Executive Rewind: Does Your Team Know the Company’s Messages?

Inconsistent company messaging through the media can create unnecessary problems for you.

Messages for external audiences have got to be clearly communicated to your internal team, first. Otherwise, you open the door to confusion and spending time clearing it up.

In late 2018, CVS closed on its purchase of AETNA for $69 billion “transform(ing) its 9,700 pharmacy storefronts into community medical hubs for primary care and basic procedures.”

On February 7th, 2020, CVS Chairman David Dorman* was asked on CNBC about the downsizing of his board, and the dismissal of former AETNA CEO Mark Bertolini from the CVS Board. Bertolini had gone public, claiming he had been dumped. Dorman rebutted that:

Note Dorman’s points: it’s typical for the former CEO of the purchased company to serve for a short time on the new owner’s board; shareholders demanded a smaller board, from 16 to 13 members; CVS chose one additional director from AETNA, when the deal required to take just three; and, he said, Bertolini chose to leave.

Five days later, also on CNBC, CVS CEO Larry Merlo** was confronted with the same question about Bertolini and the board:

Merlo should’ve anticipated the question. He seemed uncomfortable and groping for answers. He certainly had plenty of time to prepare. Was there internal message preparation? While he did allude to Dorman’s earlier statement on the downsizing of the board, did he take time to review Dorman’s CNBC appearance five days earlier to make sure he had all the points?

Dorman said the board was being reduced from 16 to 13. Merlo said it was from 15 members. He also said the board has three legacy AETNA members. Dorman said they initially chose four from AETNA. While Dorman denied any controversy, saying Bertolini’s board presence was presumed to be temporary and that Bertolini even planned to leave, Merlo may have left the impression that, indeed, Bertolini’s exit was involuntary.

To avoid any issues with consistent messaging, reconsider your how you prepare and communicate internally. Adopt a process that can be integrated into your communications strategy. Little things can quickly grow into big problems. Having a disinterested third party rehearse you and your team with tough Q&A before you interact with the news media is strongly advised.

*David W. Dorman is an American Telecommunications executive and founding partner of Centerview Capital Technology Partners. Dorman is currently Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of CVS Health Corporation and serves on the boards of PayPal Holdings, Inc., Yum! Brands, Inc. and the Georgia Tech Foundation.
**Merlo began his career at Peoples Drug, and joined CVS Pharmacy in 1990, when Peoples was acquired by CVS. He served as senior vice president of stores (January 1994 to March 1998), Executive Vice President – Stores (March 1998 to January 2007), executive vice president of CVS Caremark (January 2007 to May 2010), president of CVS Pharmacy (January 2007 to January 2010), and chief operating officer (May 2010 to March 2011). He was appointed chief executive officer in 2011.

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