EDITORIAL: Hiring of familiar faces for top comms posts signals PR's rising relevance in eyes of CEOs

Last week, we broke the story of Merrill Lynch's search for a new PR chief, in advance of Paul Critchlow's planned retirement. Given the brokerage's image and regulatory problems, and the executive-level changes made by the new CEO Stanley O'Neal (changes that were further highlighted in last week's Sunday edition of The New York Times), some speculated that Critchlow might be on the wrong side of a housecleaning.

Last week, we broke the story of Merrill Lynch's search for a new PR chief, in advance of Paul Critchlow's planned retirement. Given the brokerage's image and regulatory problems, and the executive-level changes made by the new CEO Stanley O'Neal (changes that were further highlighted in last week's Sunday edition of The New York Times), some speculated that Critchlow might be on the wrong side of a housecleaning.

Though it appears that isn't the case, the circumstances reminded us of the numerous examples that have emerged over the past year of new CEOs who tapped former communications managers to help them usher in new clarity and strategy at a beleaguered company. O'Neal was promoted internally to CEO, but others who came in from the outside were quick to bring along trusted executives, and not just from the financial ranks. Dick Notebaert, Qwest's newly-minted CEO and former CEO of Ameritech, hired Joan Walker, his former colleague, as SVP of corporate communications following Michael Tarpey's retirement. At the time, he brought only two other executives with him, a CFO and VP of policy. Walker had left Ameritech for Pharmacia, but she was drawn to the challenge. "The opportunity to be part of a proven management team with an exceptional leader was very compelling," she told PRWeek. Walker also reports directly to Notebaert, which speaks volumes about how important her role is considered to be. Another example is United, where former ChevronTexaco CEO Glenn Tilton brought on Rosemary Moore, that company's PR chief, to head up the troubled airline's public affairs operation. She replaced John Kiker, who had left the company for a job at Edelman. Moore also reports directly to Tilton, and, in words that echo Walker's, told the reporter she was excited by the "challenge." The fact that these two PR chiefs were asked to join these teams says a great deal about their ability. But it says even more about the CEOs, whose commitment to communications must be significant and real, otherwise they would not find it easy to rehire PR practitioners of that caliber. Corporate survey calls for reader input We eagerly await results of the PRWeek/Biz360 Corporate Survey, which is now underway. There is a great hunger for information in the PR community, especially from the corporate perspective. Agencies obviously want to know what their clients are thinking, and they always will, but we have also seen a substantial shift in the kinds of questions that we are getting from corporate practitioners, many pertaining to how other companies run their communications departments. Top of mind are such topics as: What are best practices for structuring a team? How are companies measuring PR programs? How are budgets allocated, both within the PR departments and throughout the marketing mix? Are companies continuing to retain external agencies, or are they focusing budgets in-house? This data will help us answer some of those questions, and assist us in developing features and analyses that will advance the industry's knowledge. To take the survey, go online to www.cyberpulse. com/corp. To request a hard copy of the survey, send an e-mail to letters@prweek.com.

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