Walk The Line

Scale of justice, close-upA few weeks ago, I discussed some of the ongoing debate and insight within the PR profession about demonstrating our value among C-level executives. I wanted to dig into that subject a little further (it’s a personal interest of mine) with some fascinating research I found in MIT’s Sloan Management Review.

In an article published in the Summer 2010 issue, Larry Styble and Maryanne Peabody, co-founders of Boston-based management firm Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, address which types of employees and executives CEOs gravitate toward.

The authors’ basic point is that for many successful CEOs, who they align themselves with within their executive suite often comes down to assets and liabilities. That’s right; in a way, we can boil down the value of any company’s executives to whether they see the world as full of opportunities (asset enhancement) or full of threats (liabilities reduction).

According to the authors, executives at most companies typically fall into either category, with the heads of marketing and sales likely aligned with CEOs who view the companies they lead with a glass-half-full approach (asset enhancement). Meanwhile, CIOs and CFOs are typically appreciated by a CEO who thinks of corporate threats first, and opportunities second (liabilities reduction).

So, where does the corporate communicator or PR professional in an organization fall within this range? As I discussed last week, PR pros must balance the demands of an internal audience with those of external forces and constituents, trying to find mutually-beneficial opportunities and areas where the values of both align in a cohesive maner (h/t to Geoff Barbaro for his comment on my post last week that put the goals/value alignment between companies and constituents into perspective for me).

On the one hand, we’re charged with seeking new opportunities for our organizations/clients to build relationships, enhance (and in some cases, restore) the reputation of key executives and the brand, engage with new and existing audiences and build a brand. Simultaneously, we must ensure those opportunities and brand-building initiatives are in line with those of our company’s stakeholders.

In other words, we’re often smack in the middle of asset enhancement and liability reduction.

But there is some positive light within the asset enhancement-liability reduction debate as it pertains to PR professionals: the MIT Sloan Management Review authors strongly suggest that organizations staff teams with advocates of both viewpoints, while warning against staffing based solely on the approach a CEO favors.

Taken from that perspective, perhaps PR professionals are the best fit for the modern executive suite; one that seeks to utilize strategic counselors and experts adept at understanding both internal and external opportunities and liabilities, while primed to capitalize on both. We’re already adept at balancing what can sometimes be two contrasting points of view (internal and external). Now, we need to demonstrate our ability to provide multiple perspectives and strategic, well-informed counsel for a variety of business-related issues and opportunities at a moment’s notice.

Maybe we can have our C-level cake and eat it, too?

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