EDITORIAL: PR pros need persistence and conviction to earn a truly significant seat at the CEO table

Respect for the corporate communications function has grown, according to PRWeek's annual CEO Survey, now in its fourth year. But do in-house PR professionals see evidence of that escalating regard? No doubt in a year rife with corporate scandal, more CEOs are turning to their PR leaders to help navigate their companies through the rough media and regulatory waters. But many company PR practitioners are saying they want greater involvement in the management decisions and strategies that might prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Respect for the corporate communications function has grown, according to PRWeek's annual CEO Survey, now in its fourth year. But do in-house PR professionals see evidence of that escalating regard? No doubt in a year rife with corporate scandal, more CEOs are turning to their PR leaders to help navigate their companies through the rough media and regulatory waters. But many company PR practitioners are saying they want greater involvement in the management decisions and strategies that might prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

There seems to be some confusion about what actually constitutes relevance at the senior levels of an organization. Some in-house PR professionals believe they are already involved at the strategic level because they have regular face-to-face interaction with the CEO and other senior executives. That's not necessarily so. Having access to the CEO on a regular basis is not the end game. Having discussions about which media opportunities to take, and which ones to avoid, is also not enough. Wading in as a crisis breaks may help ensure a prosperous future for the company, if the situation is handled effectively. But while this function is vital, it is still often a reactive role that does not represent the best of what PR can do. Let's be honest. The reality of what it means to have significant CEO access is not always obvious. Like a genuine Prada handbag, you know it when you see it. There are certain clues to its existence, however. Real interaction with the CEO will be a dialogue, not a one-way report. CEOs will rely on the PR professional to provide unvarnished perspective on the attitudes, problems, and perceptions of each stakeholder group. The PR person who succeeds in building this kind of relationship from scratch will not shy away from disagreeing with the CEO. Many external PR consultants have made themselves indispensable to CEOs by being brutally frank. In order to build the vital level of trust needed to be truly involved on the strategic level, in-house PR professionals need to be no less committed to their convictions. One major misconception about developing a consultative role with CEOs is that success or failure depends on the style, personality, and priorities of the individual CEO. PR practitioners should know better than to use that excuse. Building meaningful relationships takes persistence. A candidate who is not elected to office does not blame the voters for his or her failure. A seat at the CEOs table must be earned. The CEO is among the most important stakeholders for the in-house PR team - it's not the other way around. As Pitt slinks out, a wiser SEC should march in Timing is everything. Harvey Pitt quit his job as the Security and Exchange Commission's chairman just as the Republicans began to celebrate an historic mid-term election victory. The headlines the next day focused more on the implications in the House and Senate than on Pitt's resignation, and his numerous PR blunders that embarrassed the White House. But even as the red, white, and blue balloons deflate, the Bush administration must be wondering how it can restore public confidence in the SEC's authority, and in the markets. A sound PR strategy should join the SEC at the same time as its new leader.

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