Two surveys from opposite sides of the Atlantic this week show what
business leaders really think of PR. The most striking thing about the
results is their similarity.
The US study polled top communications executives in 700 leading
companies, while the PRCA’s UK survey quizzed 97 chief executives. Both
overwhelmingly showed that companies viewed corporate reputation as
important, and the UK study showed that business leaders took a personal
interest in the reputation of their organisations.
No real surprises there. It is simple common sense that it is better to
have a good reputation than to have a bad one. Likewise there cannot be
a single business leader who did not witness the public crucifixion of
former British Gas chief Cedric Brown and reflect on the importance of
taking a personal interest in handling reputation.
It is also obvious that companies with good reputations are more
successful than those with poor ones. A quick glance at the Management
Today ’Most Admired Companies’ survey reveals that 29 of the top 30 in
the list saw their share prices rise by 100 per cent over five years,
against an equivalent FTSE 100 performance of just 52 per cent over the
The more relevant question for the public relations business is whether
business leaders understand how a good reputation is won and
Just as good financial management makes for healthy accounts, it is
self-evident that businesses which are well managed, produce value for
customers and shareholders, and have motivated staff will stand a better
chance of having a good reputation than those that don’t.
So far, so obvious. But why is it that so many companies seem blind to
the possibility of managing reputation in the same way that one manages
any other key aspect of company performance? And why do we see so many
companies sailing obliviously into ’PR disaster’ simply because they
have failed to consider the consequences for their reputation when
taking crucial business decisions?
The PRCA survey shows there is reasonably regular contact between CEOs
and their PR consultants or in-house professionals. This is encouraging,
but it is not clear how far the PR professional’s input is sought on
business strategy as opposed to developing a communications plan.
The danger is that communications advice from PR professionals is now
widely recognised as important when it comes to delivering a
pre-determined message or in shielding the chairman from a hostile
press, but not when it really matters - in the meeting that determines
business policy in the first place.