With changing organizational styles and market anxiety over business and financial trends, corporate public relations are getting more challenging. Increasingly, executives not accustomed to serving as spokespeople are being called upon for that role, like chief financial officers (CFOs) or corporate directors.
PR staffers need to be mindful of developing spokespeople, and not try to reserve that role exclusively for themselves. When credibility counts most, it may be necessary to provide the executive who knows the books or other business areas most closely. It's not likely that PR people will be brushed aside, but more specialized communication occasionally may be necessary.
Les Clifford of Accountancy Age writes about the need to build communication skills into executive roles that formerly didn't require them -- and least in regard to "outsiders" like the media.
"As many companies have either restructured, reorganized or embraced the opportunities provided -- or forced on them -- by the recent economic climate," Clifford observes, "boards now have to communicate in real time with new and existing stakeholder groups.
"But the sophisticated communication skills required to build and maintain trust among stakeholders are often assumed -- many board members are experienced in dealing with investors and analysts, but not at dealing with media, regulators, public interest groups and campaigners."
As PR people know, assumptions about communication -- or virtually anything else of importance -- can be instantly damaging.
Yet the pressures keep building.
"In a recent study we conducted among top CFOs around the world," Clifford writes, "almost two-thirds said they were increasingly required to act as the face of the company on issues related to overall financial performance."
Building stakeholder trust is a growing priority -- another PR role.
It's obvious. PR people with an eye to their organization's future need to be equipping colleagues in other disciplines with the ability to communicate candidly and effectively. Such a role calls for counseling and training sessions, along with mock news conferences and emergency drills -- with new faces serving as the spokespeople. Organizations now appear to require a community of communicators, not lone PR people.
We're not saying that any and all executives should expect to be called upon as communicators. However, some might be, and they ought to understand the requirements of being effective in that role.