The public relations agency can serve a number of significant roles in the C-suite. The question is, how do you find true acceptance in the C-suite.
Strategic vision. It is critical that a PR firm understand the corporate vision. If there is none, this is the most important job to be accomplished. The future of your client’s company could be in your hands. Is a new corporate name needed? What is the new direction for the business? How do you define the company? How can you lead the strategic planning session?
Storytelling. In life, the best presentations relate to the personal stories you can tell. What case studies can you share with top management that address the challenges and provide direction or even excitement that the next hurdle can be handled by someone who really knows? Determine where the client organization is headed. Then, share the stories that are on point.
Never take the credit. Always make your client the hero. The PR professional is present only when PR help is needed. There is no reason to take credit for the idea, program or research you provided to help the client organization move forward. In fact, you may even wish not to use your logo on reports or publicity efforts, so your client can adopt your work.
Ethics. In some organizations, the public relations firm is the symbol of ethics and best practices. I have even heard our firm characterized as being “the chaplain.” In the old days, corporations actually had chaplains. Hospitals have them even today. If it is a matter of ethics, doing what is morally proper, facing a crisis situation with a mindset of “make things right,” organizations often bring in outside PR counsel. Any PR firm worth its salt will tell you the truth is all that counts. A good PR firm will help clients tell the truth and “what the right thing to do” really is.
Measuring success. I am amazed how poorly advertising measures its success, especially in the B2B community, as compared to how a PR firm measures its success. Tracking is possible just about anywhere: media relations, news release distribution, e-blasts, digital platforms, landing pages, websites and webpages, social media, geofencing, remarketing and SEO/SEM. These measures now fall under the public relations banner. Use them to break into the C-suite.
Your invitation to the table. Each corporation is different. There are some organizations where you do not want to be at the table. The best companies include the PR firm when they need it. Investor relations, crisis, mergers and acquisitions, closing plants, strikes and leadership changes comprise the typical list of times when PR firms are welcome. They can be your entree.
Employee relations. If an organization is at a point where its culture must change to meet the needs of a new economy, the PR firm should be right there. Often, this occurs when a new chairman or president takes the helm. But now and then, a PR firm with its ear to the ground might discern the time is right to move employee relations in a different direction. By putting your client’s employee ambassadors in tune with the strategic vision, your PR firm will show an enhanced value beyond the great marketing communications you produce.
Global presence. How often is your PR firm called to provide guidance and counsel regarding an international public relations challenge? Compliance issues are possible. Global rollouts of new technology might occur. New leadership needs to be positioned as go-to authorities for customer organizations and you can use your global network. Addressing cultural issues often comes to the PR firm with a global footprint.
Investor relations. For so many reasons, investor relations has changed. What happened to those 100-page annual reports? Why do we need to be so aware of foreign stock and money markets? IR has a global face. Setting up analyst meetings is still critical. In a world with a Dow over 25,000, isn’t there a place to impact your client’s public company stock price? If you do not have an IR professional on staff, establish a relationship with an IR firm familiar with your client’s industry.
Relationship. Having said all we have about PR firms and the C-suite, the final word must be “relationship.” Without a relationship – really mutual trust – there is no place for you in the C-suite. I once obtained critical media exposure for a chairman needing it. Our PR firm placed a CEO on an important local board that helped his company grow. We brought top executives to dine with a major superstore and they walked away with big orders. We saved a food company from going out of business.
Through the success you achieve together, your PR firm and your client will enjoy long years of partnership. Think about this measure of success. If you are one of the first four people your target CEO calls when facing a challenge, you know you made into the C-suite.
Ed Stevens, APR, is the chairman at Stevens Strategic Communications, a leading PR firm in Cleveland, Ohio. www.stevensstrategic.com He is also president of The Ohio 100, a unique digital publishing company serving 50,000 readers in Ohio. www.theohio100.com