Photo by Dave Dugdale / CC BY–SA

Situation: Monroe, Louisiana-based CenturyLink, the third largest telecommunications company in the United States, was formerly named US WEST and Qwest. The company was faced in 1998 with a classic crisis: a labor strike by 36,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which describes itself as “union for the informationa age.” In Iowa, 1,900 workers were off the job. In CWA, the telecom industry was dealing with a respected, savvy organization. Hanser & Associates was retained by the telecom company to cover the Iowa region.

Strategies & tactics: We helped develop message strategy for a potential crisis, and conducted media training for local managers, produced a video news release and other video footage for TV news segments, and — through proactive placement of news coverage statewide — helped drive the message to the public that US WEST would maintain its commitment to customer service no matter what.

Results: The strike lasted only two weeks. Customer complaint volume was minimal; public understanding was strong. Close contact with the media, public, regulatory agencies and elected officials averted a public backlash against the company.

Excerpt from Inside PR magazine:

  • “It’s a pleasure to be able to point to a company that seems to be making all the right moves. US WEST…is executing a masterful public relations plan. The tone of the company’s communications has been resolute without being confrontational, addressing both the demands of a competitive business environment and the needs of workers.
  • “Given that US WEST is facing a well-coordinated ‘corporate campaign’ by the union, which has targeted investors, customers and employees with its own communications efforts, a proactive public relations approach is essential.
  • “It’s not just a matter of framing the debate or getting the tone right, however. US WEST is managing the logistical aspects of the strike impressively, also. What the telecom provider has been able to do—is coordinate the delivery of a coherent corporate message at the local levelWhat the telecom provider has been able to do … is coordinate the delivery of a coherent corporate message at the local level … has put in place a network of local media contacts that appears to be functioning seamlessly.
  • “It is always difficult to predict, in the middle of a tense situation such as a labor dispute, who will win the battle for hearts and minds. There is plenty of room for error on both sides…US WEST has met the communications challenge in textbook fashion.”