What Happens When Your Thought Leader Leaves?

If you’ve ever spoken to someone from Propllr or read our blog, you know that we’re big fans of thought leadership. It’s a great way to win media placements, connect with blog readers, and build credibility and awareness for your startup.

But what happens when one of your star thought leaders leaves the company?

Their byline is all over your blog, your media placements, and maybe your podcast and other internal assets. And now they’re leaving your startup for another opportunity.

First of all, don’t panic. This happens all the time in the startup world.

Second of all, take a look at the rest of this post, in which I’ll offer some next steps, which come from our experience working with clients whose thought leaders have left. I’ll offer tips for both blog bylines and media placements.

Let’s get into it!

Step 1: Don’t Worry – Thought Leaders Leave All the Time

Truly. Don’t sweat this.

In the US workforce as a whole, people keep jobs for an average of about 4.2 years, but for startups, average tenure is just two years (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Average US employment tenure, overall vs. startups

Admittedly, people are more likely to leave early in their career and your thought leaders are probably not early-career professionals… but still. This is the startup world, and there’s an understanding that employment relationships don’t last forever.

Okay. Wanted to get that reality-check stat out there. Now let’s get into what to do when a thought leader leaves.

Step 2: Consider the Strategy behind the Blog Byline

Knowing what to do when a thought leader leaves depends on what you hoped your blog would achieve in the first place.

For example, if you wanted to…

  • Create sales enablement assets and you had a salesperson’s byline on the post, change the byline to another salesperson.
  • Build credibility for people on your team other than your top-level employees (this is part of our strategy at Propllr). Don’t change anything! Leave the byline as is. Let your former employee keep that brand equity. Your relationship with that person can and should last beyond their employment at your startup; keeping their byline on your blog is one way to show goodwill, which can help you in countless ways down the road.
  • Build credibility for your brand by tapping into the credibility the thought leader has in your space… well, that one’s trickier. Having them at your company made the clear case that you were a force to reckon with in the space. Now that they’ve left, what message does that send? It depends. Assuming they leave on good terms, though, I say leave the byline as is. Again: people move around in the startup world.

So now that you’ve either updated or not updated the bylines of the person who’s departed, it’s time to make another update.

Step 3: Update Bios on Your Site as Necessary

If you’re going to leave your thought leader’s byline on your blog after they leave, update their blog bio to reflect that they no longer work for you (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Jules’s bio. We miss you, Jules!

This helps build your credibility in three key ways:

  1. It shows that your website is up to date, which means visitors can trust what’s on it elsewhere.
  2. It establishes that you’re transparent. Transparency in one area signals that you’re transparent in others – like when you list the benefits of your product or service.
  3. It communicates a healthy work culture. Communicating openly about when people come and go signals that you maintain healthy boundaries with employees – which signals that other things about your brand are also healthy.

Step 4: Adjust Your PR Efforts as Needed

When a thought leader you’ve been using to earn media coverage for your startup leaves, the most important first move is communication.

If you’re working with a PR agency, let them know ASAP that the thought leader has left. This lets them…

  • Stop any future pitches featuring that thought leader from going out the door.
  • Adjust their strategy to account for the thought leader’s departure.
  • Communicate with editors about any pieces with the thought leader’s byline that are awaiting publication. In some cases, an editor might be okay with changing the byline. In others, they won’t – and that’s okay. The key is to give your PR team enough time to communicate with their media contacts in a way that lets them maintain good relationships.

As for existing placements that quote the thought leader or that have the thought leader’s byline, don’t worry about them. Again, this is life. People move on. All is good.

Step 5: Don’t Circle the Wagons

Look, I get it. When something goes wrong, it’s natural to try to figure out how to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

In the case of thought leader departures, though, I’d advise against it.

That is, my advice is to not limit thought leaders to only those people who you think will be around forever. Why? A few reasons:

  1. Nobody will be around forever.
  2. Again (for those in the back), it’s really normal for people to leave a startup. Acting like it’s not normal could actually signal that your culture is problematic in some way.
  3. You’ll miss out on the benefits of using multiple people’s bylines.

And those benefits can be significant: on the PR side, the more thought leaders you have in rotation, the higher the odds that one of them has the expertise a reporter needs for their next story. In other words, more thought leaders = more opportunities for media placements.

On the content side, you build credibility for your brand. Most of us know that CEOs don’t have time to maintain company blogs. So seeing the byline of someone besides the CEO gives you that extra boost of “realness.”

We also know that companies don’t write blogs. So having any human byline removes a level of artifice that most of us can’t afford. I mean, if your blog author is fake, what else about your startup is fake (blog readers will be thinking or subconsciously intuiting)?

Finally, if you decide that only the CEO or founder gets to have bylines (or quotes in media placements), you’ll make a nice little bottleneck for yourself.

Keep your content and PR programs moving! Let other people be experts!

What if a Thought Leader Leaves… in Disgrace?

Great question.

Honestly, this one needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis, ideally with input from people who have experience in this sort of thing. So: not me. But I wanted to acknowledge that this happens sometimes.

More Like Thought LEAVER, Am I Right?

No, I am not right. I am just tired.

But those are the kinds of headings you might get when you let people other than your founder and CEO act as thought leaders.

And heck, maybe – maybe – the person writing that headline (me) was taking a calculated risk (I was) that a little dose of humor would connect with a reader or two, you know? Because we’re all just people out here, trying to get through the day.

On that note: good luck, dear reader, getting through your day. If it involves a thought leader departing your startup, let me say again: try not to worry too much. If you are worried, shoot me a note (brenna [at] propllr [dot] com). I’d be happy to talk through how to deal with it.

Photo credit: monicore, via Pexels