Opinion: Comms becomes onerous for CEOs

A recent article in Fortune, the US business magazine, estimated that a typical chief executive of a major US company could expect to spend 40 per cent of his or her time...

A recent article in Fortune, the US business magazine, estimated that a typical chief executive of a major US company could expect to spend 40 per cent of his or her time on public and investor relations activities; communicating with shareholders, analysts and the media; and overseeing organised communications to the market. One of the great advantages of private equity, the article suggested, was that chief executives could spend 100 per cent of their time running the business.

This is not just a US issue: in the UK, Makinson Cowell is probably the best known, and among the oldest, investor relations consultancies.

Bob Cowell once told me he reckoned a chief executive or finance director of a FTSE 100 company with overseas shareholders should expect to have to devote 75 days a year to communicating with investors, including overseas roadshows and trips.

As there are 242 working days a year, 75 days represent almost one third of a chief executive's time.

A senior director of one of the big financial PR firms has claimed that he is increasingly being required to make presentations to the boards of existing clients to explain to the CEO's colleagues why their boss had to spend so much time out of the office selling the investment story, rather than sitting at his desk doing his ‘proper' job.

All this suggests that the communications side of things is getting too demanding, that the press and the stock-market community have become too onerous, with the result that the demands to communicate being put on public company executives are becoming excessive.

Perhaps we should try to tone things down, because the number of listed companies in the UK market has been in sharp decline for almost a decade, dropping from 2,087 in 1998 to 1,294 in the period to the end of October.

One of the reasons executives increasingly prefer the private model is that it allows them to step off this communications treadmill. In the longer term, this trend is bad news not just for media and analysts, but also for the PR industry.
anthony.hilton@haymarket.com

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