Tailored messaging is key to explain exec departures

In recent weeks, a number of companies, including Dell, Orbitz, Tyson Foods, and Borders, have announced the departure of top executives and CEOs.

In recent weeks, a number of companies, including Dell, Orbitz, Tyson Foods, and Borders, have announced the departure of top executives and CEOs. As the economy continues to make positive returns a fading reality for investors, it's likely that more companies will turn to freshening up their management. The job of communicating these changes falls to the PR community, and it's one that requires a strategic mindset.

Some executive departures happen suddenly when someone is fired, while others are part of long-term, well-publicized transitions, like Bill Gates' leadership handover to Steve Ballmer. The communication strategy should match the type of change happening at the company.

If an executive is being forced out after the company has obviously performed poorly, it will help to emphasize the fresh perspective that a new CEO will bring to the company. On the other hand, if it is a long-term, well-liked manager (witness the fixation on Steve Jobs' health) that is leaving, explaining how the incoming management will maintain a sense of stability might be more useful.

Either way, communicators must work to find the right information and the right way to explain their story to stakeholders to meet their end goals. Making materials like a timeline, bios and start dates, and interviews available to reporters will help get the message out; a conference call for investors to introduce the new leadership might also be necessary.

In all instances, though, the announcements should focus on the future of the company, not the past, so putting the incoming executive in front of the coverage will work to drive press coverage that explains that future. It will also help to move the conversation onward so the management changes don't outshine other news at the company.

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