PLATFORM: Kingfisher’s loss is corporate PR’s considerable gain - The suggestion that Michael Hingston’s departure could affect Kingfisher’s stock price is proof of PR’s value, says Tari Hibbitt

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 ears.

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

ears.



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

price.



So much for the senior communicator, but what of the value of

reputation?



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’

reputations.



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

Worldwide.



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