Corporate communications directors remain locked out of boardrooms, despite enjoying increasingly close relations with chief executives. And investor relations people still report to finance chiefs, despite the widely accepted need for a more holistic communications approach.
In one of the most comprehensive surveys to date into the role of senior comms executives at FTSE 100 companies, head-hunting firm Watson Helsby has provided a revealing snapshot.
The survey involved 28 of the top 100 comms chiefs and covered everything from changes to their remit to how much they earn.
Directors of corporate affairs (DCAs) and comms directors are the CEO's most trusted and closest advisers - with 80 per cent reporting directly to the chief executive. But just eight out of the 28 surveyed sit on the executive committee.
'I think that is a huge improvement from what it was', says Scottish Power group director of corporate comms Dominic Fry.
Fry, who sits on the board, argues that, with so many decisions affecting corporate reputation, the DCA should be a board-level post. 'I think that (the DCA) has to have a role in shaping policy,' he says. 'If someone comes out and says "implement this" you are going to have problems (without a comms voice on the board).'
Report author Nick Helsby blames the lack of board presence on the 'confidential nature' of the advice the DCA gives to CEOs. He adds that the senior management team can also be suspicious of it.
Helsby says: 'Sometimes (press reports) of CEOs can be quite hostile, so it's important for the CEO to be advised on what to say and how to say it. The advice takes the form of crisis management about what not to do and that remains invisible to others.'
He adds: 'If the DCA is not on the exec, however, it reduces the scope to influence big decisions that could, and mostly do, affect reputation.'
But others take a different view. Emap director of comms Miranda Acland thinks that being on the board can be restrictive. She says: 'You do not have to be on the board to have influence. Very often, the influence that you have is informal.' Acland adds that you can speak 'more freely off the record'.
Whitbread director of corporate affairs David Reed echoes this view.
'A board position is often used as a talisman. I do not want to have a seat on the board, and the main reason is about effectiveness on the job.'
He says his role is to influence shareholders, and that would be made harder by being on the board. Reed, too, cites off-the-record guidance as crucial.
The Watson Helsby survey found that more than 70 per cent of the sample earn more than £150,000, with 27 per cent above the £200,000 mark. This compares poorly with their counterparts in human resources, legal affairs and marketing, who clock up averages in excess of £300,000. Average packages, including salaries, for non-comms directors are reported to be around £584,000.
None of the interviewees were prepared to disclose salaries, but Reed argues that communications chiefs should have reward packages matching their counterparts.
He says: 'The function needs to be rewarded in the same way as members of the group executive. I am on the same incentives schemes as the group executives.'
Corporate governance pressures and new regulations have prompted greater openness with stakeholders, which is set to make the DCA's role tougher still.
Former 3i director of corporate comms Liz Hewitt - who, since the survey, has been seconded to the Government for work on small business growth - says this has already happened. 'The role of the corporate affairs director is clearly changing - particularly because of corporate governance issues - but the profession is maturing,' she adds.
Hewitt says the role has moved from 'organising a few IR meetings and chatting to analysts to a much more structured approach', with active, 'formalised' engagement with shareholders.
Meanwhile, in 57 per cent of cases IR still reports to finance, despite being a key component of reputation management as communications with investors, analysts and media intensifies.
Acland says it is important to have a co-ordinated approach to communications and IR. 'There seems to be a growing move to bring it all together, but it is still causing problems at certain companies,' she adds. 'If the comms director does not understand City advice, it is a problem.
I work closely with the finance director and IR.'
The role of the DCA has been stretched to accommodate more stakeholders, NGOs and active shareholders in front of a hostile media. As one executive comments: 'There is more of everything. And it matters more.'