and implementation day. 

 

Develop a plan to efficiently and promptly address individual employee questions and concerns.

 

CAMPAIGN EXECUTION

 

Responded immediately to the JOA approval by communicating with employees that same day via an informational e-mail, voice mail and a letter about the approval and what it meant for them. 

 

On the day prior to the first day of Agency business, employees were communicated to via posters, an e-mail, and voice mail about meetings that would be held the next day to answer questions about the transition.

 

On the first day of business, the Agency hosted a celebratory open house that featured guided tours of all facilities, a red carpet leading into the entrances of all locations, chair massages, balloons, welcome signage, food, a coffee cart and flower arrangements to help employees feel welcome and become enthusiastic.

 

Employees were greeted at work with information-packed employee kits and a commemorative item on the Agency’s first day of business.

 

Provided employees with face-time with the CEO of the Agency, Kirk MacDonald, and other Agency executives during eight meetings scheduled between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. at the four workplace locations on the first day of business.

 

Immediately contacted media outlets that were broadcasting incorrect information about the JOA on Implementation Day and provide the sources with accurate information.

 

Met with the editorial employees about the JOA.  While they are not Agency employees, reporters and editors are part of a significant audience and share the same building as those employees who are undergoing significant changes.

 

Implemented a variety of systems to handle employee questions (Helpline, Hotline, Agency Web site)

 

Developed Operational Integration Seminars to explain the integration process of the newspapers’ business operations to Agency vice presidents and managers.  Seminar presenters attended presentation training designed to strengthen their speaking skills and prepare them for anticipated and potential questions.

 

Provided key message training for Agency executives, vice presidents and managers.

 

Enlisted the help of the human resources departments at both newspapers to distribute the employee information kits.

 

Developed 3,850 employee kits that included such materials as:


  • a letter to employees
  • a contact listing
  • a comprehensive listing of anticipated questions and corresponding answers
  • Agency’s mission and vision statement
  • a flier containing information about denvernewspaperagency.com
  • a handout featuring photos and maps of business and production locations

 

SUMMARY OF RESULTS

 

All Agency employees received an informational packet within four hours of implementation.

 

All Agency employees had a face-to-face meeting with an Agency executive within 12 hours of Implementation.

 

Agency executives say no employees have left their jobs because of the JOA and that employees from The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News are working together harmoniously.

 
Calls and e-mails to the employee Hotline have been minimal.  Ninety percent of the calls were about parking.  The remaining 10 percent were specific to the employee. 

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