PR at the top table – two shared perspectives; Graeme Sterne

2. Graeme Sterne MiT lecturer, PRINZ Fellow and PRINZ Chief Examiner for APR (Accreditation)

Developing skills for the Boardroom

What can be done to increase our credibility in the eyes of senior management?

During the course of my PhD research I interviewed 28 senior managers from a range of private companies from the Deloittes top 200 list. I asked them what their perceptions of PR were. As you might expect, they had mixed of views.  A common view was that PR was for promoting the company’s image, a function that requires strategic thinking and professional execution. Most thought that PR practitioners were quite proficient at this aspect of corporate communication.

This could not be said for what they called Communication Management (CM) however. CM was seen as a sophisticated and more highly desired form of corporate communication involving stakeholder relationship management, transparent communication practices, representing authentic performance and proactively engaging with senior managers. Alarmingly, there was some doubt expressed as to whether PR/CM practitioners possessed the business acumen to operate at senior management level.

This led me to reflect on why? Is it because senior managers are gate keeping PR/CM practitioners? Is it because some practitioners are failing to relate effectively to senior management? Is it because the differences between PR and CM have not been clearly articulated so both have been pigeon holed as publicity seeking and therefore something light weight and insubstantial? Is it because PR/CM training has not been helping practitioners to develop skills for the Boardroom?

Whatever the answers, the critical question for us is: “What can be done to increase our credibility in the eyes of senior management?” These managers suggested training: to develop strategic thinking skills; to bring value-add insights to the table; to speak the language of senior management (as distinct from PR and Marketing speak); and to articulate the value CM can offer.

To more powerfully articulate the value of PR/CM, practitioners need to focus on outcomes (attitude changes, behaviour changes, relationships forged) and not just outputs (media coverage, events staged, clever advertising), to think through how the objectives we set link with organisational priorities, to articulate the rationale for particular courses of action and to evaluate and report results that mean something to senior managers. These are some of the elements we need to brush up on to increase our credibility in the eyes of senior management.


PRINZ is delivering two Continuing Professional Development full day sessions on ‘PR Strategy & Planning’ in Auckland and Wellington led by Bruce Fraser.

Wellington: 15 August

Auckland: 18 September

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