One of the biggest complaints we hear from top executives is that their organizations’ public relations professionals don’t seem to get their business. Some of the presumptions executives have about PR professionals are that they don’t recognize (or at very least don’t articulate that they understand) the demands placed upon the C-suite by shareholders, underwriters, partners, customers and clients. They don’t appear to be in touch with the realities and constraints of forging successful business outcomes. Top executives often feel that PR professionals are akin to a kid tugging at a parent’s sleeve with a request. Meanwhile, executives dismiss the request overlooking the sense of urgency to respond to a media inquiry that could solidify the executive as a thought leader or to compose a time-sensitive statement to deliver to its stakeholders before a situation escalates into a crisis.
The reality is many PR professionals know the nuts and bolts of their employers’ endeavors. They know the ins and outs of their corporate or organizational sphere. Often, they have a greater understanding– even more so than the top executive—about the role of public relations, media relations, marketing and other corporate communications in driving success and securing the brand or organization’s reputation. But the most accomplished of communicators sometimes fails to communicate these valuable characteristics. And the failure to connect with C-suite executives is often a chasm that’s incredibly difficult to bridge.
So how can you persuade, encourage or prompt the big brass to see your value?
- Position yourself as the C-suite confidante—the bridge between the inside and outside world. Of all the professionals in any company or organization, no one is in a better place to see both the internal workings and the external environment. PR Professionals are in a position to be an ally or that third-person objective with whom stakeholders (customers, clients, board members and more) can candidly share valuable experiences and feedback on the company or organization’s brand/reputation, service or product. It can be your job, and your power, to bring top executives intelligence about the industry, the landscape and the hearsay. If you have your hands on the pulse of internal communications, you can also let them know what you’re hearing and seeing within the company or organization. Be trustworthy and don’t betray confidences. But provide the kind of intel that they can’t get from anybody else.
- Ask the client or customer. Most top executives acknowledge that they think they know what the customer or client needs, wants, and demands. But the world changes fast, and it would be a rare audience that remains stagnant. A good corporate communications or public relations professional should be the “go to” to ask questions, both formally and informally. Whether it’s a survey, an elevator conversation, or an orchestrated series of phone calls, great communicators get the answers that C-suite executives most need.
- Part of PR is to play a small role as HR. Every visit with every professional in your organization is an opportunity to see what’s important to them. Get out from behind the desk to take tours and encourage one-on-one conversations. Look at what’s on someone else’s desk. What references or books do they read or need? What do they value in the workplace? What motivates them? Ask them about experts they respect. Then do your own research to understand what they’re talking about.
- Look for different experiences that illuminate a client’s or customer’s needs. Try to experience what your audiences experience every day. Reach out frequently by phone—not just by newsletter or email. You can even ask permission to shadow a client or customer to understand how they use or might use your product or service.
- Speak the language of the C-suite. You might not have the opportunity to shadow your organization’s CEO or EVP, but you must speak their language. The language flowing from your team may be in the vernacular of your audience, but to be successful with the C-suite, you must learn the terms they use. Only if you have a command over your industry’s vocabulary will you be able to connect with and be of value to top management.
- Think about how you add value—then communicate that. Once you understand the business fabric, consider how you add value. What really matters to the people in the C-suite? If you’re seen as a visibility-getter, what do they want visibility to do for them? If PR is called on to drive sales or attention, it’s up to you to explain how public relations enhances or supports—or even how it might not do that. Viewed through the Prism of Value, assess what you bring to alleviate pressures or fulfill aspirations, and what you alleviate that gets in the way of success. Frequently ask yourself: What can I do today to make the boss’s job easier?
As communicators, we have access that allows us to see through a different lens. Pursuing those opportunities and then communicating those insights will make you a not just a valuable team player, but an indispensable partner with your employer’s highest echelons.