“CEOs: Can We Talk?” (cont.)
I was once assigned by a top corporate officer to be the executive director for a new CEO of our most highly visible, profitable subsidiary. I believe the words were, “Don’t let him out of your sight.” The president was technically sound; I knew external affairs, from public affairs to media relations. I was the “knowledge-voice” that balanced operational decisions with stakeholder expectations. This was a half-billion-dollar operation with huge energy, environmental, defense, and health and safety considerations. Not only that, we were part of a Fortune-500 firm with a stock price.
In retrospect, it was a superb move. I was a combination of Chief of Staff/Press Secretary/Marketing without the titles. By aligning my skill set and experience with operations, it freed the CEO to do what he did best vs. trying to make the CEO into something he was not. The move formalized the value of my knowledge and accelerated our firm’s success.
So, how many CEOs used to be head of public affairs, public relations or marketing communications? The answer is, “Very few.” The truth is you probably have some training and street experience, but not decades of experience in “the court of public opinion” and you are not a subject matter expert in these fields. You don’t have to be.
Bottom line: If your inner circle — formal or informal — does not include expertise in media and public relations, then address the situation.
If that expertise is buried under a vice president, tucked away in the organization for budget reasons (budget pressures) or just plain too inexperienced, then at least contract with someone who can fill the empty chair at your table of trust, if only on a “virtual” or contract basis.
Have them work with you — and partner with your public relations department. It’s an ultra fast way of injecting decades of experience into your organization, in a cost-effective manner, while mentoring the next generation.
You are buying both the knowledge and the transfer of knowledge. The buck stops with you and the knowledge is available. Your company’s issues, good and bad, can become this hour’s news in an instant. Are you ready to be the news…or to make the news? Who are you even talking with that would know?
Great leaders are like great coaches: You articulate the vision, execute the plan, manage the resources, communicate your successes…but you don’t have to play all positions.