CEOs learn power of in-house PROs

Britain’s corporate public relations industry is, in most respects, better than its equivalent in the US, but lacks heavy-hitting in-house PR directors who can speak with the authority of the main board and the confidence of the CEO.

In America it is different. US bosses generally speaking are highly conscious of their public image and the effect it can have on share price, so they tend to keep their public relations counsel better informed than they do their boardroom colleagues. When the PRO briefs the media, the latter can be confident that the source genuinely knows what is going on – even if he or she chooses not to divulge everything.

In this country, apart from the celebrated performance of David Burnside when he worked for Lord King at British Airways, suchrelationships are much less common. Companies rarely give the in-house PRO sufficient status to allow him or her to have the external credibility they need to do their job properly. So often key people in external PR consultancies have better access and are the real voice whispering in the chief executive’s ear.

But there are growing signs that British CEOs are beginning to appreciate the value of an in-house PRO in whom they can confide. Simon Lewis, who has just left Centrica for Vodafone, is a model for these – years ago he had the ear of Lord Alexander at NatWest, and he famously worked for the Queen. Likewise, George Graham – moving from the Financial Times to Royal Bank of Scotland – clearly has the confidence of Sir Fred Goodwin. Elsewhere, Jan Shawe followed Sir Peter Davis from Prudential to Sainsbury’s. And when he left, so did she.

It is probably the way things are going. The City and investors like celebrity chief executives. A PRO the boss can trust is a vital ingredient.

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