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Management Transitions: Communications Strategies for a Smooth Changing of the Guard

Companies often prepare for a management transition several years in advance: hiring new talent, shifting roles and responsibilities, and communicating to all constituencies that it’s still business as usual with the new leadership. Other times, leadership transition is less organic and is accomplished through mergers and acquisitions. Either way, communicating the change with an integrated marketing and PR campaign is instrumental for a smooth transition.

A management transition is one of the most significant changes a firm can undergo. Change is typically accompanied by questions and fears, yet presents an opportunity to provide assurance about the future of the firm. An integrated communications plan comprised of essential marketing and PR strategies can help navigate a management transition, strengthening relationships for the company’s new leaders and positioning the company for future growth and work.

At ABX 2017, I joined John R. Allen, III, managing partner at Allen Business Advisors, and Valerie Puchades, CPSM, in presenting on the topic of management transitions. Sponsored by SMPS Boston, this session addressed the different types of management transitions as well as when and how to begin planning for a management transition and tips and tricks for communicating with both internal and external stakeholders. Following are some key points from our presentation:

Communication is key

At some point, every owner leaves his or her business – voluntarily or otherwise. Management can transition to family (from one generation to the next); to key employees; or to an outside third party from a merger or an acquisition. Regardless of the reason for the transition, it is crucial to carefully communicate the reasons why the transition is happening and what can be expected to avoid the risk of negative reactions by helping people visualize the future.

The creation of a robust communications strategy is essential to guarantee you share your message early and often and adequately empower staff with information to engage them in this process. In addition, a management transition offers an impactful way to bolster your firm’s name and promote the ongoing great work.

When company stakeholders shift, convey the news to target audiences, including current, past, and prospective clients; project team partners; vendors; consultants; and prospective staff. Key clients should not read about the merger in the newspaper, so approach them in person to reaffirm that they will be well-served and provide information on how you will meet their needs now and in the future. If someone new will be working with them, bring along that person for an introduction.

To alleviate fears and manage negative impacts, identify three to five key messages that define why the transition is happening and what it will mean for both existing and prospective clients. Key messages woven through all marketing and PR materials reinforce the management transition decision and remind key players what is changing and why it’s good. In addition to sharing the message on social media platforms, a printed announcement card can be very effective at capturing attention in today’s digital age.

Be thorough but succinct in your communications by focusing on the traditional five W’s of who, what, when, where, and why, plus how this transition strengthens your firm and makes you better able to serve clients. By paying attention to hearsay, you can correct any false information with targeted marketing and PR efforts to maintain control of the story.

Essential communications elements

Like thoughtfully organizing a crisis communications team ahead of a crisis, prepare prior to a management transition by assembling a PR and marketing team. Transition planning can take years, so the sooner you can bring a PR and marketing team together the better. Plan as far in advance as possible, and utilize the following PR and marketing tools to share your message:

  • Press release

A press release communicates your message to the press and your target audiences and allows you to accurately represent what is happening and what the process will look like. Key messages should be placed at the beginning – including the five W’s – and followed by a quote from each company or key stakeholder. This is an opportunity to introduce new stakeholders and list the benefits of the transition. Have the press release drafted in advance and give all parties a chance to review so your release is ready to serve as a formal announcement once legal details are finalized.

  • Media outreach

Identify key industry and local business and real estate press contacts that could elevate the firm’s visibility in the AEC and real estate markets and distribute the completed press release, with headshots, to these contacts. To help coordinate interviews with any interested parties, make sure key spokespeople are available and at the ready when you share this with the press. A wire service will expand your reach and increase SEO rankings.

  • Website

Building a new website takes a considerable amount of time, effort, and financial resources. The options include merging two websites to one; maintaining both while building a new one in the background; or phasing one out and keeping the other with updated content. A management transition can be a convenient time to rebrand, so consider crafting new website content, updating team bios, and taking new staff photos for a consistent, refreshed look.

  • Video marketing

According to Syndacast, a video can increase an email’s open rate by 19 percent, and MWP reports that video is the preferred choice over written communications by 59 percent of senior executives. Many people fear spontaneously talking on camera, so compose a script to highlight key messages and showcase your firm’s culture, and then feature both pivotal people (not just the CEO) telling the story of the management transition and clients sharing positive stories about the firm. A professional video can help retain and attract not only clients but also staff, so recognize both your internal and external audiences when developing the material.

  • Social media

Each firm should announce the transition across all social media platforms over a timeframe of a month or two, then jointly determine which accounts will continue after the transition. If necessary, secure new handles and user names. Company LinkedIn pages will also need to be updated and employees provided with instructions for adjusting their personal LinkedIn profiles with approved language.

  • Email marketing

One e-blast from each firm to its database should be sent to announce the transition. Photos, videos, and embedded links to the refreshed website(s) help readers visualize the story as well as increase readership rates.

It takes seven touches to make a connection, so communicate as often as possible and in a variety of mediums. Individual correspondence helps connect with clients – and reconnect with past clients – so interact first with a personal telephone call or meeting. This will make clients feel special, and also serve as a mini client survey to find out what your clients need and want. Ongoing communication reinforces your message. With planning and a careful approach, a smooth management transition is within reach.


Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations, a full-service PR and marketing agency focused on meeting the unique needs of professional services firms. Rhino PR offers customized services based on each individual client’s goals and budget. Susan received the 2016 SMPS Boston Marketing Professional of the Year Award, which honors marketing excellence in the A/E/C industry. Follow her @RhinoPRBoston or visit for more information about how Rhino PR can help you take charge of your PR.

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