The Role of Communications ...


So many NFL coaches got axed this week with no successor in the wings.

Apparently, succession planning doesn’t work in professional football.

But public companies and even some private enterprises strive to have a succession plan.

What happens if the CEO gets hit by the proverbial bus? (Just writing that line has me now looking both ways before I cross.)

Ideally, companies orchestrate an orderly transition between the current CEO and the new guy.

Does communications have a role in this transition?


In the orderly transition scenario, a company will typically announce the successor looking out 12 to 24 months. This runway offers an opportunity for the communications function (internal and/or agency) to increase the public profile of the CEO in waiting.

You want the new guy to look the part when he or she officially takes the reins.

The higher public profile through media coverage can precondition the market toward this end or, at the very least, act as a form of foreshadowing.

You can see how this played out for Steve Ballmer at Microsoft.steve ballmer media coverage

The fact that his media coverage increased by an order of magnitude over a two-year period before the official anointment on January 14, 2000 was not a coincidence.

What about Apple?

Everyone wonders about the day when Steve Jobs steps down. Many think that the gig-to-be is between Tim Cook and Phil Schiller.

You can see the media visibility over past four years for both ceo coverage

This coverage seems to say a couple things.

First, the Apple board has yet to decide on a successor or wants to consider external candidates.

Two, the media thinks both men are in the hunt given how both profiles spiked in 2009 when Jobs underwent a liver transplant.

Given Apple’s maniacal determination to control this particular story, I doubt if media coverage trends will tip off the decision.

Update (August 24, 2011)

The news is now official.

Apple’s Board accepted Mr. Jobs resignation this afternoon and named Time Cook as the company’s new CEO.

Most expected the succession for Apple’s captain to play out this way and the data we shared back in January certainly showed Cook as one of two leading candidates.

In retrospect, a Fortune profile on Cook back in 2008 titled, “The Genius Behind Steve” implied the Board was already leaning his way.

Now comes the fun part-

Filling Steve’s shoes.

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