If there’s one thing the Thomas Cook debacle reminded us of, it’s that there are still some major corporates running with the view that perhaps their communications personnel aren’t / don’t ought to be at the forefront of their business.
What we appeared to see with the troubled travel firm was that the strings seemed to being very much led by legal and insurer suits, with little input and appropriate influence from reputation managers within the business.
I know from experience of working with businesses of varying sizes, that often boardrooms maintain the traditional model of being made up more of those from within finance, operations and perhaps HR – but less so the communications staff.
Is this because those charged with the function of PR / corporate affairs are seen as just the ‘fluffy’ output creators within the business?
Are they seen more as a contributor to isolated tactics – rather than a major force in the overall commercial strategy?
Does it come down to that fact that the tangible measurement of PR and marketing (into a pounds and pence conversion) is still so difficult to achieve?
I suspect it’s a collation of all of the above.
That and the fact that tradition has dictated the formula for a boardroom make-up, and that these issues within the business environment take a time to change (and often a significant shift in the personnel leading the decision-making).
My view is that, albeit slowly, those in roles of corporate affairs and communications will increasingly be seen as worthy of roles at the boardroom table.
Because of social media, in part.
The very existence of facebook, twitter, linkedin, Instagram, youtube (I could go on…) means that boards are having to recognise that their consumer isn’t sitting back and waiting to be preached to about a product from the dictat of those in suits.
Instead, the consumer is engaging in conversation about a brand, sharing its views with others, criticising, praising, commenting – and ultimately, putting itself in a powerful position to influence direction a business takes.
With that happening at such a pace, the savvy board recognises how critical its communications is, and how intrinsic its marketing messaging is.
It learns to view its consumer as less of an ‘audience’ and more of a participator and influencer.
This movement means that no longer is it appropriate or justified to see those who create the brand’s messaging (and audit it) as a ‘nice to have’ addition in business.
Instead, PR and communications professionals are making a case for themselves as vital leaders in direction of positioning and reputation.
The challenge, continually, is to ensure that the professional input has a way of proving its ROI in a method which is still seen as evidence of financial performance – because too many CEOs will continue to take that as over-riding measurement.
My top three tips for any CEO debating the inclusion of their comms personnel on a board:
Consider the outputs of your communications team to date and what an impact they are already having on their business. Could more access to the daily activities mean an even more effective campaign from within their division of the business?
View your comms team as the holders of your reputation. Who will ‘really’ step up to the mark if things don’t go according to plan? How well will the head of finance be able to cope with awkward commentary, or the head of IT for example?
Judge for yourself what the people ‘out there’ are saying about your brand. Check your online mentions, your social media activity. Who is measuring that? What part could that social contribution be playing in the position of your business in five years, 10 years’ time?
Acknowledge the influence and recognise that it’s your communications team which is helping keep this interaction on track.
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