Avon Products Inc. announced on Dec. 13 that it has launched a search for CEO candidates outside the company, ending (eventually) Andrea Jung's 12-year run as its chief executive. Once it settles on a replacement, Jung will step aside as CEO and serve as full-time executive chairman for the beauty products company.
But it will be up to the PR staff to keep all aspects of the transition in a positive light. The Wall Street Journal noted on Dec. 14 that it's unusual for a company to announce it wants a new CEO while the current top executive is still in the job, as it brands the sitting CEO a lame duck. The company, whose stock has fallen 45% so far this year, has been under heavy pressure to make a change at the top following its disastrous third-quarter earning report.
When change at the top occurs, the communications team often runs into the fire, shoring up confidence among the senior executive team, employees at large, shareholders, media and more, says Mike McDougall, APR, managing partner of McDougall Travers Collins.
So what’s the role of the communicator in this particular scenario? “An outgoing executive may still believe that the shots are hers to call,” says McDougall, who notes that dual masters can devolve into dueling masters, with PR pros getting maimed in the middle. “In the interests of keeping public comments at least civil, it’s critical to guide the person who has been displaced. You’ll help them save face and temper a bit of the emotion that comes with the exit."
The decision to search externally for a new chief is a sign to the public—and investors—that Avon is moving in a new direction. The PR team's job would be much easier, though, if the naming of a successor had been part of the Dec. 13 announcement.