Announcing a change in C‑level leadership is so much more than publishing a quick tweet or blog post – especially when it’s the CEO of one of the nation’s largest hunger relief organizations. We worked with Second Harvest Heartland for the past six-plus months to develop a plan that launched in June when Rob Zeaske announced his personal decision to end his 10-year tenure by the end of 2018 and extended into early 2019 when Allison O’Toole was named the organization’s next CEO.
Social media and your organization’s blog are extremely useful platforms, but it’s important to remember that they should be smaller parts of a more comprehensive strategic process. We collaborated throughout each stage, strategizing with the internal Second Harvest Heartland team about everything from an announcement timeline to key messages to media relations, ensuring all was in place for things to go as smoothly as possible during this change.
“A smart, carefully designed, minute-by-minute game plan was critical to the successful rollout of our new leader,” said Elizabeth Cooper, Second Harvest Heartland’s director of communications and media relations. “It meant the difference between an exciting go week and a frantic go week, and the Bellmont team was our close partner every step of the way.”
If you’re planning an announcement or transition, here are three tips to keep in mind, no matter how large or small the news:
- Prioritize clear communication every step of the way. Making sure everyone has all the necessary information is key for a successful announcement. The primary thing that contributed to the success of this CEO transition was the clear client-agency communication we had throughout. For the Zeaske announcement, our team was embedded at the Second Harvest Heartland office to help the team respond in real time. For the O’Toole announcement, she worked from our office, which made scheduling and completing four media interviews – Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal and Twin Cities Business – within an hour of the announcement a seamless process. Along those lines, every audience received clear, consistent and timely communication by implementing key messages into emails, social media posts, news releases and blog posts.
- Focus on empathy for every audience. Much of what makes a great public relations practitioner is the ability to empathize with various audiences. In this specific instance, we knew first and foremost that Second Harvest Heartland’s internal audiences – specifically employees and donors – deserved to hear the news first and in a personal way. We helped plan for Zeaske to share his news in meetings with everyone from drivers to warehouse staff to executives and make as many personal calls to partners and major donors as possible before media was informed. The same was the case with the announcement of O’Toole.
- Remain flexible within the plan. Plans are important, but looking at them as guiding roadmaps rather than set-in-stone agendas helps everyone stay nimble throughout the process. This ties back to the above points, because channeling empathy helps you anticipate and plan for multiple scenarios ahead of time, and clear communication allows for bobbing and weaving as needed.
We’re honored to have worked with Second Harvest Heartland under Zeaske’s inspiring leadership, and we’re thrilled to continue sharing the impactful stories of this organization and the work its team does with O’Toole at the helm.