THE BIG PITCH: What should incoming AOL Time Warner CEO RichardParsons' PR strategy be?

CHRIS ATKINS, Partner/director, Ketchum's global practice, New


It was an interesting decision to make Parsons the new CEO. When AOL

first merged with Time Warner, everyone wondered what AOL was going to

do with it. Now, there has been this reversal and Time Warner is in the

driver's seat. The question both companies have never articulated is how

they plan on merging these two powerful franchises and the astonishing

content that Time Warner could provide to the 30 million-plus AOL


Parsons needs to start getting senior counsel to focus on his vision for

the company, however he sees it. He won't have a hard time lining up

major media. Normally, a new CEO takes a couple of months to explore

opportunities before he jumps into the water. However, Parsons has had a

lot of experience at Time Warner and should be able to move into drive

fairly quickly.

By far, the biggest challenge he faces is becoming as intimately

knowledgeable about AOL as he is about Time Warner. After that, he needs

to figure out how to successfully leverage it as a brand.

JAN LEWIN, General Manager, Manning Selvage & Lee, Atlanta

All indications are that Richard Parsons is an extremely savvy

communicator that was chosen because of his ability to facilitate

communications between factions at Time Warner. The problem is that

there seems to be confusion in the media and on Wall Street about why

Gerald Levin made the announcement at this time and in this way. The

first goal should be to look at current perceptions that COO Robert

Pittman is the operator and Parsons is the regulatory guy. Parsons must

define his administration as either business as usual or as a shake-up

that will let the company to move forward into its next phase.

Essentially, Parsons needs to finish telling the story.

He has to step up as a communicator and demonstrate leadership, or he

risks being perceived as a frontman. His communications goals should be

to clarify roles, define the goals, and outline the strategy.

LESLIE GAINES-ROSS, Chief knowledge and research officer,

Burson-Marsteller, New York

He's in an interesting position because, until May, he's a CEO in


During the transition, he should keep a low profile and work on building

relationships with regulators in DC and on Wall Street. In particular,

Parsons should be prepared for meetings with people from the Street

because they will judge him differently than consumers. They want to see

that he understands the business and that he stays on top of the

company. He should also hold town meetings during the next couple of

months. There is a mistaken belief that an insider knows everything, but

it's important that he listens to what people are saying. One of the

most important things is the message of continuity and change. He should

work to maximize confidence and minimize the uncertainty. Parsons should

also be ready to answer questions about what will remain the same and

what will change. And as the new CEO, he needs to start thinking about

his management team. And, he certainly should pay tribute to Gerald

Levin and the legacy that he leaves behind.

TAL WRIGHT, Director of communications, Georgia Power Co., Atlanta

I'd suggest that Parsons design communications goals and strategies

around his business plans. If investor confidence is a business issue,

I'd suggest a strategy with the objective of improving communication

with institutional and/or retail investors. There may also be a need to

support subsidiary marketing efforts, such as promoting AOL or CNN. In

these areas, Parsons could focus on the benefits that the merger of

these companies brings to consumers, viewers, advertisers, and

subscribers. With all of the changes these companies have been through,

he may also have some significant internal communications challenges,

and he may need to set goals to improve employee satisfaction and

morale. If he links his business and communications goals, his company

will be successful, and he won't have to promote himself.

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