Kmart Realizes Maybe It Should Try Communicating With Its Own Employees

Image courtesy of Nicholas Eckhart

Last weekend, a story hit the Internet about the current fears of Kmart employees that they’re being asked to move all stock to the sales floor because the company is in slow-motion liquidation. The communications staff at Kmart’s parent company, Sears Holdings, realized that they had to do something when news outlets began sending them questons about the employees’ accounts. Maybe they also needed to communicate a little better with store employees.

In the initial report, employees explained that they had been told to move merchandise to the sales floor, and that each store in the chain had a mysterious “phase” designation that some employees connected to being on track to be closed.

Business Insider had compiled e-mails from employees and chatter on message boards online, and speculated that Kmart might be preparing to shut the entire chain down. After the story went online, news outlets asked Kmart for a response, and they posted one on a company blog denying the reports.

The company’s VP of media relations and corporate communications, whose job is to deal with the media and with communicating with the company’s employees, told PRWeek that the misunderstanding happened “at the store level” and has apparently now been cleared up.

Yet the employees taking their concerns to a blogger indicates that they thought they were being lied to or at least misled by their bosses, and that there was nowhere in the company that they thought they could take these concerns.

“When negative stories come up, we have to remind associates of all the things we’re working on to change the trajectory of the company,” communications VP Braithwaite told PRWeek. Stories about potential problems in stores or secret closure plans “chip away” at employee morale from the outside.

News outlets were happy to parrot the bad news, he pointed out, but no one mentioned the company’s comeback initiatives, which included a relaunch of blue light specials.

Longtime Kmart watchers remember that all of this has happened before, though: they also reportedly brought blue light specials back in 2007. Back in 2010, a “Kmart Renaissance” marketing push in some cities led to customers being accused of fraud, and soured many of them on Kmart at least temporarily. That was supposed to be a relaunch, too.

Sears Holdings focuses on employee comms after Kmart liquidation reports [PRWeek]