Can you be both a tactician and a counselor?

Research among CEOs and line-of-business executives reveals the single-most common criticism of communications professionals is that below the CCO level the function is primarily occupied by tacticians.

Research among CEOs and line-of-business executives reveals the single-most common criticism of communications professionals is that below the CCO level the function is primarily occupied by tacticians. 

A common result: when divisional or business unit leadership meet to discuss strategy, the PR person – perhaps other than the CCO – is often left out.

Are most PR pros really not capable of engaging at that level? Unlikely, but here are a few thoughts.

First, every CCO needs to be honest with his or her evaluation of talent. The most critical time is when hiring is done. If we're candid, we often do hire tacticians. After all, we need to get things done. 

We also tend to hire from a common pool, that is, people from within our profession.

The consequence often means a talent pool that doesn't have the same academic qualifications and/or serious business experience as other staff functions. 

Bottom line: hire smart. Raise the bar. And, as the business we're in gets increasingly sophisticated, there are plenty of high-ranking B-school graduates, for example, who would welcome a career in our profession.

Second, and this is a tricky one, it just may be difficult to be both a tactician and a strategist at the same time. 

Let's be clear: we need to do a lot more than provide counsel. We need to get stuff done. The greater the demands and the higher the volume of output, the more communications staffers get buried in the day-to-day. That may be reality.

Getting stuff done, however, is a given. Flawless execution is a table-stake. No one earns a reputation for just doing what's expected of them.

The capacity to provide senior-level counsel requires discipline, knowledge, and confidence.

McKinsey & Co. articulates a formula to be a trusted adviser, which includes such variables as your own credibility, reliability, client intimacy, and lack of self-orientation. 

But the greatest challenge may come from the need for communications professionals to find the confidence to assert a point of view.

Appreciation for the value we can deliver based on the insights we glean in our business – such as consumer thinking, media trends, customer engagement, bubbling issues, etc. – is essential. In other words, we must genuinely believe we have unique insight and knowledge that is important to the corporation and of value to our internal clients.

From there, our people need to have the confidence within themselves to find a way to become trusted advisers. The hard work we grind out will never go away. Every function has its share. But senior counsel can't be delegated up to the most senior professional. Any internal client-facing professional is obligated to become a trusted adviser.

It's hard work, but it's being demanded. And for those who achieve it, a promising career lies ahead.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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