Coors Case Study Gabe Alvarez-Millard, Maya Beshara. Jackie Keating Ithaca College 1. Problems that Richard Should Focus On Coors has a wide range of problems to deal with, but Shirley Richard needs to focus on how to create the best image possible for the company while also confronting the fact that it has a poor history of public and media relations. As the director of corporate communications, the main issues she should focus on are convincing the Coors brothers to consider the 60 Minutes interview, properly preparing them for the interview if they choose to participate, publicly addressing the concerns of the AFL-CIO and portraying the positives of the company, and using the 60 Minutes opportunity to propel the public perception of Coors from a closed- door company always on the defensive to an honest, proactive, and media-friendly organization. 60 Minutes Richard’s first challenge is to convince the Coors brothers, who have a history of putting limited efforts into communication and who are skeptical of allowing Allan Maraynes of 60 Minutes into the facility, that they need to consider taking an active role in the 60 Minutes story before they allow any claims by the AFL-CIO to go unchallenged. The program gets an enormous amount of attention, and as a result it is heavily influential on public opinion. Refusing to participate in the story would not only leave Coors defenseless, but also reinforce their image of being a private and inaccessible company. Should Coors decide to take a proactive role, Richard needs to ensure that the company is prepared for the interview. This would involve conducting research on 60 Minutes (specifically Mike Wallace, who is known for his intense interviews), coming up with sample questions to ask the Coors brothers, and videotaping mock interviews with them so that they have a better perception of how they appear and what they need to improve to be more confident. In addition, if the company decides to let 60 Minutes into the facility, Richard will need to consider what will be displayed and how to prepare employees for the camera presence. Organized Labor The AFL-CIO is lead by David Sickler, who is a past employee at Coors. His exposure of lie detector tests about personal questions and the company’s practice of searching entire departments for suspected drug use gave Coors very negative public attention. The boycott in 1977 demonstrated how far organized labor was willing to go, and how much they could hurt the company. Therefore, Richard needs to focus her attention on how to confront organized labor, and how to publicly address Sickler’s accusations in a way that will regain the company’s credibility. In addition, an effort needs to be made to portray the satisfied portion of the Coors workforce, rather than simply defending negative accusations. Corporate Communications at Coors Finally, the overall problem for Richard is that Coors has practiced nothing but inadequate corporate communications. She needs to rectify the poor relationship with the press, the constant conflict with organized labor, and the lack of public relations. Becoming an open door company may be one solution, but much more needs to be done in terms of media relations. 2. Research Richard Should be Conducting 60 Minutes Should Coors participate in the 60 Minutes story, the first research that Richard should do is on the program, Mike Wallace’s interview style, and Alan Marayne’s production style. These are all critical areas that will affects Coors image on national television, so they need to be prepared to work with the show. She should also be in contact with people from the program to discuss interview style, the information they will be seeking, and what the producers should expect if Coors decides to let them in their facility. Finally, she should look into the impacts of other interviews on 60 Minutes, and analyze how subjects could have better prepared for the stories. Corporate Relations with Organized Labor Since the main reason for Coors’ low sales and negative public image is due to the constant conflict with organized labor, Richard should be researching how other similar companies deal with those issues. Richard cannot control the company’s practices that upset organized labor, but she can work to improve the relationship with organized labor and investigate more effective ways of addressing their concerns without drawing so much publicity to the labor strikes. Since Coors is clearly having difficulties with this relationship, she should look into better ways to deal with this as a communicator. Previous Media Relations at Coors Given the lack of communication efforts that were made by Coors in the past, Richard should closely examine the media relations attempts that were made, and analyze the effects of those relations. This would also be an opportunity to examine the “image building” campaign of 1979, in which company managers were instructed (through training sessions) to confront reporters with charm and humility. It is important to see if this training was effective, and how it could be improved upon or expanded with the ultimate goal of bettering the company’s relationship with the media. Current Conditions of Coors Since one way of building trust with the media is to expose the internal functions of Coors, Richard should conduct research into the specific positive aspects of Coors’ culture. This would include interviews with employees who have had a positive experience with the company, polls and surveys of employee satisfaction that could potentially demonstrate that only a small portion of the population is dissatisfied, and feedback from managers regarding their relationship with employees and what is being done to improve the workplace. 3. Communication Richard Should Emphasize The 60 Minutes Interview Shirley Richard believes that the AFL-CIO is supporting a minority of the Coors workforce, with the majority being satisfied. The satisfaction of the majority of the workforce will be something that the Coors brothers will have to emphasize during their interviews. With the data she has collected from her polls of the Coors company, the brothers will be able to cite a scientific measurement that reinforces their statements about the satisfaction of the Coors workforce. With the Coors brothers participating in this interview, they have a large opportunity to portray themselves as caring humans to a large audience, by using relatable terms and body language. If Richard can instruct the brothers on how best to communicate their sympathies and similarities to the average worker, there will be much less that needs to be said in order for Coors to show that it cares about its employees. Another main speaking point the Coors brothers will have to address during their interview is the hiring policy of the Coors company. Coors has been criticized in the past for using discriminatory hiring techniques that put women and ethnic minorities at a disadvantage. However, in 1972 the Coors company launched a program that would increase the amount of these underrepresented people in the Coors workforce, and as of 1981 the program was still running. Richard must instruct the brothers to stress that Coors hires only on the basis of relevant qualifications, and additionally that the company has realized the disparity of racial and sexual representation within their labor and is using this program to rectify it. One of the philosophies that drives Coors’ relations to worker unions is that with proper management, unions aren’t necessary. This is a belief that would put Coors’ admittedly poor treatment of labor unions in a new light: the company isn’t ignoring the needs of its workers by refusing to cooperate with unions, they are trying to solve disputes and address issues within their own culture. If the Coors brothers stress that the care the Coors company gives to its employees is focused more internally, this would not only explain their abrasion with unions but also why the judgments of organizations like the AFL-CIO are incorrect. These organizations haven’t gotten the inside perspective, and thus haven’t seen the areas that Coors is really directing its accommodations and resources. Circumventing 60 Minutes If the Coors brothers refuse to cooperate with 60 Minutes, the story will still run and their refusal to cooperate will initially put a negative perspective of Coors in the minds of the 60 Minutes viewers. Coors will have to counter this by first communicating everything that has been mentioned in question three through other media: this can include reporters that Coors is confident will tell the story they want to be told, public events where messages can be communicated to a large audience, or advertisements that portray Coors as an employee-friendly corporation. In addition to communicating what was omitted by not appearing in 60 Minutes, the company will also have to explain why the brothers chose not to participate. Bill Coors is a very conservative leader and believes in free business. A respectable decision for a company to make when dealing with interior turmoil is that it can handle its own problems privately without calling unnecessary attention to them, which could delay and exacerbate the problem. This is a view that will have to be communicated should the Coors brothers choose not to sit down with Mike Wallace. The point of this will be to show that Coors is a resolute company that does not compromise on its values of independence and free business, showing that the company was not hiding from anything by refusing to “air its dirty laundry”. With the fact that the majority of the Coors workplace is not dissatisfied already communicated, Richard also has the opportunity to deny the large-scale problem that 60 Minutes believes exists within the company. With no problem to speak of, Richard can communicate that it is in the company’s best interests to avoid allocating resources as precious as the time of its CEOs to issues and propaganda that are not founded in truth. However, Richard should also be careful not to avoid any visible, pressing questions that may have come up during the interview. Anything that the public believes it needs to know about the company should be exposed, and Richard has the opportunity to do this with her own team rather than playing by the rules of investigative journalism. The transparency of Coors is vital to counteract the opinion that Coors is avoiding the interview in order to keep its secrets safe. However, avoiding the interview creates an unnecessary amount of “excuse communication” to be done, and is not the best option. Richard should encourage the Coors brothers to take part in the interview with Mike Wallace. Wallace has a history of in-depth, non-biased reporting that would ameliorate the Coors company of its poor public image if indeed the majority of the workforce is satisfied. The leadership of Coors will also benefit from a more human representation, which is something a live interview can present far more easily than press releases. 4. A Decision on the Interview Shirley Richard: Encourage the Interview With the large amount of credibility and massive viewership that 60 Minutes enjoys, it is the perfect venue for the Coors brothers to begin changing the public image of their company. On top of the positive opportunities that 60 Minutes is providing, Richard must also consider the suspicion that is bound to arise in 60 Minutes viewers and business enthusiasts should the brothers not appear in the show. “No comment” historically has translated into “Yes, we’re doing what we’re accused of, but we don’t have to tell you”. With this approach to media relations, the Coors company will take a potentially beneficial situation and make it detrimental. Not only would the media and its viewers be dissatisfied, but the labor unions and the AFL-CIO will have much more fuel for their rhetoric that Coors does not care about its employees. With a chance to speak freely about the Coors values and employee treatment, the Coors brothers may be able to persuade a large amount of their resentful workforce that they are indeed acting in their best interests. When a new stallion runs through the corral, you can let it trample you or hop up on it and wrassle into your control. 5. Suggestions for improving media relations Coors has struggled in facing the media, and their “no comment” approach does not help. There are several ways Coors can improve media relations. A few of these methods include the division of the Communication Media Branch, researching other companies’ media relations, and anticipating media attention and trends that gain attention. Other methods include a media transparency program, better press relations, and media competency training for CEOs, VPs, and managers. In 1978, John McCarty, the Vice President for corporate public affairs, established a staff of corporate communication officers. The staff was divided into four branches: corporate communication, community affairs, economics affairs, and legislative affairs. This division tackled their media relations problems by working on their image through a campaign in 1979, which targeted minorities, a response to the labor’s accusations against the company. The campaign used the phrase “At Coors, people make the difference”. Another way they dealt with the media was to have Coors executives participate in a training course that aimed to help them overcome their distrust of the media. These are some of the only efforts that have already been made, and taking them a step further and adding new strategies would greatly help Coors’ media relations. Coors should establish a division of communication media, which would include internal and external communications. Internally, the branch would aid executives in meetings and in making decisions that will affect the public. They will help work on the issues that the media has criticized in the past and continue to work towards an open communication workplace so that Coors’ image is not tarnished by complaining employees or unhappy workers. The external communications sector will deal directly with the media about the improvements that Coors has made and address any questions posed by the public. They will help CEOs and managers prepare for interviews as well as conduct the necessary research for these interviews. They will give the executive a short briefing about the reporter conducting the interview, prepare them with a few questions the interviewer may ask, and look into past interviews the reporter has given to better prepare for the interview. Additionally, the employees of the branch will teach executives to keep ideas short and to the point. The next strategy to improve media relations is to anticipate media attention. It’s important to track every publication about Coors. This is because even a short story can set off a series of other articles. If the media pays attention to the ongoing Coors story, then they will continue to find out as much as they can in order to feed the public more information. To monitor this activity, constant research on Coors’ prominence in the news must take place. Coors can look at other companies who received similar amounts of media attention for similar reasons to gain ideas of how to manage their relations with the media. Another strategy Coors can use is to put themselves out in the spotlight. This means sponsoring more events, asking the public for feedback about their product, and being an outgoing and more open company. Annual meetings with the press and tours of the facility would be a good idea for Coors so that skeptical consumers or members of the media can first handedly experience what goes on behind Coors’ doors. If Coors believes that they have nothing to hide and that unions solely tarnish their image, then opening their doors to the public would be a way to become on good terms with the media.
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