It’s a little mind-boggling to me that many companies still don’t see PR as a function that needs a seat at the board table. PR is about reputation, and what can be more central and more precious to a company’s current and future value than its reputation?
As Warren Buffet famously said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.”
But in many cases, PR does itself a disservice by focusing on metrics most boards don’t care about. Things like number of impressions or even share of voice don’t mean a lot to them unless they drive a particular business outcome. Here’s what your board needs to know in terms of where you’re moving the needle:
To have a reputation in the first place, you have to build a community of people who care about you. What are you doing in your PR program to build a more powerful community of followers, believers and advocates?
This community includes media, analysts, influencers, customers, prospects, business partners, investors, and employees. Be prepared to show how you are achieving meaningful progress in building a relevant audience that’s paying attention and cares about what you have to say. If you talk about share-of-voice, talk about why it’s growing and with whom. Who’s talking about you and why they matter.
Are your messages coming through? Are the people you care about getting it? Are they able to understand, remember, and articulate your key messages to others?
Your board members will want to know that your core corporate messages, the principles you stand for, are effectively being supported through the PR channel. This includes tight and well-choreographed coordination with all of marketing.
Evidence of message clarity can be easily tracked in the way your business is described by media and analysts. This is why it’s important to look beyond the sheer numbers and analyze the accuracy of your message in your media and analyst coverage. Customer and market surveys will tell you if your messages are distinguishable from your competition and sticking with your target audience.
Do people believe what you say? This is a big one. It has to do with building trust, which is so central to long-term growth and sustainability. This speaks to Mr. Buffet’s quote. If you don’t deliver on your word and live by your stated values, which are those corporate promises you make to your customers and the world, then the value of your PR program will be inconsequential. PR needs to be in lock step with marketing to further the brand promise through things like relevant community activities, support for like-minded causes, aligned employee programs, useful commentary on issues and news related to the business mission, etc.
A corporate board needs to hear from PR how the company’s promise delivered through PR or corporate communications in both word and actions is solid and defensible. And if it’s not, then PR has to call it out and lead a discussion around how to fix the disconnect. Successful companies have no place for fearful PR leaders who are unable to speak truth to power.
So once you’ve gotten people to believe you, to believe what you tell them is true, then the next step is getting people to believe in you? If you’ve made good on the above three points – you've engaged the right people, developed clear messages and are prepared to back them up in your actions -- then the final question is are you getting and keeping people on your side? Are you convincing them?
Although different boards will have their eye on different goals, at the end of the day, most boards wants to know if you are making progress in the battle for market share. To make that progress, you have to convince people they need and want to buy from you. No matter what business you are in, whether it’s B2B or B2C, it comes down to giving people more reasons to choose you over your competitor. Help your board understand how PR is making that case and winning or at least has a plan to win.
As in all things related to communications, you have to know your audience, their motivations and aspirations. Know your board’s agenda from the start – and I mean from the very start, well before you’re asked to do any planning, let alone reporting. Then you’ll know the value they seek from PR, and you’ll be ready to meet it and have earned a seat at the table.