Danny Rogers: FTSE firms should have comms on board

Should comms professionals sit on the boards of big companies? It's an old debate. And actually it's still very rare for a comms or corporate affairs director to sit on the main board of a PLC.

Danny Rogers: Top level comms directors add real value
Danny Rogers: Top level comms directors add real value

A more realistic aim, however, is for every big firm to feature a comms professional on its executive management committee. This is the case with many well-known corporate affairs directors such as Ian Wright at Diageo or Dominic Fry at Marks & Spencer. And fortunately it is also the case at slightly smaller, but no less important, British organisations, such as Paul Moore at easyJet or Jackie Brock-Doyle at LOCOG.

So it was a surprise that Watson Helsby's latest survey of FTSE 100 firms revealed that only 46 per cent currently do so.

A quarter of FTSE 100 companies don't even employ a formal comms or corporate affairs director, but these now tend to be foreign natural resources firms that have sought a listing in London.

Britain's smarter firms have certainly cottoned on the fact that a comms professional on their executive committee can help prevent reputational crises, by considering the reputational risk in any big decision.

Many that don't have board- level comms experts will feature marketing directors at this level, with PR reporting into them. This can work as long as the marketing director is fully trained and experienced in corporate comms. If not, it is relegating joined-up stakeholder comms to a dangerously low priority.

At PRWeek's inaugural Leaders in Communications conference last week - which featured several FTSE comms directors - there was a consensus that even if prioritising corporate comms may not stop reputational crises occurring, it does create a climate where stakeholders are more likely to forgive you when they do.

This was certainly the case when O2's network went down earlier this year. Smart proactive and reactive comms from its team quickly brought many angry customers back onside.

However, when Barclays' litany of corporate errors emerged in the summer, critics had a field day for weeks, laying into the bank's 'arrogant and cavalier' culture.

This is where top-level comms directors can really add value: by helping foster a culture of transparency, authenticity and personality. It is the absolute precursor to good, strategic, corporate comms.

But equally this must come from the very top: from the chief executive; from the chairman; from the board, which in Britain too often remains light on genuine comms expertise.

Danny Rogers is the editor-in-chief of the Brand Republic Group.

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