Editorial - Public roles set a CEO precedent

This week sees the publication of the first PR Week/Countrywide Porter Novelli CEO Survey. As the PR industry raises its sights to CEO level and talks about communications input at a policy level, PR Week decided to actually ask CEOs what they thought about the role, value and importance of public relations and reputation management.

This week sees the publication of the first PR Week/Countrywide Porter Novelli CEO Survey. As the PR industry raises its sights to CEO level and talks about communications input at a policy level, PR Week decided to actually ask CEOs what they thought about the role, value and importance of public relations and reputation management.

The survey shows that reputation as a management issue looms large on their radar screens. But exactly what role public relations has to play in managing that reputation appears still to be open to debate.

Considering the increasing focus on accountability and transparency in recent times , the fact that only 64 per cent of CEOs think that PR has grown in importance over the last five years is rather disappointing. Likewise the fact that only 67 per cent of CEOs said that PR was going to gain in importance for the company over the next five years, even if that figure does rise to 85 per cent among larger scale organisations.

But dig a little deeper and what do we find? An ideal world in which the corporate communications specialist is advising on the long term business strategy from his favoured seat on the board? Well in some cases, but certainly not on a broad scale.

According to the majority of the CEOs questioned, PR's increasing importance is still going to be as a marketing tool and to assist product launches - with maintaining profile linked to reputation and management of image coming in a close second.

And when it comes to an external threat to that reputation, who do CEOs turn to for consultancy? Not to their PR adviser, but to their lawyer.

And when it comes to internal communcations challenges who do they turn to? Once again not their PR adviser but an HR consultancy or management consultancy.

Admittedly this is a 'glass is half empty' view of the survey results, and there is a lot of good news in the survey in terms of the undoubted recognition of the importance of communications and reputation management overall. But it also contains a stark warning.

What this survey shows is that many PR practitioners finally have the ear of the CEO, 63 per cent say they brief and deal with their PR consultancy directly. This opportunity needs to be used to broaden the understanding of the abundance of skills that go to make up PR and to finally hammer home the fact that PR is not just about press relations but relations with all publics, be they external or internal.





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