During the first nine months of 2014, 45 companies from the Standard & Poor’s 500 replaced their CEOs. Recently, American Apparel and McDonald’s announced leadership changes.
As the average CEO tenure shrinks, executing succession communications should be a core competency for CCOs. Ideally, communications planning, in collaboration with the board, the head of HR, and the general counsel, starts a year or more before announcing a new CEO. There is a specific methodology to creating a before, during, and after strategy for change at the top.
Naming an internal candidate speaks to the stability of the company’s current plans and financials, so try to link the incoming CEO with successful strategies, but add their own priorities and vision. If the organization is in crisis, an external candidate should be a positive, so develop messaging that supports this approach.
Beyond getting a new CEO ready is the chance to help them understand that the company itself is under intense scrutiny from stakeholders. The interplay of corporate character, reputation and values, and their impact on the business, needs to be a primary focus.
Speed, transparency, and globalization continue to be key factors in staying ahead of comms trends. Data security, for example, once the purview of the CIO, is something the CEO must worry about. The day of controlled messaging is dead. Chief executives need to see social media as a legitimate comms channel. Because of it, and the increasing empowerment of all audiences, listening and engaging are crucial for staff, customers, journalists, nonprofits, regulators, and investors. Be ready with a social strategy fitting your company’s culture and CEO’s style.
Develop a comprehensive audience list with data/intelligence on the current state and attitudes of each. For a new CEO, it’s best to start with employee communications, and with other key stakeholders, specifically customers and investors. And don’t overexpose a new chief executive with media.
Senior leaders often see communications as a way to fight back when the press writes negative stories. PR pros can help new CEOs see the opportunity for communications to be more proactive, and help build engagement across all audiences.
Valerie Di Maria is principal of The 10 Company.