Lace up your gloves, corporate communicators

Communicators' place in the C-suite is more secure than ever. To maintain and bolster that position, PR pros have a lot of boxes to tick.

"Fight. Fight. Fight." That battle cry always excited me when I was a kid. This morning's Gibbs & Soell Global Street Fight rekindled that sentiment. No punches were thrown, but the gathering at which the agency shared findings of its recent study of 2,048 adults conducted by Harris Poll was a worthwhile exercise.

Most CEO decisions present fork-in-the-road scenarios. As the study found, Americans are split as to whether they prefer their corporate leaders be successful risk managers or bold innovators. Solid arguments could be made for either, but the fact 25% of Americans believe senior leaders are weaker today than they were five years ago – and only 8% feel they are stronger than a half-decade ago – underscores the gravity of the choices CEOs make.

On the plus side, more than 50% of Americans note improvement in CEOs' ability to balance short-term needs with future growth plans – a 5% bump from last year. That said, the study also included a subgroup of "opinion elites" who don't give as much credit to corporate leaders. Of those nearly 17,000 influential global respondents, only 39% share the other group's view.

Inasmuch as the CEO's reputation is a crucial factor to that of his or her organization, these findings are a wake-up call to communicators. The public not only scrutinizes corporate leaders' behavior more than ever, it has greater expectations of them – from the goods they produce to the good they do for the world.

"Whether a company's strategy is built on bold innovation or consistent risk management, communicators must ensure their leaders are clearly and credibly articulating the reasons for their chosen paths," notes Robert Fronk, SVP of Nielsen Reputation Management and Public Affairs and one of the event's featured speakers.

The need for PR pros to do the above successfully is accentuated when you consider "being well run" is so closely associated with companies that have good reputations, a point Gibbs & Soell's study affirms. That speaks directly to the CEO's role.

As for the communicator's role, proactivity is key. CEOs can't wait for the next crisis to engage the public. They must be as transparent as possible about their plans and philosophies. They need to recognize what consumers think at any given moment, a mandate created by the 24-7 availability of immediate information. Be on offense, not defense.

Communicators' place in the C-suite is more secure than ever. To maintain and bolster that position, PR pros have a lot of boxes to tick. They must counsel CEOs on the importance of engagement. They need to help strategize how those corporate leaders craft their messages. They have to monitor public sentiment on a second-to-second basis so the CEOs can act accordingly.

All these points underscore the communicator's position as a key member of the CEO's advisory team, particularly in a real-time world in which corporate leaders' each move is immediately visible to everyone. In turn, the communications-led actions those business heads take are similarly out there for all to scrutinize. You're in the middle of the ring, PR pros, and the crowd is watching. Lace those gloves up and keep swinging.

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