Comms teams can smooth personnel transitions

Companies including Wal-Mart, IBM, and, most notably, BP experienced executive shake-ups in recent weeks. These situations require communications teams to make transitions easier through transparency, media relations, and other strategies.

Companies including Wal-Mart, IBM, and, most notably, BP experienced executive shake-ups in recent weeks. These situations require communications teams to make transitions easier through transparency, media relations, and other strategies.

In BP's case, Tony Hayward is stepping down as CEO, to be replaced in October by Robert Dudley. The communications team worked behind the scenes to introduce the media and public to Dudley, who came on board last month to lead the company's response to the oil spill after some high-profile gaffes from Hayward.

Born in Mississippi, Dudley serves as an American-born foil to Hayward and appeases a lot of US critics. Because he had already become more active in communications and advertising, when the time came for Hayward to step down it was natural for Dudley to step up.

BP's communications team worked to build Dudley's profile and introduce him to the media long before the announcement, which happened during the company's earnings conference call on July 26. Having a strategy in place and focusing media relations around Dudley helped make the transition work.

Personnel upheavals are never easy, and may cause concern among employees, investors, and customers. Comms teams can transmit an air of stability, offer transparency, respond to media questions and concerns, and provide context for the changes.

In Wal-Mart's case, where several high-level executives in its apparel division left around the same time, the retailer kept mum about how it may affect the company (declining to speak to PRWeek for an article about the news). Meanwhile, media coverage portrayed the retailer as having a struggling apparel business.

As corporations deal with executive changes, whether they are ordinary moves or the result of a crisis, communications professionals need to play a role in introducing the new executive, providing context and stability, responding to and working with media outlets. When all eyes are on a company, a communications strategy will benefit overall brand and reputation in the long run.

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