The nostalgia world may never be the same after the events from earlier this month. After 88 years, Hostess, the makers of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, is going out of business. According to the story that ran on NBC.com, the CEO blames the unions, which made the decision to go on strike as part of the latest round of labor negotiations. The company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for the past 10 months or so. Last week it was announced that all assets will be liquidated, resulting in about 18,000 employees losing their jobs – certainly an unfortunate turn of events.
When I first read this news story, it struck me as interesting how strong the focus was about the role that the Labor unions played in “bringing down” the company. Since the labor unions would not accept new lower salaries, the only choice CEO Gregory Rayburn had was to shut down the company.
That is one way to tell the story.
Another angle is that the company failed to adjust to the times. Over the past decade or so, eating habits changed – the focus today is on eating healthier foods. Given this trend, it is not surprising that a company such as Hostess began having problems, given its product line. I don’t think anyone will argue that the nutritional value of a Twinkie is not too high … according to info published on Livestrong.com. At 150 calories per Twinkie, it has 4.5 g of fat, 20 mg of calcium, 20 mg of cholesterol and 19 g of sugar, equivalent to almost 5 tsp. Double each of these figures for the typical way this product is sold, as a two pack. Other Hostess products don’t fare much better.
This brings me to my point. When you are crafting a story for the press to cover as a business communications or news announcement, there are many options on how to pitch it. Seldom is there just one story. In this case, perhaps the Hostess CEO and management team sought to blame the unions for the downfall of their iconic institution in order to deflect a different line of questioning – such as what were you doing about new product introductions a decade ago when this trend first became obvious? A few days later, more details began to emerge indicating that maybe there were other issues impacting sales. Clearly their cost structure was not well aligned to revenue. It might be that there is no business model that could work for these products today; however, a story focused on that theme wouldn’t do well to help the company find a new suitor. When faced with these alternative stories, portraying the problem on the unions was probably the best way for them to deflect blame while keeping the door open to a new buyer that believes they can address the labor issue.
When you have a business communication to address, sometimes you get to choose what the lead in story and news will be – more often if you proactively make an announcement or hold a press conference. If this is the case, best to take advantage of this opportunity. Other crisis communications, such as an oil drilling platform explosion and fire, can’t really be modified to give it a good “spin.” Over time, if your story has more to it, then it is most likely that the rest of the story will follow. But, it will be secondary to the original announcement, which might just buy you some time to get through your crisis, should you have to experience this type of announcement.
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.