How Michal Halperin could have managed the unveiling of her resignation differently. Cut out and keep
The desire for an iconic victory image that will help frame a battle exists also for public figures when it comes to planning their closing speech, which defines the historic memory of their term of office.
It looks as though Adv. Michal Halperin, Head of the Competition Authority (formerly the Antitrust Authority) failed at the task.
The resignation announcement stated that Competition Commissioner Adv. Michal Halperin would be stepping down six months before the planned date. The decision was explained by her wish to devote herself to academic endeavors.
If the timing and manner were intended to get the news of her decision across quietly, it was not a resounding victory. Reactions to her departure took the form of recaps and commentaries on her term of office, in which Halperin was harshly criticized. If one were to sum up the many words written about her in just a few sentences, the main message was this: Halperin reached the position from the big business camp, those same big businesses that are meant to be overseen by the Competition Authority – and apparently, that was where she stayed. The work method she applied was relatively unusual compared to the accepted practice in regulatory agencies in Israel, and this is more or less the gist of it: you will oversee yourselves, and I will impose sanctions on you if I find out that you haven’t done so according to my guidelines. Her departure, columnists grumbled, is a sad day for powerful entities that no one really restrained.
It should be borne in mind that Halperin did not assume office brandishing a whip and threatening to confront monopolies. She did what she did the way that she did it because that is the way she believes in. And still, it is hard to believe that someone would want to quit after several years of work, accompanied by a vociferous chorus of boos from the relevant professional media. So, if Adv. Halperin were interested in managing her departure differently, what tools did she have at her disposal? What could she have done so that not only would her image not be tarnished, but would have emerged the stronger?
- Planning and strategy. Resignation of this kind must be planned. Understanding the media position is mandatory; to put it plainly, you must prepare for the step in terms of intelligence. How am I perceived in the media? What kind of resignation story do I want to tell, considering the prior media perception? Who will attack me? Where do I have a chance of being let off lightly? What preliminary actions can be taken in view of my upcoming departure, the actions that will serve the story I want to tell? What is the work plan that will anchor the public reputation of my term of office?
- Preparation. Preliminary talks with the relevant target audience (the business press), without revealing your intention to resign. It’s important to hold a round of meetings with editorial boards, i.e. to meet with groups of senior journalists from a series of media outlets. These meetings have known, traditional codes of conduct that editorial boards like to comply with: they announce that everything is off the record so that the guest can speak freely, and nothing he doesn’t want out there is leaked. Later on, the headline that will be published can be mutually decided on, as well as to whom it will be attributed. Even if these meetings are attended by people who aren’t supposed to write a single word about you themselves – for example, editors or reporters from spheres that have nothing to do with your occupation – you can only gain from them. The personal, up-close encounter makes an impression on the press. Good or bad? You’re the one who’s running the show, and you need to prepare for it. If the impression is good, something of what the interviewee conveys in his messages will be retained by the editors and reporters. A small voice that says, “Hey, he/she/they aren’t so bad after all”, will remain in the back of their minds. A similar round can take place in different conditions, in meetings with professionally relevant journalists. The atmosphere of a one-on-one interview allows the interviewee to go deeper and to communicate complex messages. As always in these situations, you will need to decide between an exclusive interview (in which case you’ll get headlines that are more dramatic and a broader scope – but will draw fire from the competition) and a round of interviews for everyone (here, the chance of drawing fire is smaller, but coverage will be less dramatic), and participating in conferences is also an option.
In each option, you will need to meet with news-economic content creators, and it is imperative to do so after you have created a “data file” that is consistent with your image. They confront you with the statement that during your time, you fostered an aggressive monopoly that prevented rival stores from gaining access to malls? So you come with a pre-prepared slide that shows that the situation has improved compared to your predecessor’s time. They accuse you of being weak? Okay then, I shall provide you with relevant data which proves that during my term, the strongest and biggest players in the market were imposed heavier-than-ever fines.
- Tactics. Do what needs to be done in advance, and come armed to meet the storm head on. Halperin is a key player and is powerful enough to make a lot of public noise surrounding the decisions she makes, reforms she announces, etc. Halperin did none of this before announcing her resignation. How does it work? If the resignation is expected to be accompanied by criticism that you are weak and insipid, then plan and drive one or two opposing moves. For example, delay a big merger. Also, getting a stamp of approval from an outside party is an essential move in your basket of tactics. This could be a professional on the same level – the director-general of a government authority, a cabinet minister, a senior executive in a supervised entity, who will talk about how tough you made things for them – but it certainly could also be an international figure who will acknowledge you as the end of your term draws near (for example, your participation in an international conference where a prize is awarded).
- The announcement itself must not be laconic, as it was in this case, but must be made in a series of on-the-record interviews (it can even be moderately aggressive).
- The victory snapshot. Even if it wouldn’t have been perfect as far as Halperin is concerned, she could have received mixed coverage, “on the one hand… and on the other”, meaning, there are two sides to every coin. This could have prevented the walk of shame that the economic press forced upon the departing commissioner. And that’s a shame.
(Credits: Tomer Jakobson | CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61808677)