FINANCIAL: The CFOs' view - The financial director is increasingly being called upon to take a role in managing the comms function. Alastair Ray reports on the direction some have taken

In the procurement-led scenario, investment in public relations is no different from any other marketing purchase. 'By and large the financial directors who we have dealt with do not regard PR investment as different from advertising. They want marking accountability and to know what the payback is, some sort of return on investment,' says Agency Assessments International managing director Charles Kirchner.

He cites measurements such as audience share and methods of valuing different audiences on a sliding scale as well as the way that key messages are put across.

The bottom line is that the finance and procurement team want to know that the money wouldn't be better spent in other areas of the business.

Shaw, however, points out that not all communications are optional and can be decided purely on a financial basis. Large companies have to produce information for shareholders and investors such as the annual report and quarterly updates.

Given the economy's current woes, it's not surprising that the finance team takes a closer look at expenditure whether it's the purchase of widgets or the communications expertise. But there are concerns that the dead hand of financal controls can actually make it harder for communications agencies to do their job.

Julien Speed, Starfish Communications joint managing partner, and chairman of the PRCA's membership and marketing committee, says concern about an economic downturn has caused some finance directors to act in a way that hinders good communications.

'What some finance directors are now doing is releasing PR funds in tranches, dependent on quarterly or even monthly profit/sales performance - as opposed to committing to an annual campaign. This is worrying for the industry - because if you keep flicking the switch, eventually you fuse the lights,' he says.

But while the value-for-money test is being strictly applied in other areas of the communications business, it seems the core financial PR buy is not operating under the same pressures.

'Financial PR does not go through a procurement process, it's too much of a personal thing. Procurement always suggests who would be the best person to supply us with paper bags,' says one specialist financial agency director. 'It's a different buy from their perspective.'

Benzikie agrees: 'What they are looking for isn't value for money but broader evidence of added value. You cannot just look at it in terms of price - in terms of value for money, it's going to be extraordinarily good value for money if a merger or acquisition is going smoothly.'

However, the key question remains: is PR moving up the value chain? While its position is improving relative to the other marketing disciplines, it seems it still has some way to go in the financial field.

A £1bn takeover might cost a company around £300,000 in PR, the corporate lawyers will rake in up to £7m, while the investment bankers take around four per cent of the deal's value, a cool £40m.

Investment banks will also have no qualms about recommending that clients sort out their communications, but it's harder to imagine a public relations specialist telling a finance director that the company should change its bankers.

The days of the bean-counting finance director with a job description that was limited to checking the books are long gone.

Although in-house PROs may have still to battle to ensure that they get the newspapers delivered every day, for most finance directors the corporate landscape has been gradually transformed.

Their brief now includes communicating the company's strategic vision to the City and some will also have responsibility for issues such as corporate social responsibility.

Archie Norman, now an MP but also a former finance director at Kingfisher and ex-chairman of ASDA, says finance chiefs now need to take a much more public role: 'The rounded finance director has, at the very least, to have a natural capacity to understand the message and communicate at a personal level with the analysts and shareholders.'

And that means working closely with the communications department to ensure that the messages to consumers and the City are the same.

'The important thing is that the company has a holistic communication to all its audiences and people are working closely together,' Norman says. 'I think this will create demand in companies for more effective communications to the market.'

Sainsbury's recent appointment of investor relations chief Lynda Ashton, who reports directly to group finance director Roger Matthews, also highlights the wider role now taken on by money men and women.

'Board members are expected to be more rounded, to have a more general view outside their speciality sector, particularly the finance director and chief executive,' says Jan Shaw, Sainsbury's director of corporate relations.

Former Brightmail chief financial officer Phil Fraher is a good example of how the role is no longer just a numbers game. He worked with GBC on publicity and public affairs to put the company's anti-spam software on the agenda of European legislators and potential clients.

'We did whatever we had to do to help push our message, we were taking advantage of the then-current discussion of junk mail and it was a good time to be doing that,' he recalls.

There's a suggestion that those finance directors who take a particular interest in communications do so as part of their on-going education in the wider facets of corporate governance.

'I think if you've got a finance director who sees themselves as a future chief executive then you'd be surprised how much they get involved,' says one FTSE 100 comms director.

But if the finance chiefs are having to communicate their companies' messages more widely, does that mean they are having a greater influence on the company's internal PR work and the external PR advisers it hires?

As well as agreeing budgets, they may also be responsible for ensuring that the company is using its resources as effectively as possible. In addition, those with seats on the board have an input into corporate decisions that go way beyond a specific brief.

'More often than not the selection of an agency is lead by chief executives and corporate communications with the finance director providing more of a quality control function,' observes Nigel Whittaker, Edelman London chairman.

Diageo group communications director Ian Wright says that in his experience 'finance directors tend to be significantly more demanding and usually more specific in terms of their brief'.

'I've always found the involvement of the finance director extremely helpful,' he says. 'They know what they want and are much more clearly focused. They are looking for objective measures that can give them confidence.'

Boots head of financial media relations Francis Thomas says the company's deputy chief executive and finance director David Thompson will get involved in consumer PR issues if they impact on City or corporate sentiment.

Thomas says he worked closely with the consumer team on the relaunch of cosmetics product No 7, which boosted the brand from £60m to £100m a year. 'That's an important message for our financial audience,' he points out.

With the City also reading more than just the City pages, financial directors need to know about all the major messages that are going out from the company. 'If they've written in The Daily Telegraph and The Sun that Boots is doing something with flight socks then, if it's significant, David (Thompson) needs to know,' he says.

In such cases, he says, Thompson will want to know about the PR policy, what is likely to go into the release, have sign-off on the release and the question and answer information attached to it.

'Financial directors have to be far more aware and far more prepared to answer questions about the public face of the company,' adds Thomas.

However, for many finance directors the only direct contact they have with the public relations community is with the financial PR or investor relations team. And it's here that they will have a real say in who gets selected.

'If it's a fight or a bidding war then you're looking to have a pitch. If it's possible one way or the other, you're looking for the most high-profile and successful consultancy available,' says Wright. 'The financial director will want to have absolute confidence in who's selected but there will be a limited field they can select from.'

Edelman London head of financial communications Stephen Benzikie says that finance directors will want to know that the specialist agency can read a balance sheet and understand the details of depreciation policy.

'The finance director is going to want to talk to people who can talk his language. They are not going to be wrong or embarrass him by giving out the wrong figures,' he says. 'They need to be so conversant with the accounts that they can explain to an aggressive journalist on a national paper the finer points of share-option schemes.'

In smaller companies, the finance chief can be more heavily involved, particularly as they may be the only executive with real money negotiation skills. LeFevre Communications associate director Joshua Van Raalte says the dot.com boom saw the money men and women take a more active role.

'In dot.com companies they were really getting involved with the decisions - there were lots of acquisitions and finance directors were always at the meetings,' he says.

The finance director is likely to be one of the driving forces behind the message presented at calender announcements, according to Kay Inverarity, consultant at Tulcan Communications. 'Their role in interims and annuals is critically important because so much of what we are talking about is based on what the numbers are telling you,' she says. 'The actual numbers provide an important basis for the message and the sentiment.'

And when it comes to a mergers or acquisitions, she adds, the finance director will also play a key part in communicating the message although their focus is likely to be on the analyst and investor communities rather than the press.

'I think the (greater focus on communications) probably reflects an attitude change in the PR industry and the financial communications industry, that actually communication is critical to having your strategy understood and your investment case understood,' she explains.

At the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the body that issues official sales figures for newspapers and magazines, finance director Paul Turner sat in on the pitch won by Eulogy! last June.

'At the actual pitch, my involvement is what is it going to add to our business and how that's going to work,' he says. 'My role was to make sure what we did was financially sound and in line with the budget.'

Similarly, Hector Tidd, commercial director at communications specialist Communicopia, who includes finance in his brief, was one of four directors involved in appointing Midnight Communications earlier this year.

He argues that because appointing an agency is not something companies do everyday, it's important for the person holding the purse strings to be there.

'I think a lot of financial directors would want to be involved in that decision because the relationship with a PR company is a fairly long-term decision,' he explains.

However, even those finance directors who currently display very little interest in the communications side of the business, may need to get more involved with the sector.

The Department of Trade and Industry's plans for a new Operating and Financial Review includes details about incorporating wide business relationships into their reporting. These include social, ethical, reputational and environmental impacts.

'It's an opportunity for PR people to include what they do, not only in normal day-to-day activity, but also within the annual report cycle,' says Institute of Public Relations head of policy Nigel O'Connor.

Moves to make it compulsory to value such intangibles are likely to increase the role of the procurement team in the PR pitch process. And since these purchasing specialists often report to the finance director, they can be the most direct sign of their involvement in the process.

Hill & Knowlton director of technology Peter Thomas says the rise of procurement has been driven by a number of factors, the heavier spend on PR, the increasing amount of transnational appointments and the complexity of the contracts now being drawn up.

He argues that it can benefit the agencies because it separates the work that they do from the fees they charge. 'I think it allows a measure of separation between the funding of the relationship and the programme relationship,' he says. 'If agencies do not like it, it's because it lengthens the pitch process and makes it more process orientated.'

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