Sears looks to steady employee morale as CEO Martinez retires

CHICAGO: With well-regarded chairman, president and CEO Arthur Martinez set to retire at the end of the year, Sears Roebuck & Co. is readying a communications plan designed to maintain employee morale during what will likely be a time of uncertainty and press speculation about possible successors.

CHICAGO: With well-regarded chairman, president and CEO Arthur Martinez set to retire at the end of the year, Sears Roebuck & Co. is readying a communications plan designed to maintain employee morale during what will likely be a time of uncertainty and press speculation about possible successors.

CHICAGO: With well-regarded chairman, president and CEO Arthur

Martinez set to retire at the end of the year, Sears Roebuck & Co. is

readying a communications plan designed to maintain employee morale

during what will likely be a time of uncertainty and press speculation

about possible successors.



The retail giant hadn’t planned to announce Martinez’s retirement until

after scheduled April meetings with analysts and senior company

managers.



But when The Wall Street Journal ran a story March 15 detailing

Martinez’s plan to vacate the throne, Sears decided to make the

announcement that day rather than encourage speculation by delaying the

inevitable.



Sears VP of PR and government affairs Ron Culp put out word that a

statement would be released at noon, giving the company time to tell

managers - a move, Culp said, that was essential to protect employee

morale. The company’s in-house PR team fielded around 50 calls after the

statement was released and set up interviews for Martinez with key

media.



Throughout the process, Sears tried to emphasize accomplishments during

his eight-year tenure rather than dwell on recent problems. Still, Culp

and Martinez offered an interview to The Chicago Tribune, which has been

critical of Sears’ performance in recent months. ’Ultimately, it’s to

your advantage to stay open,’ Culp explained.



While the transition communications plan is still being finalized, Sears

will devote a major part of a planned April meeting to instructing the

company’s top 200 managers about how to better communicate with their

workers about Martinez’s departure and Sears’ future business

prospects.



’’How do we keep the momentum going?’ is a big part of it,’ Culp said,

pointing to recent sales and profit gains. ’Spirit is critical to

continued company success.’



Culp is eager to address a Journal comment that there are no likely

internal candidates to succeed Martinez. That statement, he believes,

could negatively impact employee morale - not to mention the investment

community. Martinez spoke glowingly of three internal candidates during

his first round of press interviews.



The Chicago PR community praised Culp’s plan, but added that the best

thing Sears can do PR-wise is concentrate on the company’s main

communications issue: how to make itself more appealing to younger

consumers.



’From an image standpoint, they really have to do something to bring

that young customer in,’ said Chuck Werle, a senior adviser with

Cushman/Amberg Communications. ’They really need to reconnect with the

customer.’



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