In the annals of CEO firings, Carol Bartz’s departure from Yahoo ranks right up there for conflict, emotion and great soundbites.
Journalists dance in the street as the colorful quotes mushroom but what are the PR lessons?
Bartz was known for her frank assessments and salty language. Her reaction to being fired via telephone on Tuesday by Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock is reflected in just some of the extensive media coverage:
- Carol Bartz exclusive: Yahoo “f—ed me over” [Fortune]
- Carol Bartz Slams Yahoo’s Board: ‘These People F–ked Me Over’ [Hollywood Reporter]
- DEAR ROY BOSTOCK: Carol Bartz Called You A Doofus And Said You Have No Balls… Is Yahoo Still Going To Pay Her $10 Million? [Business Insider]
- Here’s What Top Yahoo Execs Just Told Employees About Firing The CEO [Business Insider]
- Ousted CEO Carol Bartz: Yahoo ‘F—ed Me Over’ [Reuters]
- Yahoo CEO Bartz fired over the phone, rocky run ends [Reuters]
This is a great study in reputation management, corporate communications and crisis PR.
Bartz could have gone quietly with her $10 million severance but that would have been way out of character.
The kitchen counter experts, reputation management gurus, crisis management nabobs and every PR and image consultant and media trainer are jumping in with conflicting opinions.
Were her comments unbecoming for a CEO? Does her reaction prevent her from being hired as CEO of a significant company in the future? Was her firing justified? What about the way Yahoo fired her? Did her track record meet the expectations of the market? Has she negatively impacted progress for other female executives?
You’ll find an “expert” in every camp on this communications conundrum.
Here are six PR lessons I take away from the story so far:
- Her e-mail to employees was superb internal communications. Honest and straightforward. The kind of leader employees admire.
- Bartz remained consistent in her style and interaction with media. She called it like she saw it. Always a good thing.
- She was proactive. In going on the offensive, she got her opinions on the record first and fastest.
- By contrast, Yahoo was not effective in its response, failing to advise employees first before her email, not shutting off her email access and awkwardly handling the actual firing.
- She could have tempered her remarks the image consultants and reputation managers will argue, wringing their hands. They’re wrong. She’ll be admired by many for pushing back.
- She was available. She didn’t take her money and hide. She stood up and spoke up for what she believes.
The tough questions are coming. After 33 months at the helm, she will need to answer questions about why she failed to turn around Yahoo. The conduct of its board of directors may be part of the answer.
I think she has managed her reputation very well in these early stages but stay tuned. This story ain’t over yet but we certainly know what Carol Bartz thinks!
She won’t be the last CEO to be fired and push back angrily at her former company and board of directors. Think about TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, former HP CEO Mark Hurd, NPR’s CEO Vivian Schuller and Time Warner CEO Jack Griffin.
I’m with business writer Henry Blodget on this one in his article This Huge Brouhaha About Carol Bartz’s “I Got Fired” Email Is Absurd—It Was A Breath Of Fresh Air. Bartz was refreshing and candid compared to so many safe, sanitized and spit-polished CEOs.
In my opinion, this was not bad public relations and yes it was something she said.
Which camp are you in? Your comments are welcome below.
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Photo credit: Hammonton Photography via Flickr
Author: Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach
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