An Organized Approach to PR


The jury's still out on the ideal organizational structure that will optimize communications. But in general, integrated communications functions that directly report to the most senior levels of the company are key. Companies are considering integrating communications functions that are siloed in distinct IR, PR and product marketing departments. Others have been jolted by corporate scandal and are reorganizing to allow PR entrée into senior management's "situation room." We took a look at three highly successful communications departments and their organizational structures to get a better understanding of how their reporting structures have contributed to their ability to produce outstanding PR results. Wellpoint, the holding company for a variety of health insurance providers, changed its PR reporting structure in the late '90s when it realized building a brand for a holding company would be easier on Wall Street than with consumers. "This change (from a reporting structure under Public Affairs) has been very successful," says Ken Ferber, staff VP of corporate communications. The company has been the most admired healthcare company, according to Fortune's venerable list, for four years running. "We do have informal, dotted-line reporting to the CEO and we work very closely with all senior executives." -Ken Ferber, Staff VP Corporate Communications, Wellpoint, Ken.ferber@wellpoint.com "AHSA has an interesting reporting structure," says Brenda Siler, director of PR. The "communications cluster," including the organization's online activities, its publications and its other PR efforts, reports directly to the executive director. "Bottom line, it is great that we report directly into the top guy," Siler says. -Brenda Siler, Director of PR, ASHA, Bsiler@asha.org "Our public affairs and communications function reports directly to the CEO. I believe this is the way it must be if a communications team is to be effective. The current environment has helped bolster the value of PR in the minds of many senior executives. They see the value and understand the risks of not having top notch pros as part of the team," says Peter Thonis, SVP, external communications. The communications team, for example, was able to work directly with the CEO and other members of senior management to ready a near-instantaneous response to the events of Sept. 11, which included mobilizing the senior team to communicate with the public. -Peter Thonis; SVP External Communications, Verizon; Peter.thonis@verizon.com

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