Why PR experts will be the next generation CEOs

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 00:00 |
Dr Ezekiel Mutua of the Kenya Film Classification Board.

Dr Wilfred Marube

For a long time, Kenya’s corporate scene has had majority of CEOs with professional backgrounds in Finance, Engineering, Human Resources and Management. Their performance has been exemplary.  

However, the business environment has changed and there is no assurance that CEOs  from those backgrounds are adequately prepared for the new business dynamics.

So, which professionals should take the mantle? Is it not time that public relations and communication experts took a lead and became CEOs of blue chip companies and state corporations?

My take is that public relations professionals are best placed to guide institutions and corporations in the current and next phase of the business environment.

This is despite the fact that, for a long time, these experts who help build image of companies and solidify reputations of organisations have operated at a safe distance from the C-suites. 

There are various reasons why PR practitioners are best placed to steer companies.

To start with, these professionals run departments and agencies that provide sound strategic communication advice to CEOs on relationship building, brand protection, crisis management, global communication and public affair, among others.

Moreover, there is less reliance on efficiency of business processes and mastery of internal systems as a differentiation factor among brands. It is also increasingly difficult to differentiate brands based on only products and services.

As a matter of fact, relationships with clients and other key stakeholders matter more than the superiority of products and services.  Customers, stakeholders, lobby groups and government have secured a central role influencing the performance and survival of corporations. 

For instance, customers want to be heard and appreciated. On the other hand, stakeholders desire to be involved in decision making while lobby groups want access to information and accommodation in their radical proposals, and government keeps expanding its regulatory space by the day. 

Further, the increased mistrust, anti-corporate litigation, environmental and other social issues require enhanced stakeholder management interventions.

Public relations professionals are best prepared to deal with such a demanding environment due to their superior negotiation and stakeholder management skills.

We are in the era of innovation.  Nothing spurs innovation among employees more than top leadership that inspires, engages, motivates, embraces teamwork and engages in two-way communication with staff. 

Indeed, communication professionals have the ability to communicate with clarity and conviction. This is an important skill in the wake of numerous change management initiatives taking place.

The change programmes require CEOs to sell their vision to employees, consumers and stakeholders. 

Yet despite being best suited for leadership role, there are some things these professionals should do to improve their capacity to lead.

First, public relations experts need to become conversant with the C-suite language. This entails basic understanding of the balance sheet, profit and loss account, revenue and expenses, return on investment and such. 

Fortunately, one does not need to go to a business school to get foundational knowledge on finance and make sense of the figures. 

Self-education and short-term courses can help one acquire foundation knowledge and requisite business lingua. 

After all, there are financial experts in organisations specifically employed to handle the day to day operations and provide technical advice to the CEO. Integrating business knowledge with communication is a powerful tool for a company boss.

Secondly, communication professionals should be ready to step out of the shadows and gain more visibility within organisations and among stakeholders.

They should start blowing their own trumpets on their contribution to the reputation of institutions, and seek recognition for their efforts, particularly their contribution to the bottom line, and hopefully show that reputational capital is as important as the products and services offered.

At the moment, two CEOs with background in communication come to mind. Dr Ezekiel Mutua of the Kenya Film Classification Board and Dr Naim Bilal of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation are first among equals.

We expect them to raise the profile of their organisations and shape conversations around the industries they operate.  So far, they haven’t disappointed. We need more of their caliber. The writer is the President of Public Relations Society of Kenya

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