Arun Sudhaman 04 Oct 2012 // 8:25AM GMT
We are currently putting the finishing touches on this year’s edition of our Influence 100 report, which identifies the 100 most powerful in-house communicators in the world. As ever, it has been an eye-opening exercise. There are 29 new entrants, and precisely the same number of women. 50 are based in North America. More than half, remarkably, oversee a PR budget of over $50m. Beyond the headline numbers, though, some more subtle shifts are play. More and more comms heads now oversee marketing duties as well, a trend that has been underway for several years now, and is particularly popular at B2B companies. And the Influence 100 this year has its first chief executive in Sue Clark, the SABMiller comms head who was promoted to MD of Europe earlier this year. Clark’s ascension is certainly a positive development for the communications function, but such moves are few and far between. Paul Holmes mentioned a few examples in a blogpost earlier this year. This week brings us one more, with John Fallon taking charge of Pearson. Fallon comes from a corporate affairs background, and served as Pearson’s communications director for three years in late 90s, before becoming president of Pearson Inc and heading the group’s international education division. Even if Fallon is a good decade or so removed from his communications role, his background should be seen as a benefit. When organizations make policy decisions, they need to consider the financial, operational, legal and reputational aspects of those decisions with equal care. The people in charge of the first three aspects of that equation are regularly considered for CEO roles; there is no reason why someone responsible for the fourth should not be. While that particular argument is relatively easy to make, the case for corporate affairs heads sitting on a company’s board of directors is more problematic. Given the board’s primary role - to provide independent oversight and governance - it is difficult to envisage a situation where a CCO would not encounter a conflict of interest by sitting on the board. Which is not to say that comms heads should not sit at the top levels of the management group, such as the executive committee. Recruitment consultancy Watson Helsby recently noted that less than half of the corporate affairs heads at FTSE100 companies have reached this level. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this finding reflects the esteem in which the communications function continues to be held at large, listed companies. Unsurprisingly, these handicaps are less likely to affect the members of the Influence 100, the majority of whom have carved out authoritative roles through strong performance and sheer force of personality. For this group, perhaps, the next step is to become a more frequent presence on other companies’ boards of directors. After all, a good public relations person can bring a invaluable, independent view of such critical issues as public trust, reputation and governance.