Blog: influencing the board – don’t be left out the room

#PRFest is only a few weeks away. Over the last few months each of the speakers have been contributing guest blogs about their session at #PRFest.

One thing we absolutely need to be doing at a senior level is influencing the board. We’ve all had our issues and challenges but where do the opportunities lie?

In this post, two respected and highly experienced, award-winning PR practitioners talk about ‘the boardroom’. Here’s what Sarah Pinch and Bridget Aherne had to say.

The strategic advisor

There is a veritable mountain of evidence, research and case studies from successful organisations of the vital importance, of the role of strategic communications advisor.  It has been proven as a key success factor in many outstanding organisations.

This evidence sits as a glorious mountain next to the one full of all those high performing organisations that have recognised the importance of a fully diverse senior leadership team, and #PRFest has a fantastic panel on that very issue on Friday, 16 June at 1.45pm.

So, two mountains, full of evidence – shouting from the rooftops that having board level reputation management advice, from a top PR professional (not a lawyer) and diversity at all levels are vital; yet we are still a long long way from mecca.  What is going on?

Influencing the board

In our PR world, it’s nearly always on the agenda at every meeting, chat or discussion between PR and communications professionals.  It is a question both of us are asked frequently: “How do I get on the board?”  At #PRFest, we will be exploring some of the reasons why this is still such an issue.  Looking at what would happen if PR professionals should just start occupying the ground; taking opportunities as they present themselves in their roles with clients, in house and by operating in line with certain principles. We will also explore what are the attributes you need, the knowledge, skills and how to embrace an effective modus operandi for success.

influencing the board

How wide is the circle of trust?

Recently Sarah Pinch has been thinking about some of the root causes. “In my experience whenever an organisation is in trouble, they invite their most senior communications person – or their agency – into the board room. I have always tried not to be left out again. But having parity on the board is still a real challenge.  I wondered, out loud last week with a client, whether this was because so much of the work I do is advising the CEO, and /or chair of organisations on highly sensitive matters, sometimes the circle of trust is very small indeed, so colleagues do not know the extent of our involvement. Similarly, I do think there is often an element of professional jealousy from other executive and board colleagues; uncomfortable that the Director of Communications knew something before they did. It’s not a helpful approach, but it is an understandable one.

“Every board member has responsibility and information must be shared – but sometimes it can only be shared once the CEO has had chance to discuss the implications, and take some advice on potential outcomes and pitfalls.  It’s no coincidence that many of my senior PR colleagues have clear Monday mornings in their diaries, so fellow directors can come in and discuss what was keeping them awake over the weekend.  The title ‘Director of Communications and Counselling Services’ is often very fitting.”

Right place, right time

Bridget Aherne has too been deploying that very approach of getting into the board room during a crisis and making her advice indispensable there:

“It strikes me as strange that the lead comms advisor can very often be the only senior professional who wasn’t in the room when a bad decision was made but is regularly the first person another board member turns to in a crisis. Influencing upwards, giving your advice to c-suite colleagues outside of the boardroom and taking the time to give the right advice when being asked initially for tactical responses to strategic issues can be frustrating in a role.

“Not only is it a sign of professionalism to respond graciously when a big issue does emerge, it’s a clever strategy to place yourself in the right place to deliver value for your business from then on and future-proof your career. Tactics can come and go but sound advice on stakeholders and engagement matters is timeless.

“I’ve also learned to see the benefits of being an occasional or ex-officio member of boards – by not having to do your influencing for your resource or department at that table, you and the CEO or Chair are the only truly independent or organisational-wide perspectives in the room.”

We will be talking through some real-life examples of board level work, discussing the pitfalls and the opportunities and sharing some of our own top tips, as well as those that have helped us get to the board room table in peace time, as well as in times of crisis.

Book your tickets for Thursday 15th and/or Friday 16th June here.

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