Friday, January 26

Moving Beyond Bad News: Jobster

If Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, is wondering why HouseValues didn’t have to endure a blog swarm over layoffs while Jobster remains the poster child for inappropriate blog posts (made about a month ago), the difference can be found in their approach to crisis communication, inside and out.

Ian Morris did it 89 percent right. Goldberg did it 99 percent wrong.

As a result, from a communication perspective and not necessarily a product review, HouseValues is in a much better position to move beyond its recent bad news than Jobster. The difference is clear.

Whereas the Lukaszewski Group Inc. might call it mismanaging the victim dimension (the treatment of the victims will maintain or destroy trust) and I might call it demonstrating a lack of empathy for those who were impacted, the outcome is the same.

If you do it right, the public is satisfied and their interest wanes. If you do it right, your company might even find protection from having the issue resurface a month, a year, or ten years later.

In politics, it’s called inoculation: a clearly defined explanation of what happened, what was learned, and what was done to rectify the situation. With a good candidate, bad news can even be reframed as good news, all assuming they handled the bad news properly and actually learned something from the mistake.

Companies can move beyond bad news too, assuming the same. While this only touches on the surface, there are a few questions you can ask to guide yourself away from reliving the same bad story over and over again.

Did you acknowledge something went wrong? At Jobster, Goldberg never really apologized for his blog posts regarding the layoffs, which he still muses over today, even referencing that he blogs about what is on his iPod.

Did you apologize? At Jobster, Goldberg didn’t apologize for the posts that caused his former employees to wait on pins and needles through the holidays.

Do you offer explanation? While others have speculated on Goldberg’s behalf — that he was torn between keeping the layoffs under wraps and letting his employees know — he never really said.

What did you learn? It’s difficult to say whether Goldberg learned anything based upon his questions about blogging after the situation unfolded. Contrary, it seems he missed that the situation had little to do with CEO blogging and much to do about hinting at but denying layoff rumors.

Have you satisfied the public interest? If you want to move beyond bad news, you have to commit to regularly reporting additional information until no public interest remains. This includes all positive steps being taken to address the situation and any remedy for the victims. To his credit, Goldberg has done some of this by profiling former Jobster employees.

Did you verbalize empathy, sympathy or even embarrassment? There seems to be no time for that at Jobster, given that Goldberg and some crew have been too busy playing with the office’s new camcorder.

Did you seek outside consult? While Goldberg did ask people to hire his former employees, he remains dead set against turning to his public relations professionals for counsel, likening it to being “handled.”

Did you offer restitution? There seems to be little evidence that Goldberg has gone beyond community and victim expectations in order to remediate the problems.

Of the eight, Goldberg seems to have done one and a half, which was further overshadowed by bouts of arrogance, unpreparedness, and ignorance.

For example, as if he read a line right out of what not to do, Goldberg at one point asked (paraphrased, as this is actually a line from a Lukaszewski example): "Why are the bloggers interested in this anyway? It's nobody's business, but ours. They'll just get the story all mixed up; they simply can't get it right. We certainly can't let our employees talk about this!" One of Goldberg's actual posts is here.

In complete contrast, Morris at HouseValues sent a memo that details to employees (first) everything that will be done, why it will be done, and what measures are being taken to ensure the solvency of the company going forward. There is a certain amount of empathy and regret.

While it seems to me that the release that followed placed too much emphasis on the addition and promise of Barry Allen as chief financial officer and executive vice president of operations, among others, in order to bury the bad news of cutting its workforce by about 12 percent, its overall communication as summed by John Cook of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — the internal memo, quotes to journalists, etc. — are just enough on par to avoid the ire of the public.

Case in point: "Today is a truly difficult day. And the departure of friends and colleagues is very painful for all of us," Morris said in the memo. "But the decisions we have made -- to focus 100 percent of our energies on the success of our real estate agent customers -- are the right ones and they will enable us to profitably grow HouseValues in the future."

All this seems to indicate, in my opinion, that HouseValues is in a better communication position to avoid reoccurring stories about layoffs. Jobster, on the other hand, continues to demonstrate a communication strategy that will be written about over and over again as how "not to do it." It will very likely be immortalized and will certainly resurface every time Jobster has even marginal news (let alone bad news) again.

Worse, despite hoping they could get over it, it is quite possibly too late for Jobster to regain any semblance of being credible with its communication. While the company may succeed, it will always have this dark piece of history lurking over its head.


Rich on 1/27/07, 10:38 AM said...

Matt Heinz, senior director of marketing at HouseValues, Inc., sums up his impression on the analysis that includes his company.

Rich on 1/29/07, 1:18 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"I will say, however, that the last 4 weeks have been an incredible learning experience for me and for Jobster. Sometimes you learn through success. Other times you learn through mistakes. I made some personal mistakes in my communication strategy during this recent period, but I am 100% confident in our decisions and in our direction. I regret fumbling the rollout of our restructuring and I apologize to all of the people affected; especially the former and current Jobster employees." — Jason Goldbeg, CEO, Jobster

Well said.


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