CEOs urge industry to question their values

PR professionals are caught in the middle of the perfect storm and need to ride the wave or be submerged, warned Kevin Murray, chairman of Bell Pottinger Group, in a keynote address to the PRCA’s annual conference this Wednesday.

He was unveiling new research on attitudes to PR in conjunction with Henley Management College, with 14 chief executives of blue-chip companies.

Murray said CEOs were under pressure from a combination of proliferating comms channels, communities of interest, and shareholder and consumer demands. 'As a result, they expect their PR advisers to have real understanding of shareholders and the business environment, as well as the confidence to challenge their views,' he said.

He added that while many CEOs valued PR highly, other members of plc boards have yet to be won over.

'PR now finds itself at the heart of corporate values, but much will be asked of it going forward. There's no doubt that the best practitioners already have the skills, but they must go beyond talking about messages and media, and instead think in terms of content and conversations,' said Murray.

The report fuelled a heated debate about the role of the modern PR agency.

BT group comms director Peter Morgan said: 'In my experience, CEOs either get it [PR] or they don't, but I remain sceptical about PR agencies. They have to carefully identify what really cannot be done in-house. If I have to pay £200k a year for a junior account executive, I'd rather hire someone.'

Coca-Cola GB head of brand PR Joan O'Connor said: 'PROs need to embrace all forms of non-traditional marketing. They can add value by bringing a real-world lens to the marketing mix. As for agencies, they must add value by challenging clients' points of view.'

Jackie Elliot, former PRCA chairman and now a consultant, said: 'A lot of the best practitioners move from agencies to in-house jobs, and agencies need more credibility and influence to retain good staff.
We've got to lose the "we can do you a blog" attitude and become more strategic, global and research-based.'

'You won't reach the top by remaining in-house,' she added.

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