"If there's an information void, it gets filled by something, and if a company is not explaining, then somebody else is going to fill in that void," says Diana Lueptow, vice president of Edward Howard & Co., a full-service public relations firm. "It could be competitors. It could also be the rumor mill. Customers and suppliers are so crucial to making it through a bankruptcy that you just can't afford to let this rumor mill go."
Vendors, suppliers, employees and the media will all have questions, and it's important to answer them honestly and consistently.
"Remember, it's a crisis, so the last thing you want to do is leave anybody out," says Stephen Phillips, vice president at Edward Howard & Co. "... Your customers look to the media to see what's being said, your customers are looking to your employees. You need to be communicating the same thing to all these people."
A bankruptcy filing is public record, and with a company required to file regular reports with the court, there are no secrets.
"You're operating in a fishbowl, and that's why you want to explain your side of the story and deal with your stakeholders," says Lueptow.
Communicating with everyone affected by the company's situation can remove some of fear and anxiety people experience during a bankruptcy. Employees are wondering if they'll still have a job. Suppliers are wondering if they're going to get paid.
Sharing information can create the stability that is vital to making it through a bankruptcy.
"You really have to stabilize the environment, and part of that is getting information to employees right away about what's going on, dealing with customers and vendors, because they're going to affect how you come out of this," Lueptow says. "You need stability, need people to have confidence in upper management and fight battles every day to keep this company going forward."
A public relations campaign should begin the moment you file for bankruptcy, but a plan should be in place well before that.
"When you decide to pull the trigger and file, you really don't have a lot a lot of time to sit back and say, 'OK, who do we communicate with now? Who's going to visit our top five customers? Who's going to talk to our top suppliers?'" Phillips said.
"A plan helps keep (executives) focused on what they have to get done, and by when." How to reach: Edward Howard & Co., (216) 781-2400, (614) 224-4600 or www.edwardhoward.com