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PR pros must learn to speak ‘business’

At one point, during Wednesday night’s discussion on how PR practitioners can ensure their role and work is understood and appreciated from a senior-level business perspective, the statistic was raised that a 1 per cent improvement in customer satisfaction can have a 3 per cent improvement in market capitalisation.

As Mary Smiddy, the senior vice president of Health & Wellness at Weber Shandwick, pointed out that’s the kind of language that business leaders speak and it’s the message they want to hear.

Another of Wednesday night’s speakers, Piers Shervington, senior corporate communications manager of Cochlear, stressed the need for PRs to understand their audience. He wasn’t referring to the consumer audience that PR is generally preoccupied with, rather he was talking about knowing how to relate to your senior managers and internal stakeholders to ensure you have executive buy-in.

The reality is a lot of CEOs (and basically every CFO) talk in numbers, but it’s a language that PRs are generally terrible in speaking. PR pros are generally great story tellers but not so adept at translating their outcomes into business benefits.

It strikes me that what our industry needs is a similar kind of metric related to reputation. Everyone in the PR industry knows that reputation underpins not just all marketing activities, but I’d suggest most business functions as well.

 I dare say when someone is able to do the required empirical study, it is going to demonstrate that shifts in a brand’s reputation have very clear and direct correlations to sales, profit and company value. And when that is clearly demonstrated, reputation has to become one of the core KPIs of any business and maybe then we’ll see more communications directors being invited into the C-Suite.

 Until that time comes, of course, the experience of the speakers suggest that getting the ear of the CEO is no easy task. Amongst the advice given by Piers and Ben Findlay, senior manager of corporate affairs and communications at Deloitte, was taking work and worry off their tables, helping them to scratch their ego itch, and being proactive in providing counsel, especially in times of crisis.

 All great advice, and they absolutely reflect the current reality that PR pros have to battle with in their everyday business environment. However, they are also all very subservient services and actions. In many ways, it’s sad that PR professionals have to wiggle their way into a CEO’s mind space.

 David Breen, head of corporate affairs at ING Direct, made the very salient point that today’s CEO should be good at two things. He said they need to be the company’s chief sales person and that they need to focus on getting the people part of the business right. In other words, their key roles are internal and external communications. It’s hard to understand then, why any CEO wouldn’t want their chief communications executive by their side at all times and to be a critical member of that top executive circle. It’s hard to reconcile these modern-day business dynamics with the very obvious struggle that all of the speakers outlined in getting senior executives to understand the value of communications and reputation management.

 Clearly, every single one of us in the industry need to do a better job at helping the business community understand our value. We need to speak their language and work out how to translate communication outcomes into direct business benefits. I know at MediaConnect, we’ve worked very hard at creating an online software platform that can capture as many data points as possible, and seamlessly translate them into easy-to-digest charts and reports. But I know, like everyone else, we can do it better.

 No one in this industry should be satisfied until comms directors are an accepted part of the C-Suite and it’s everybody’s responsibility to help work towards making sure that happens sooner rather than later. As such, a big thank you to PRIA for a very informative event and MediaConnect was delighted to support the event and do our little bit towards working towards this objective.