The Non-Exec: PR’s bridge to the boardroom

• 3 minute read

Given the speed at which reputational issues have risen up the corporate agenda over recent years, the arguments for PR to have a voice in the boardroom are growing louder and more vociferous.

But, change has been slow in coming.

One of the key reasons for this may be is because the PR industry often finds itself stuck in the siloed world of communications rather than embedded within broader commercial and business issues. The latest CIPR ‘State of the Profession’ report reinforced the issue: Two-thirds of recruiters responding said they are looking for “business acumen” in senior hires, but fewer than a third of PR pros rated their own abilities and knowledge in that particular area.

Tackling this knowledge and expertise gap is a critical issue for the PR profession – from individuals seeking to upskill and education providers, to agencies themselves and the industry networks.

One aspect of the solution may have been hiding in plain sight for a long time.

A new piece of research – a collaboration between Infinite Global and the Non-Executive Directors Association, The Independent Voice: Corporate Reputation and the Role of the Non-Executive Director – is focused on bridging the gap between NEDs and PRs and shedding light on the role NEDs can and should play in corporate reputation management.

NED’s understand the landscape communications professionals are dealing with. NEDs in the survey were almost unanimous (90%) in the view that media, public and stakeholder scrutiny of business had increased in the last 5-10 years, and 90% said they expected corporate reputation will be discussed more at board meetings in the next 5-10 years. At the same time, NED’s have spotted gaps in how corporate reputation is managed, with 66% believing companies could do more to actively manage and protect their reputation.

NED’s, with their independent voice at board level have an important, but not yet fully realised role in reputation management.

But they also offer an opportunity to bridge the gap when it comes to broader commercial skills for corporate communications professionals. The research found that a specialist PR agency is very often Non-Exec’s first port of call when advice on reputation is needed, but how far does this exchange flow the other way?

The Non-Executive Director community, with expertise squarely in other areas of business – such as finance, risk and governance – offers a significant opportunity for PRs to learn from proven business leaders with independent voices at board level.

There are many potential routes for PRs to explore, from networking with NEDs, to learning from employer agencies’ Non-Execs, to considering becoming a NED oneself.

Tomorrow’s (indeed today’s) communications executive must be as much a commercial advisor as one skilled in the art of storytelling and media relations. PRs should follow the lead of corporate boards and realise the full value of the NED as key voice in the reputation management agenda.

Click here to download the full report ‘The Independent Voice: Corporate Reputation and the Role of the Non-Executive Director’

Scott Addison is a Director, and Tal Donahue is a Senior Account Manager, at Infinite Global.