3 ways to calm the PR storm after an executive departs – Info PR
A crisis can quickly befall any organization, especially if an executive
slips up or announces a resignation.
Papa John’s PR team has been scrambling
in the wake of its former chief executive and founder
leaving (after using a racial slur).
Elon Musk has been both championed and criticized
for his bold tweets,
which has affected both his organizations, SpaceX and Tesla. Starbucks is
saying goodbye to its chief of nearly 40 years, Howard Schultz—and
Uber is still facing pressure, even after former Expedia chief Dara Khosrowshahi took over
after the startup ousted its co-founder and former chief, Travis Kalanick.
Here are three ways you can quickly and effectively communicate an
executive’s departure or another leadership-level crisis—and keep your
organization’s reputation intact:
1. Align your messages and create a consistent brand voice.
Your PR and marketing campaigns aren’t the only communications measures
that must be clear, crisp and unified with your brand’s tone and voice.
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“It’s crucial that the messaging being communicated to all audiences is
uniform,” says Jill Davison, vice president of corporate and brand
communications for Meredith Corporation. “It’s
particularly critical that both parties are clear and agree on how they’re
communicating the employee’s departure.”
Jamie Izaks, president of All Points Public Relations, agrees
and says keeping a consistent response is important.
“[T]he company as a whole should be on the same page regarding its stance
internally,” Izaks says.
Internal communications is just as important during these times as external
communications. Rachel Miller, director of All Things IC, says effective
internal communications strategies help make “clear, consistent and
accurate” messages possible.
… You should have effective channels in place, line managers should
understand their role in sharing information and aiding the flow of
communication and everyone should be looking to amplify employees’ voices.
If you have a robust structure in place for your internal communication
channels, you can deal with whatever gets thrown at you.
“No one likes to be caught off guard in a position how to manage
conversations for which they don’t know how to manage effectively,” says
Tim Gibbon, founder and director of Elemental Communications.
2. Keep employees in the loop.
Many communicators worry about communicating effectively to journalists,
investors and consumers when an executive does or says something that
brings backlash to the organization.
However, you shouldn’t forget your staff when sharing news of a resignation
or firing—or handling another sticky situation.
[A] senior executive who works with the impacted employee’s team should
communicate the news and, if appropriate, have the impacted employee
present and say a few words. Immediately after the team is notified,
distribute an internal announcement to the rest of the employee base (if
applicable) that reinforces what was communicated verbally to the team.
Izaks suggests first discussing an executive’s departure with senior
employees, then taking it to the affected team or department. After meeting
with senior leaders, some PR pros might move to communicate the change to
the entire office, “depending on the office culture and size.”
In-person communications versus email is always a better way to go when it
comes to communicating this type of change so that all involved can sense
the tone of the communications being conveyed.
“No employee wants to learn about a senior level departure—or anything, for
that matter—in the press before being informed first via an internal
message from their CEO,” says Davison.
By seamlessly communicating tough news, you can not only mitigate a bigger
crisis—you can also set up your employees for a positive environment moving
“A change of leadership often leads to a change of company culture,” Miller
says. “Setting the tone for their exit is as important as planning an
entrance strategy for a new leader.”
Don’t wait until a leader is negatively affecting your organization’s
culture to have discussions with your employees. Just as good crisis
communications follow a plan that has been established long before an
incident occurs, change management and communications should start before
you’re forced to relay bad news or correct a problem.
Gathering employees in ongoing town hall meetings is the best tactic —
these forums provide access for employees to ask the company’s C-Suite
questions and gives them the chance to be heard. Nothing beats in-person
Continue proactive communications before a crisis such an executive leaving
happens. Izaks says:
… [I]n anticipation of a departing executive, the most critical component
of the communication is to have an action plan in place, because your team
is going to want to know how this impacts them — what opportunities does it
present and what challenges does it offer.
Izaks advises communicators to address who is assuming the former
executive’s duties, how documents and tasks will be handed off and how much
time (if any) the person will spend with the organization before leaving.
3. Foster trust through listening and transparent communications.
A big part of effectively handling a leadership crisis is taking steps to
rebuild trust. Start this immediately by being transparent in your
communications from the start—and listen to your employees as well as
These practices, like all good preventative communications, should be
enacted long before an executive departs.
Building trust and creating a transparent environment starts with the CEO.
The CEO should inform employees regularly and articulate the organization’s
vision and strategy clearly — clear enough that employees are able to
articulate that vision and strategy.
Davison says that your chief executive officer walking the halls of your
office, attending informal team meetings or even eating at the
organization’s cafeteria can also establish open dialogue and foster a
culture where employees are in the know—and interfacing with your
Relationships are also paramount when it comes to interacting with the
leader who is causing your reputational woes.
Miller says the most effective way to handle outspoken executives is
focusing on building strong relationships where you can communicate the
consequences of their words and actions, whether that comes with negative
headlines or a decreased stock price.
“When you have a strong, visible leader, particularly a founder, one cannot
separate the two when it comes to reputation,” Miller says. “Their actions
impact the company and their personal brand.”
Whatever you do, don’t leave your communications plans until the crisis is
in full swing.
Waiting for a situation to occur then trying to deal with fallout is a
recipe for disaster. Organizations need to be equipped beforehand and know
how to manage communications, not only when things are going great, but for
when issues arise and that require a different type of management.
Article Prepared by Ollala Corp