So Michael Hingston’s departure from Kingfisher could ’threaten to
destabilise the message, suggested analysts, and further erode the share
price’ (Financial Times, 17 June). For an industry which has spent many
years fighting for serious recognition in the boardroom, this
conclusion, while unfortunate for Kingfisher, will be music to our
Senior communicators on both sides of the agency/in-house divide have
always been a conduit of influence and deliverer of the message; of this
there has never been any doubt. As the main supporter of the CEO, senior
communicators have traditionally stayed in the background. Rightly in my
view - limelight needs to focus on the corporate position, the visionary
leader and the business message. However, in an effort to stay in the
background, the real influence of communicators has been at best
minimised, and at worst ignored. Until that is, last week.
Senior communicators not only interpret and transmit the corporate
message, they also feel the pulse of the audience. They analyse
competitors’ communications activity and position, they test the hearts
and minds of opinion-formers, they sense the mood of the workforce. And
finally, theirs is the decision on action to protect reputations, to
develop relationships with external and internal audiences, to promote
senior executives and to support sales and marketing efforts. There is
no other role in senior management which is so broad and has such
far-reaching implications on corporate success and consequently, share
So much for the senior communicator, but what of the value of
There are ample methods available to measure the value of reputation
against shareholder value. The direct connection is undoubtedly there.
The issue is how to quantify this connection and thereafter how to make
it work for the benefit of the shareholder. Way back in the first
century, the philosopher Epictetus declared that ’perceptions are facts,
because people believe them’. We might take licence in slightly changing
this to ’reputation is fact, because shareholders believe it’.
From an agency perspective, the challenge for senior counsellors is how
to add value to the critical task of protecting clients’
As the profile of senior corporate communicators rises, so agencies will
need to be ready with the right knowledge, expertise, confidence and
approach to support them. The agencies’ challenge is to throw off the
traditional mantle of ’doing PR for clients’ and take a position as
business advisers, strategic counsellors and partners in protecting and
enhancing corporate reputation.
Are agencies ready to do this? Are there enough senior communicators to
take key positions in major corporations? If the basis of experience is
in the narrow field of PR, I think not. Sure, there are more degree
level courses on PR and communications available today, but this is not
only what it’s about. I have lost count of the number of people not in
the communications business who ask me what on earth there is to learn
about PR for a whole three years.
As communicators, our task is to learn about business and critical
success factors thereof, about management, markets and channels thereto,
about legislation, about consumers, about economics. Only once this is
all in place should communicators learn about processes of
communications and about PR.
If corporations and shareholders are to be so influenced and dependent
on effective communications, our industry has to be ready to meet this
requirement - there is too much at stake for us not to. We’re getting
there, but we still have some way to go.
Tari Hibbitt is UK chief executive at Edelman Public Relations