This week’s PR Week/NOP survey on the role of company chairmen
reinforces a view held by most PR people. The public expects captains
of industry to stand up and be counted on all aspects of their company’s
performance - especially matters which affect its reputation.
Unfortunately, too many barely pay lip service to this idea. They see PR
as a downstream function - not a strategic business matter. One top five
consultancy chief privately admits to tackling this corporate myopia by
beginning pitches to senior management by saying ‘we are not here to
talk about public relations’.
Many senior managers may have arrived in their positions without ever
having to confront this issue before. Some may feel uncomfortable with
it - even more so since the public mauling of Cedric Brown. But that is
no excuse for passing the PR buck down the corporate ladder.
The PR disasters which have afflicted companies like British Gas late
might have been avoided if more senior managers recognised their direct
responsibility for PR. Ignoring it contributes to the misguided
impression that business decisions can be taken in isolation from the PR
consequences. That way disaster lies.
A chairman who refused to talk about the financial results because he
wasn’t very good with numbers would be laughed out of the boardroom and
the City. The responsibility for the company’s reputation is no less a
part of their job description. PR directors, corporate PR consultants
and non-executive directors should continually remind the top brass of
their responsibilities in this regard.