Monday, July 21, 2008

A Seat at the Table

Bill Sledzik goes after that windmill one more time and it looks like he’s building speed. Based on his other posts, he just may get it started. Started, but not done. That will take another generation and we only have ourselves to blame.

A few years ago I was invited to participate in a PRSA panel discussion called “Getting a Seat at the Table.” I was invited by somebody who knew me specifically for my contrarian perspective on this issue.

The thesis of the discussion was that PR counsel should be involved in corporate decision-making. How can we manage an organization’s reputation effectively if we don’t get to influence the decisions made by senior management? Obviously every organization should immediately promote its senior PR … whatchamacallit … to the executive committee or board of directors.

That’s not the ol’ perfesser’s point, but that’s what some will take from it. So I get to tell my story.

This was roughly 2003. The dot-com crash was behind us but most organizations were still feeling their way around the whole digital thing. [Weird that seems so long ago.]

S’anyway …

The dominant narrative about PR folks is that we are really good communicators but lack judgment. We don’t get respected and we don’t get consulted. After all of the usual arguments, it was my turn to speak. I had some hastily prepared remarks but hearing the applause lines my colleagues had exploited, I felt obligated to offer a little quiz.

“Let me see a show of hands,” I began. “Who thinks PR should own the corporate Web site?”

Nearly every (other) hand in the place went up.

“How many of you with your hands up know how to write code?”

Hands went down. I was on to something.

“How many of you think general management should consult PR before changing its distribution model?” Again, lots of hands.

“Great. How many know what your company spends on inbound and outbound freight as a percentage of net revenue? Or on telephone service?”
There were a few knowing giggles, but mostly silence.

What I was trying to get at was that if professionals of any discipline want to get involved in general management – if you want a seat at the proverbial table – you have to earn it. You can’t earn it as a profession, but as an individual. You don’t get invited to the board room for what you can learn, but for what you can offer.

If and when you get a seat at the big kids’ table, pay attention. Meanwhile, learn as much as possible about your entire business so when you get there you have a perspective that matters.

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