Transition at the top and transferability of skills across industries

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Imagine: You're the marketing communications executive at your organization. Your leader— the one you expected to remain at the helm indefinitely—has decided to step down unexpectedly. He or she simply no longer has the drive or the passion to continue in his or her role.

As the voice of the organization, you have to step up, and quickly. First, know that you're not alone. In 2012, the CEOs of Best Buy, Citigroup, Yahoo, Avon, Zynga, AstraZeneca and on and on, all resigned, retired or were forced out. At least in your scenario, the CEO had an occasional "issue," but otherwise enjoyed a rather average tenure. Regardless of the reason for the step down, it's your job to calm the employees, customers and competitors. While employees need to feel there is a true north during the transitional period, customers will need reassurance that the values and direction of the organization will remain consistent.  And, if you don't contain the potential crisis, you could lose customers to your competitors.  

So, what do you do?

Like most marketing communications professionals, you start your work with the outgoing leader. You craft key messages with an eye toward what's appropriate for the internal audience and what can also be targeted at external stakeholders. You formulate a media strategy and review it with the outgoing leader and the selection committee. In today's world, that strategy would involve traditional TV, radio, trade print, national and international dailies, social media (the leader of your organization just started tweeting in December and has a lot of followers), monitoring blogs, and orchestrating the outgoing leader's final press conference.

Of course, this is all set against a backdrop of your own personal angst over whether you can really work with the incoming leader. Can you speak his "language"? Has he already been media trained? Can he "sell"? What changes will he make in strategic direction? And, how will he interact with the team, the employees and the competitors?

All of this probably sounds familiar and most of us have been faced with similar scenarios. 

What if you were doing marketing communications for the Catholic Church right now? In an historical move, there is an early transition of leadership. And while people around the world are focused on the white smoke (fumata bianca) above the Sistine Chapel, it would be a shame to miss the importance of, and parallels with, the marketing communications in this effort. If you were handling marketing communications in this kind of a transition, would it be much different than in our normal B2B world? Would your actions be the same as those outlined above? All of this brings into question the transferability of skills from B2B to B2C, or from one industry to the next. I believe the skills used and techniques deployed by a solid B2B marketing communications professional—as well as the challenges presented in this situation— would port from one scenario into another. 

I have faith that best-of-breed B2B marketing communications professionals would follow the exact same steps that trained and tenured R2F (religious to faithful) marketers would use, and vice versa. The fundamentals of marketing communications amid a transition at the top remain the same—for the good, the bad and everything in between.

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