Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, said that "the most important thing the PR function can do is establish absolute credibility," in an interview with PRWeek.com, following his speech at the World Business Forum in Chicago.
Welch added that if in-house communicators do not have a seat at the table, the company will struggle to get its message out.
"Journalists can smell a weak PR team, one that doesn't know what's going on," he said. "PR needs to be in the loop and at all the meetings, so that the [media] they are talking to have trust in them."
Welch also observed that the media environment is more cynical today than before the end of the tech bubble, but said, "if people don't do a good job, it's transparent."
Managing crisis, he says, is a matter of understanding that there are no secrets. "You have to let everyone know what you know and frame it. But never assume that it won't be on the table, in front of every journalists' eye," he said. "You can't hold something back [because] the world is going to know."
In response to a question from another journalist, Welch said that financial journalists focus too much on earnings -- and not enough on cash flow -- when analyzing the health of a company.
"Earnings in many ways could be called an art," he said. "Cash is king. We believed if you were taking care of your cash flow, your customers, and your employees, then those were the [important] measurements."
Welch also said that the media seeks executives far more than they attempt to attract the media.
"Every time a big CEO gets interviewed, the press says that we like the attention," Welch said. "But they come to us. We didn't call them."