What To Do When Branded Employees Leave (or go to Miami)


Last week a top player, someone who had spent seven years developing his name and his skill at one company, decided to leave and take a position playing for another. To make the situation worse, he did it in public. And with his own prime-time special. As an employer, this is pretty much your biggest fear. It’s the reason you’re terrified of social media and letting employees create a personal brand on your dime to begin with. Who wants to house a brand if all they’re going to do is break up with you? On television! However, it’s something you need to face. Because while you can’t escape it, you can leverage it.

As I’ve written before, I’m a really big believer in growing branded employees. I think it makes them more invested in what they’re doing, it creates a stronger social Rolodex for the company to utilize, and it heightens the attention and buzz around the brand. These are all things companies strive to create and they’re done more easily through branded employees. But what do you do when that person leaves? Do you have to rebuild from scratch? How do you handle it so that the brand thrives and you’re not left looking like a petty 14-year old?

Here are some suggestions.

Keep your head (and the bridge)

We’re human. When people voluntarily leave our family, we take it personally. However, that’s no reason to blow up a bridge you can use in the future. When branded employees leave, they’re probably not leaving to go live a quiet life on a farm. They’re going to a competitor, a client or they’re starting a new company under their own name. That means staying on good terms with this person isn’t only good for public relations, it’s also good for business. Check your ego at the door and be as kind to the person during their exit as you were when they were bringing you links, press and buzz. People remember how they were treated when they leave and just because someone has left the brand doesn’t mean you can’t keep them brand-loyal in their new venture.

Humbly acknowledge the loss

When someone who has been important to the company leaves, publicly acknowledge the loss. It makes the employee feel appreciated, helps clients and readers feel reassured, and shows the humanness of your company. Saying nothing or posting an angry letter on your Web site only makes you look cold and gives you another brand disaster to clean up in the morning. Take the time to really acknowledge the contribution this person made to your brand. Send out some tweets wishing them well, write a blog post about their departure, whatever is appropriate to properly honor them. It goes a long way.

Re-highlight a social culture

The companies hit hardest when a branded employee leave are the ones that never created a social culture and, instead, just anointed someone a Community Manager Fairy. This makes moving on difficult because you’ve now lost what was social about your company and have to rebuild on the spot. Hopefully, you’ve already created a culture around being social, but if you haven’t , now is the time to create one and show it off to customers. Doing so will make the transition easier for people and show that you’re still there and still listening even though a part of your team has moved on. Reemphasize how committed you are to staying engaged.

Have someone waiting to step up

While we’d like to think our employees will stick with us forever, the reality says they won’t. And that wasn’t created by social media. Even before someone leaves you should have some idea as to who will take over should the time come. That means you’re anxiously plotting your bloggers departure, but, maybe give of your other employees the opportunity to ‘guest post’ or contribute as a way of trying them out. There should be other people waiting in the wings to take over, should it ever be needed. There’s no rule that says you can’t groom more than one A-lister in your organization. Why not create a team of them?

Give the new person their own space

Our tendency in business to “stick with what works” isn’t always a smart one. No one is truly irreplaceable, but that doesn’t mean they should be cloned either. When I left Bruce Clay, Inc., Virginia Nussey was tasked with taking over the blog. And one reason I think she’s found so much success (outside of simply rocking) is that she’s really made the blog her own. She didn’t pretend to be me, just like I couldn’t pretend be Virginia. We have different voices and you do your brand a great service when you respect your authenticity. Let people be who they are and don’t force the new employee to look, sound, feel like the person who came before them. That’s what people will connect with and why they’ll stick around.

Move on

When a prominent member leaves, do not spend the next six months harking back to how they used to run things and talking about them as if they were dead. They’re not dead. They’re simply a competitor now. Just because they were successful under your umbrella, doesn’t mean that the brand is dead now that they’ve left. Keep your focus on today and what’s happening, both in the industry and in your company. There’s no reason your blog has to turn into a living memorial. It makes everyone feel uncomfortable.

Invite them back when appropriate

Once you’re back in your groove and the brand is strong, it may be appropriate to invite your former employee back to the site to participate in some way. Doing so will allow you to extend goodwill, introduces your brand to their new audience, and gives people the type of nostalgia they so often yearn for. If you’re looking for guest bloggers, help with an ebook or are putting together an interview series, these may all provide good opportunities for you to still take advantage of that person’s brand. However, only use when appropriate. Too much leaning and you just look like a desperate ex-girlfriend.

That’s my rulebook for how to conduct business once a branded employee decides to abandon ship. How have you handled it or how would you?

Your Comments

  • DanielthePoet

    Great post. I think one of the greatest contributions you’ve made to the space is the example you, Outspoken Media, and Bruce Clay have made for how to handle a publicly branded employee moving on.

    However, you had one little stop along the way to Outspoken Media that never gets mentioned anymore. Perhaps the subject for another post? ;)

    • Lisa Barone

      You have to give Bruce Clay, Inc. credit for the way they handled the leaving of a very public employee. I don’t know that anyone in our space had really faced it yet and they did it with complete grace. As I said in the post, people remember how you treated them at the goodbye, and I’ve always been incredibly grateful for that. It definitely helped me to continue to be a very loud supporter of Bruce Clay, Inc.

      There was another stop, however, I don’t think I was there long enough to really make an impact so there’s not much to bring up. :)

      • Marc Elison

        Speaking of another Bruce Clay leavee, it looks like the attitude at Bruce Clay Inc in Simmi Valley, trickled down towards their Antipodeans office as they handled my departure with similar grace and style.
        Thanks Bruce Clay Oz

  • Suzanne Vara


    Great take on the situation of the branded employee leaving the company for Miami. It is almost inevitable that people will leave a company. It is their choice as to where they will work and build not only their personal brand but also the company brand. Your point to h ave someone waiting to step up I think is critical. Yes someone well respected, loved and associated with the company is leaving but they X will be taking over. It addresses the loss but also that the company will continue on.

    Going negative in a situation when a branded employee leaves to me shows that you have no back-up plan, no means of continuing on and also no loyalty to anyone that contributed to your brand. Yes they are going to a competitor but do we immediately disrespect and hate someone who decided to switch jobs?

    As for the open letter, I think he may have been better saying that his account was hacked and it was not really him. Who would ever respect him or want to play for them if this is the way you are treated when you leave? Are you only as good and liked when you are there and your contributions to the industry as a whole useless?

    Love the way you take events and create such fabulous posts around them that relate a regular business.


    • Lisa Barone

      Great comment, Suzanne!

      I agree that reacting nastily really just shows you have no backup plan and that you were more reliant on that one person than perhaps you should have been. By supporting their decision, acknowledging the loss, and then setting someone else up to take over, you help people hold on to their confidence in the brand.

      You’re so right that by writing a letter like that you make people not want to be part of the franchise. When you don’t acknowledge what people do under your name it shows you’re not really that interested in them.

  • Zane DeFazio

    Though Gilbert’s letter was petty and childish, LeBron led fans and the NBA on(you decide who was more childish). He could have made a more graceful/quiet exit from Cleveland, keeping his hometown fans that looked to him as a hero and avoiding the public burnings of his jerseys.

    I wish you followed basketball a little closer and could give us all some insight on what LeBron’s decision will ultimately do to his brand as the self proclaimed “King”.

    • DanielthePoet

      My unsolicited opinion is that he will retain the nickname “King James”, but it will not be spoken with the same reverence or awe. Even WHEN he wins a championship or three, he will be one of the three (or future four) horsemen of the tropical apocalypse and the nickname will be just as pedestrian as “CP3”.

    • Lisa Barone

      Oh, I completely agree. I’ve written in the past on Outspoken Media that I think LeBron James is an egotistical tool and his handling of this situation was disastrous, at best. He burned everyone who loved him and his brand will take a hit.

  • Carol

    This is a great post. Especially remind the customer that while his fave rep has moved on, he bought from the company, not just the rep. The same great service will continue.

    A salesperson is only as good as their support team. SuperRep can’t be a super rep if there isn’t a factory (or whatever) covering his back. All the rapport in the world won’t cover a rep who’s factory doesn’t deliver on time, with nominal defect and back up a warranty.

    • Lisa Barone

      I think using the classic salesmen is a really great example here. Because, not so long ago, it was the company salesman who had the big Rolodex and all the connections. He was the company networker, not the faces that appear on Twitter. And yet when sales people changed jobs, the brand survived. There was a transition to be made, but we didn’t have this belief that the voice/face of the company was gone

  • Gene Dexter

    Or pay them what they’re worth and see them stay with company.

    • Lisa Barone

      In some cases, sure. However, money isn’t the greatest motivator to get someone to stay put. I’d rather be challenged/doing something interesting than become a robot for a higher paycheck.

      • Michelle Robbins

        Agreed – much better to take a pay cut and dig what you do and where you’re at. It’s never good for a company to keep a person who is just there for the money anyway – that person will always have one foot out the door.

        Unrelated, after seeing the tweets but before reading the article, I wondered which SEO/marketer had moved to Miami :-)

  • Carol

    Money isn’t the biggest motivator. I for one, closed my 6 fig agency to move to Central GA, the equivilant of Miami. Neither here nor there– my recent marriage (and savings from a great career) and age– made me decide I want to invest in my marriage.

    People who quote “its’ all about the $$” didn’t read your article, only the headline.

  • Susan Esparza

    We hold little memorial services in Lisa’s memory every six months. It’s true.

    From the other side of the aisle, I think Lisa deserves huge amounts of credit for making her departure from the company graceful and as easy on Bruce Clay, Inc. as possible. I think what companies are really afraid of is that the person who left is going to take that opportunity to turn around and attack their former employer. Lisa was never anything but supportive of her old stomping ground.

  • Gene Dext

    At end of day it is always about the money. This is the reality.

  • netmeg

    You make a lot of sense, but I don’t think most companies are there yet.

    The first time I left a company, I’d been there since I was 15, almost 17 years, and I told the boss I was thinking of moving on. He immediately assumed I was going to the competition (which I eventually did, but I hadn’t even gotten that far at that point) and I was then given half an hour to collect my things and leave the premises, and they eventually fired my mother too.

    Two companies later, I left to start my own company. The boss begged, pleaded and threw money, and when I didn’t change my mind, he turned nasty, and sent around emails to former co-workers and clients that were roughly equivalent to the Cavs owner post (minus the Comic Sans)

    I don’t intend to be in the position of being an employee again (if I can help it) so hopefully I won’t have to go through that again. Nobody wins in that situation.

    And I hope that if I am in the position where an employee leaves for a competitor, that I will have enough confidence in myself and my own company that I won’t freak out – or consider it the worst of personal betrayals – when it happens. I think it would be more worrisome to me that I’d let my own brand rest so completely on someone else than if they left for the competition.

    • Lisa Barone

      If you were an insecure company before social media, you’ll be an insecure company after social media. To their credit, BCI was never that company. I gave them three weeks notice and I was treated like part of the team up until Susan’s brother (then VP of operations. I think he has a fancier title now.) Robert walked me to my car at 5pm on my last day. And he walked me out to give me a hug, not as a security measure. Those are the things employees remember…and the stories they’ll tell about your company after they’re gone. I think employers would be really wise to realize that.

  • Cijo Abraham Mani

    It is not a new thing that employee leave a firm/company to join the competition, join a competitor or even start up a competing venture. There might be a lot of reasons for the decisions and sometimes it is just to stay ahead in the industry and sometimes it to take new challenges. As an employer a person should always know how to treat his/her most talented employee. Trust is often the most important bridge and if any employee feels that company has lost their trust in him/her then there is a high chance that the employee leaves the company at the earliest. Pay check is not the most important thing that employees need from an employer. There are lot more expectations an employee keeps and it do include his career growth and appreciation for the good jobs he has done for the firm/company. If you lack trusting and appreciating your employees then you are make the bridge to grow and you will never know when your employee is on the other part of the bridge. Employers should be wise enough to keep the most talented employee the most satisfied as well.

  • Carol

    It certainly is not all about the money. If that were true, we’d all be dealing drugs. And someone into a job “for just the money” would be a terrible employee. In sales, you are there to find the best possible solution for your client. Not just sell them something for the commission. I have yet to read a book or article on motivating an employee and find $$ at the top of the list.

    • Lisa Barone

      It certainly is not all about the money. If that were true, we’d all be dealing drugs.

      …aaaand now there’s coffee all over my screen. :) Good point.

      • Gene Dext

        I see. So the president of Ford Motor Company is a drug dealer? have you seen his incentive package to woo him away from Boeing? PR is the package aimply a dime bag, as you suggest here?

  • Gene Dexter

    I see. So the president of Ford Motor Company is a drug dealer? Have you seen his incentive package to woo him away from Boeing? Or is the package simply a dime bag, as you suggest here?

  • Carol

    Where do you think I implied the pres of Ford is a drug dealer? Or suggest a suitable comp plan is just a dime bag?

    Of course you have to pay your employees what they are worth. What I am telling you is money isn’t the sole motivator. I expect to make a lot of money– it’s a given. That’s why I only work performance based.

    They better pay him a lot of money– to turn this around is a lot of work. And he should be compensated appropriately. And I bet money wasn’t his only motivator. He took it for reasons that are exactly Maslow’s pyramid of motivation — and at the top– creativity, self esteem, sense of achievement, problem solving, respect of and by others. He’s got it all now, and when he turns it around, even more.

    An employee just in it for the money wouldn’t be a “branded” employee as the original post. Your heart has to be in serving your customers and making your company profitable. Just as the Ford example.

  • Mark

    Lisa, That’s an excellent article and a timely one for me too. Our’s is a small organisation and is faced with normal employee churn as with other organisations. We usually handle them fine. But recently I had to fire a 2 year employee who was guilty of data-theft and passing on confidential info to one of our competitors. In spite of my best try, I could not make his exit graceful. This has been a few days now but I often wonder how to handle it better next time, should a similar situation arise in future. What do you think?

  • Irene Varghese


    Thanks for the post. I’m doing a bit of research about the same and i found what you’ve written pretty sensible and very helpful actually.

    And it IS not all about the money. It’s very important for me that my company trusts me and appreciates my work and that i trust them too. If they don’t do this for me then i find little point in working in an environment like that.Its these ‘supposed’ little things which companies generally overlook which leads to employees leaving.

  • Rita Ashley

    Terrific post which I will share with many of my clients. It brings to mind one of my favorite cliches’: You are judged by the company you keep. And brands do adhere to all your past associations.

    One client just left a GM spot to lead a company as a CEO. The CEO of his former employer, a highly visible industry luminary, sent him a lovely email (and lunch invite) acknowledging years of work and collaboration. He wished him luck and, get this, told him he’d be there for him as he grew in his new role.

    The newly minted CEO carries his brand but part of his brand is ‘formerly GM at xxx.’ And the goodwill communicated by his former CEO adds to both their brands. Word gets out on these gestures.
    Rita Ashley, Career Coach

  • Bharati Ahuja

    Employees working together after a certain period of time become like family members. In fact this applies to even groups and people working in a consortium to acheive a common goal.As everyone has to pu in their best and work towards the joint and individual acheivements.

    Any member leaving the team for whatever reason has to handle the situation keeping in mind that the next company also where this person will be joining will form an opinion about him/her depending on how he quits and what he tweets or post on the social media.With social media everything is open and the social media reflects the true image of the person and the company in the way they handle this.

    It says a lot about the person and the culture of the company too.

    A very well written post.

  • Josh

    The way Lebron left Cleveland was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever witnessed. Just really really poorly played on his part, but get over it already people. It’s done, let him change and become a better person.