Editorial: Business leaders in the spotlight

It was the former Barclays Bank chairman John Quinton who once said that 40 per cent of his job was public relations.

It was the former Barclays Bank chairman John Quinton who once said

that 40 per cent of his job was public relations.

His gut instinct about the role of business leaders has a curious

symmetry with the findings of a new study by Burson-Marsteller about the

role of the chief executive. Its survey of 2,500 opinion formers reveals

that they believe 40 per cent of a company’s reputation is accounted for

by the reputation of the CEO.

Those interviewed - CEOs, senior executives, analysts, business media,

headhunters and government officials - said that the most important CEO

qualities are communicating a clear vision of the company’s direction,

followed by increasing shareholder value. And three out of four said the

reputation of the CEO directly contributes to the company’s ability to

attract investment, recruit talent, and survive crises.

The survey confirms what many have long suspected through observation of

corporate fortunes over the years - that businesses, like political

parties, are increasingly dependent on the reputation of their


In a media-saturated age, increased visibility means increased

accountability and top executives are in the front line.

The anecdotes supporting this theory are legion. When Gerald Ratner bad

mouthed his own products in a public speech, the fortunes of his company

took a nose dive and he lost his job. When Guy Snowden lost his libel

case against Richard Branson, not only did he have to resign, but

G-Tech’s reputation took a battering and the episode put its involvement

in the UK lottery in question. Branson’s high reputation, on the other

hand, clearly enhances Virgin’s performance. A 1994 PR Week/NOP survey

revealed that a staggering 34 per cent of people said they would be more

likely to buy a Virgin product or service because of his reputation.

To most people in the communications business the B-M findings will seem

a statement of the blindingly obvious. But all too many CEOs have yet to

make the connection between the importance of reputation - the company’s

and their own - and the need to manage it.

Even in the face of all this evidence relatively few companies see PR as

a board level function. PR people are too often still treated as

messengers or firefighters, rather than as contributors to the

decision-making process.

Part of the blame for that must lie with the PR industry for its failure

to provide tangible evidence of its value. But the message to CEOs from

this survey is clear: reputation is important, get it wrong and it’s

your job that’s on the line.

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