Monday, 25 January 2016

Comms professionals talking themselves up? Surely not.

Okay, it’s not just Communications Directors who think they deserve a seat at the top table, or a least a direct reporting line into the CEO. HR directors, IT directors, and any number of other support function directors can all come up with a host of reasons why they should be on the board as Chief Something Officer.

But CEOs want fewer direct reports, not more. So how do comms professionals make their case?

A survey last year by Weber Shandwick and (ahem) headhunter Spencer Stuart says that 57% of the most senior comms people report into the CEO or other board member, and that a third of them also have responsibility for marketing. In brand-led businesses like FMCGs, it’s often a Chief Marketing Officer who has responsibility for comms, while heavily regulated and b2b operations typically opt to give the Corporate Affairs Director (or Chief Communications Officer as it is sometimes known) overall responsibility. Others, of course, keep the functions separate – but rarely do they both have a seat on the board.

A blog by Michael Prescott at Portland Communications offers some sound advice for incoming Corporate Affairs Directors. The very first point on Michael’s list is: "think twice about taking the job unless you report to the CEO".

Public trust, investor confidence and a predictable (and favourable) regulatory environment are essential to the licence to operate of any major business. Without them it doesn’t matter how good the underlying business is, it simply won’t reach its full potential. We can all think of examples of organisations who have faced highly public challenges in recent years – I would name them but I don’t want to offend any clients, current or future! – and we will have a view on how successfully they have navigated them.

So how do you make it to the top? Far be it for a humble recruiter to presume to have the answers. There will be some who still play to the CEO's ego and desire for a legacy. But the most compelling arguments are likely to focus on the role of communications in delivering the business plan and supporting the bottom line.

Good luck.

This blog was written by Wayne Reynolds, Director at Birchwood Knight.

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