Editorial: A wake-up call to chief executives

Two surveys from opposite sides of the Atlantic this week show what business leaders really think of PR. The most striking thing about the results is their similarity.

Two surveys from opposite sides of the Atlantic this week show what

business leaders really think of PR. The most striking thing about the

results is their similarity.



The US study polled top communications executives in 700 leading

companies, while the PRCA’s UK survey quizzed 97 chief executives. Both

overwhelmingly showed that companies viewed corporate reputation as

important, and the UK study showed that business leaders took a personal

interest in the reputation of their organisations.



No real surprises there. It is simple common sense that it is better to

have a good reputation than to have a bad one. Likewise there cannot be

a single business leader who did not witness the public crucifixion of

former British Gas chief Cedric Brown and reflect on the importance of

taking a personal interest in handling reputation.



It is also obvious that companies with good reputations are more

successful than those with poor ones. A quick glance at the Management

Today ’Most Admired Companies’ survey reveals that 29 of the top 30 in

the list saw their share prices rise by 100 per cent over five years,

against an equivalent FTSE 100 performance of just 52 per cent over the

same period.



The more relevant question for the public relations business is whether

business leaders understand how a good reputation is won and

maintained.



Just as good financial management makes for healthy accounts, it is

self-evident that businesses which are well managed, produce value for

customers and shareholders, and have motivated staff will stand a better

chance of having a good reputation than those that don’t.



So far, so obvious. But why is it that so many companies seem blind to

the possibility of managing reputation in the same way that one manages

any other key aspect of company performance? And why do we see so many

companies sailing obliviously into ’PR disaster’ simply because they

have failed to consider the consequences for their reputation when

taking crucial business decisions?



The PRCA survey shows there is reasonably regular contact between CEOs

and their PR consultants or in-house professionals. This is encouraging,

but it is not clear how far the PR professional’s input is sought on

business strategy as opposed to developing a communications plan.



The danger is that communications advice from PR professionals is now

widely recognised as important when it comes to delivering a

pre-determined message or in shielding the chairman from a hostile

press, but not when it really matters - in the meeting that determines

business policy in the first place.



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