The reputational fate of a company can rest in the words of a CEO. This goes for both external and internal communications.
On April 27, PRNEWS attended Staffbase’s VOICES conference, a gathering of the PR industry’s top internal communicators, to learn about the latest trends and issues impacting their work. A common theme of communicators connecting with leadership thread through the event, making us wonder , how often do communicators get face time with their organizational leaders?
We posed the question to the PR community this week in a PRNEWS LinkedIn Poll. The results seemed somewhat split.
Alarmingly, more than one-third (33%) of communicators never talk directly with their company leaders. And those who responded varied on the seniority scale from content strategists and corporate communication managers to account directors.
But on a positive note, over one-quarter (26%) have daily access to brand leadership, with seniority levels varying from interns to senior vice presidents.
Organizational Size and Direct Reports
Obviously access can depend on the size of a company and its organizational makeup. According to Tory Clark, partner of executive search firm Bridge Partners, there has been a movement toward consolidation of direct reports to CEOs in general.
“C-suites tend to expand (as new roles are created/added/given priority) and contract (a large number of direct reports to a CEO can become unwieldy, particularly in times of organizational pivot or economic uncertainty),” Clark says. “We are seeing consolidation of the CCO and CMO functions, so the combined title is Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, with CEO communications sometimes being taken out and reporting directly to the CEO.”
The Impact of Connection
Regardless of a company’s organizational makeup, those leaders going the extra mile to connect with communicators can really make a difference.
Samantha Hillstrom, senior director, internal communications and employee engagement at meal kit provider Blue Apron, says internal communicators are in a unique position to hear people’s voices at every level of the company, providing important information to the C-suite. Hillstrom says she’s even gone out on the company's packing line to talk with employees.
“Most roles in a company don't have this privilege, and so it's incumbent upon internal communicators to position that privilege as a real advantage to leaders so that information can help them make better decisions for employees,” she says. “At their core, leaders don't want to say the "wrong" thing to employees, but understandably, they may not have as much direct access to the overall employee population.”
Diana Kowalsky, Head of Partner Communications at Petco says to let CEOs know that messages that come directly from them constantly drive more visibility with employees.
"Building a relationship helps you deliver high-value storytelling that both builds culture and positions them as the authentic, human leaders that they are," Kowalsky says. "For example, at Petco, the top to most-read stories last year were about our CEO saying goodbye to his 14-year-old lab and welcoming a new puppy, months later."
Tips for Connecting with Leaders
Leigh Nofi, Senior PR Manager, Staffbase, Inc., sees all communicators as true partners to C-suite executives and business leaders, but acknowledges it takes some basic steps to establish a good connection.
“When looking to connect more closely with CEOs and business leaders, comms professionals need to be considerate of busy schedules and diverse responsibilities,” Nofi says. “Be patient, and use the time you get with them wisely.”
Nofi also suggests approaching them with a purpose and doing your research prior to meeting.
“Consider your topics and the importance or level they may or may not have for the executive before connecting,” she says. “Starting with discussions focused on impactful narratives aimed at moving the business forward can be a good start.”
Establishing that real connection can only improve the plans for consistent and clear messaging for employees and brand followers.
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her: @buffalogal