How can PR secure a seat at the Board table? Oxford experts’ top tips

2 in 10 execs don’t know what PR stands for. It is the disturbing conclusion of recent research published by the CIPR’s Influence Magazine.

It is in this context that the Public Relations Oxford group held its latest event about PR’s seat at the Board table. We have got to wonder: how can directors value something they don’t understand?

An expert panel made up of Nicola Green, Corporate Affairs Director at O2, Fathima Dada, Managing Direction Oxford Education at OUP, Mish Tullar, Head of Communications Partnerships and Policy and Oxford City Council explored this topic. Here are their top recommendations for PR practitioners to secure a seat at the Board table:

  • Act as business facilitators. To be credible, communicators need to be able to engage with people beyond their own department. They need to expand their relationships with their organisation’s stakeholders to support the business goals.
  • Be willing to jump on any reputational issues. Whether they are external or internal, PR practitioners are expected to help tackle a wide range of issues, risks and crises. However, I would add that it is not acceptable to see PR teams as clean-up crews when an organisation is clearly guilty of wrong-going. PR professionals should be comfortable advising at the highest level so they are more effective in preventing crises from happening in the first place. 
  • Explore corporate culture, external as well as internal communications. Communicators need to master the activities of their own department. Further, they need to have a holistic view of the organisation they operate in. A silo vision leads to fragmented communication, which ultimately impacts the effectiveness of PR as a whole.
  • Be big on strategy and management. Communicators not only need to master communication activities, but also understand their organisation’s mission, vision and objectives. The most experienced and respected practitioners are those able to understand the various aspects of the business, especially the financial one.

  • Be a trusted confidant. At the highest level, it is crucial to demonstrate professionalism by respecting confidentiality standards. In the same way, it is advised to avoid speculation. Rather, we should provide guidance and explore solutions in a non-judgmental way.
  • Use not only words but numbers. This one was music to my ears! (I work in PR research and measurement). If we want to be able to demonstrate the true value of our work, we need to move away from vanity metrics and focus on measuring outcomes through quantitative and qualitative research. Assuming that the launch of a campaign will have raised awareness about your message is not enough. Rather, we should invest in measurement to accurately define a measure of success.  

  • Understand the value of communications, media and reputation management. This might sound obvious as we should be the first ones advocating for the prevalence of what we do. Nonetheless, PR practitioners should not only appreciate the importance of media visibility, but also highlight opportunities and threats. Our goal is to act as advisors to assess risks, plan media opportunities and limit reputational damage whenever necessary.

One final consideration revolved around experience in general. The panel agreed that to secure a seat of the Board table, a communicator must be credible. And that credibility comes from experience.

Does this mean that the hierarchy of power should be based on longevity within an organisation? Of course not. Also, the message that younger generations are incapable of governing because they are… well, too young, is absurd. Look at Greta Thunberg. She is the perfect example of someone who is inexperienced but has got huge powers.

What really matters is the importance of education. Education, whether it is at university or in-house, should pave the way to the highest executive positions.

Oxford could not have been a better place to suit this purpose!