Balancing executives' wants and needs a key to comms

What do CEOs want from top communicators? Besides finding the perfect communications metric, knowing and delivering on the answer is the holy grail of the profession.

What do CEOs want from top communicators? Besides finding the perfect communications metric, knowing and delivering on the answer is the holy grail of the profession. Recently, the Arthur Page Society added fresh insight by conducting research to assess CEO perceptions and expectations. What they found is valuable. More can be added to the story.

According to the Page Society report, CEOs want communications executives who are business-savvy; proficient in reactive, proactive, and interactive communications; and who are compelling team players. The ideal communications chief also has a crystal ball. Changing demands of the marketplace and heightened expectations from the public and employees make the role more valuable to CEOs than ever.

This is fantastic news for the PR industry, of course. It means moving further from the back of the leadership pack, where the fight is for scraps and relevance, to being on the frontline where the action is heavy and the fight is waged with real bullets.

Being knowledgeable about the business and our craft, being solutions-oriented, and playing well in the sandbox are vital traits for successful communications leaders. But what about those further down the line? These traits are necessary for them, too.

The industrial age is over. Very few professions call for pure functionary work. PR people no longer move up the ladder by just practicing great media relations, crafting exceptional employee communications, or only excelling at tasks. The differentiating factor for lead communicators is delivering on what the C-suite wants and on what they need.

The answer to the need question is tricky. It's why there are numerous parables on being careful about what you ask for. Needs are spinach; wants are candy. That, too, is only part of the story. Responding to needs requires digging deeper to understand true underlying causes. It's a bit of Svengali ,with a little Tom Hagen from "The Godfather" movies mixed it. It means not taking simple stances like the captain in "Cool Hand Luke," whose diagnosis of anarchy was "what we have here is a failure to communicate."

Meeting needs can be more powerful than satisfying wants. Organizations need to be better corporate citizens. CEOs need to develop key relationships with people at all levels within and without the company. Leaders need to understand that the industrial age has ended for the communications world, too. Neither the medium nor the message can be tightly controlled.

The opportunity for communicators is greater responsibility. Communicators are expected to think deeply, creatively, and in the framework of business solutions.
Sometimes the answers are communications-based. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes the root cause of an issue is what those in the C-suite acknowledge. Sometimes, like in "Cool Hand Luke," it is not. In any event, the real work for lead communicators is driving towards that sweet spot where both wants and needs converge.

Lisa Davis is VP of corporate communications at AstraZeneca. Each month, she looks at a different aspect of counseling senior management from an in-house viewpoint. If you have any comments or suggestions, e-mail her at lisa.davis@prweek.com .

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