May 12, 2016
Priceline CEO ousted amid affair rumors
Priceline CEO Darren Huston resigned last week after an investigation concluded he had, in fact, had an “improper relationship” with an employee. According to media reports, the findings concluded Huston “acted contrary to (Priceline’s) code of conduct and engaged in activities inconsistent with those expected of executives.
No other information about the nature of the relationships was released, but it’s clear Priceline will have some PR ground to make up in the coming weeks. While this is far from the worst thing that could happen to the company, anytime you mix illicit affairs with a change of leadership you can just about guarantee headlines.
Which is exactly why the initial statement about the change offered two important pieces of information:
One, that the other party in the affair was not directly supervised by Huston and thus there would likely be no more executive shakeups. And, two, that the change would not “in any way” impact the company’s operational performance or financial situation.
Crisis in a Major Corporation – Priceline’s Response
The first statement is important because one of the things media does by reflex is ask follow-up, a “what’s next” question. If they can’t get an answer, they will speculate…then they will ask more questions. By saying nobody else was getting moved or would be named, the company – at least initially – headed off some of these questions, making it easier for them to focus on the second point, which is infinitely more important.
Any time there is change at the top of a major corporation, there’s worry, and there’s fear. There’s speculation of “what now” and questions about “what really happened”. By announcing, simply and directly, that nobody else was getting the ax and that nothing done to this point would in any way impact the company, Priceline has settled some of those questions before they can even be asked. Make no mistake, they will be asked, but now the company can say – with conviction and without suspicion – we already answered that question…next?
The final PR bullet fired by the company was the announcement that the interim CEO will be Jeffrey Boyd, a 16-year Priceline employee with over a decade of experience as company president. This communicates that Priceline will be in good hands while the board conducts a thorough and, if necessary, slow and lengthy search for a replacement for Huston.
This bit speaks to stability. More specifically, that the company will not lose anything in this transition. All in all, a well-crafted, simple and direct PR statement that won’t stop questions, but will allow Priceline some measure of control over the narrative going forward.