Why communication heads deserve a place in the leadership team

It was not very long ago that PR and Communications was considered as an unimportant function in an organisation. But, times have changed. Over the last few years, public relations has emerged as one of the powerful tools for brand building.

And it is only getting better with a huge number of brands banking on an impactful public relations strategy to build brand awareness and brand equity. CXOs across businesses value public relations and depend on it to build trust. Besides, for startups, public relations is the best bet as they believe it not only helps build brand awareness and recall but also helps in building a positive brand equity amongst their key stakeholders.

Increasingly, communications and PR leaders are making their presence felt, in the corporate world. Also, Communications and PR professionals are getting their due recognition and a seat on the leadership table. They are the ones that the C-suite relies on, when it comes to crafting and augmenting the brand messaging, monitoring the corporate culture and managing brand reputation. They are great with building relationships and hence, come in handy for managing critical associations.

A number of startups have been setting the trend with their Communication and PR leads as an integral part of the leadership. This helps them stay ahead of their competition as they enable their Communication Heads with business knowledge and strategy, so they are better placed to devise strategies for the brand. Communication leaders are well networked and this helps in forging alliances. Their people management skills are an asset for the organisation and is well leveraged by startups by involving them in critical relationship management.

So, why is it important for Communications and PR professionals to have a seat on the leadership table?

To communicate effectively in real-time 

These are times of ‘breaking news’ and social media. News travels instantly and it is important for brands to devise their response strategy real-time. In case of crisis, brands need informed, impactful and transparent communications that can help them build a positive brand reputation. With the Chief Communications Officer on the leadership table, brands can be sure that their views will be expressed quickly and most effectively.

To weave right messages in conversations/communications

Communication professionals define brand’s overall messaging. They oversee that the message delivery is done in a way that it creates the required impact. This is why they are the best fit to deliver this message. They already are the communicators when it comes to media, as they liaison with the media on an ongoing basis. Interestingly, experienced Communications and PR professionals have the skill set to communicate their message well across a wide range of audience. They are well attuned to deliver the message impactfully, keeping in mind the interest of diverse set of stakeholders. It is for this reason that an experienced PR professional is an asset to have in the leadership team.

For presence of mind and good with crisis management 

Experienced PR professionals have a good understanding of managing crisis, as they have dealt with enough crisis situations during their career. They have the presence of mind to think on their feet. They also have a cool head that is a quintessential characteristic for a leader trying to solve a crisis situation. PR professionals can think logically, analyse the situation and devise the right strategy to manage the situation at hand. Also, they can be the anchor that can ensure that the Management’s response is not over stated, but the best option for the brand at large.

To communicate and connect well

A lot of PR professionals becoming the ‘face’ of the brands they represent. There are numerous examples of brands whose CEOs have been their own PR managers, like Richard Branson and Tony Fernandes. They communicate and connect well with the stakeholders, a skill set that is seen in iconic CEOs who have emerged to be popular names across the globe.

For their change management skills

Communication and PR leaders manage different scenarios on different days; hence, they are best suited to manage change. They adapt to evolving scenarios easily and have the ability to motivate and mobilise teams (including dispersed team or teams that they do not manage directly), and can recalibrate and reinvent themselves, so as to leverage the evolving conditions to the brand’s advantage. With change being the only constant across businesses today, successful leaders will be the ones who have the learning agility to adapt to new trends, course correct and keep going.

Big brands are valuing their Communication leaders

In today’s times when the lines between Communications and Marketing are blurring by the day, the Communication and PR leaders are the ones to watch out for. We already have numerous examples of communication leaders who have risen up the ranks when given the opportunity. Recently, Cognizant appointed Ramkumar Ramamoorthy as the Executive Director of its India operations. Ramamoorthy was previously the Senior Vice President – Corporate Marketing, Corporate Affairs and Communications and had been with the organisation for 19 years. Another example is that of General Motors, which named David Albritton as President of the GM Defense unit, at a time when the company announced its plans to lay off employees and rehash its business model in line with the customer requirements.

In order to make this a norm, it is important for the PR leaders to showcase that they have good understanding of the market and the business. They need to have a good business acumen to be seen as valuable contributors to business discussions. They also need to highlight how they are making an impact on the growth of the business as well as on driving positive sentiment and building brand equity. The best of corporate communicators understand the company’s business very well, have a detailed understanding of the community and competition, understand corporate culture, as well as the sociopolitical landscape.

These are exciting times for Communications and PR professionals. Organisations across industries increasingly prefer to have Communication leaders as a part of their core/ leadership teams as they bring a totally different skill set on the table. Communication and PR professionals can be important contributors, if not leaders, in corporate debate on strategic business challenges. They also have a higher emotional quotient. They are the best when it comes to adapting to changing environment and have the capability to lead, coach, and inspire teams across the organisation to compete and win. They also have the innate ability to influence and also have a good understanding of the geopolitical and social issues, as they advise their CXOs on the same all the time. This is what makes it easy for Communications and PR leaders to be a part of leadership teams in emerging organisations.

The transformation has begun and the next few years will see PR Heads become extremely important for organisations of various sizes. The day is not far when each and every organisation will prefer to have their Communication Heads as a part of the core leadership team.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha is AVP and Head - Marketing Communications and Public Relations at Pine Labs.

She has over 14 years of experience in working across global/ digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains. In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 25 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands.

Akanksha is an avid traveller, a cricket lover and a tech enthusiast. She enjoys reading about a range of diverse topics, and listening to music, in her free time.

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