Susanna Simpson, Limelight Public Relations - Be a voice in the top team

Ensuring PR plays an active role in the boardroom has never been more important.

It will not be news to you when I say that great PR is about more than generating media coverage. Its main concern, particularly in the b2b sector, is and should be the reputational bigger picture of an organisation. PR is able to provide a valuable understanding of how events will impact on the image and reputation of a business and how these events will, in turn, affect sales and revenues.

It is dangerous to view PR as a mere extension of marketing or sales, as its role is so fundamentally different.

While both disciplines are driven by business objectives, PR is often focused on the longer-term business benefits through a mutual exchange of information that builds relationships rather than delivers messages.

It has been hugely encouraging to see more corporate boards recognising the value of PR skills. There have been some big hires this year, with seasoned PR executives taking over chief marketing and comms officer roles - AOL appointing former Thomson Reuters PR chief Jolie Hunt, for example. This is very positive for the PR industry and the business world will reap the benefits of a different type of thinker in their midst. However, I still believe pure PR in its own right has its place in the boardroom and the b2b sector is perfectly placed to lead the way.

The comms landscape is a more complicated place to navigate today than it was even ten years ago when I set up Limelight. The rules of engagement have shifted, particularly as a result of developments in technology and social media that present as many comms challenges as opportunities.

This is where PR can really help to guide a board. Today's comms methods have an integral impact on the types of business decisions that need to be made.

Our view is that PR delivers content, coverage, connections and, most importantly, business credibility. In an increasingly transparent world, credibility is paramount and CEOs are aware that reputation has a very direct impact on the bottom line.

Reputation is something that takes years of dedicated work to earn and only seconds to lose. A mere 140 characters may ignite a reputation crisis that can seriously damage an organisation.

Dealt with in the wrong way, the subsequent effects might take years to fully recover from.

One way to combat this and ensure an organisation is prepared for any sudden developments or unexpected events is to have PR as a constant in the boardroom. A PR chief who is a core member of the top team is equipped with the warts-and-all level of knowledge about the company's values, inner workings and development plans and can advise on where and how PR fits in order to achieve overall business goals. If a crisis strikes, they have the full picture and can immediately set to work on any necessary damage limitation.

This is not about PR professionals wanting to appear like VIPs or receive special treatment; it is about PR being inherently invested in everything that a corporation communicates with the outside world.

To deliver in the boardroom, senior-level PROs need to make CEOs fully aware of the strategic benefits having PR at the top table can deliver. This means both speaking and understanding the language of the CEO and focusing on his or her priorities, opportunities that need exploiting and problems that need fixing.

Give PR a voice in the boardroom and watch business benefit on every level.


- Tell us about the most successful partnership you have set up to support a piece of activity

To counter the perception of contact centres as workplaces that churn staff, we brought rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio into The Listening Company and appointed him 'director of motivation'. Not only did this deliver positive media coverage but the sales generated by the operators went up by an average of 30 per cent every time he walked the floor.

- If you did not work in PR what would you be doing?

Composing film soundtracks.

Susanna Simpson is founder of Limelight Public Relations.

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