There's an old joke in the industry that it's so hard to explain PR that even your mom doesn't understand what you do for a living. Maril MacDonald isn't laughing. In fact, she considers it something of an outrage.
“Why is it you can articulate a vision for a CEO, but if someone asks you about your vision and mission in PR you can't do it?” asks MacDonald, CEO of Chicago-based Gagen MacDonald and president of the Arthur W. Page Society. The latter entity recently launched the Future Leaders Experience, a two-year program designed to cultivate the next generation of PR leadership through intensive development work in business disciplines and leadership skills. The program has been created, in part, to fill a void in leadership training within the profession.
“We spend way too much time on the craft and not enough developing the tools to be a trusted adviser,” MacDonald says, adding that “a lot of people in the profession have direct reports who are functionally fabulous,” but are not necessarily equipped to assume the top role if it is vacated.
Top corporate jobs will often be filled from outside the company, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, it can cause frustration for the second tier, even as they might have significant hurdles to overcome in order to win C-suite confidence that they are ready for the big job. The Page “class” is limited to 20 participants. The hope is this group will over time foster a strong network of leaders across industries. Sessions will focus on social media, trust, business acumen, and stakeholder integration.
The leadership program also says a lot for the positive direction being taken by Page during the past year. It has been apparent for some time, to one on the outside anyway, that Page needed to strive for a new level of relevance and engagement. At times, it has been seen as little more than a networking club, without a dynamic mission.
The Authentic Enterprise, a report based on a CEO study that sets out the formula for successful corporate communications leadership, has provided Page an ideological foundation and platform that has direct implications for the membership the society serves.
Under MacDonald's leadership, and carrying through initiatives instigated by her predecessors, such as Tom Martin, now executive-in-residence at the College of Charleston, and Roger Bolton, senior counselor at APCO Worldwide, the Page Society is newly energized and focused. If the Future Leaders Experience is supported by the industry, particularly in difficult times, it will be an important part of continuing that momentum, for the benefit of the Page Society and the industry alike.
Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.