PR and the C-Suite Table: Not One Size Fits All

A seat at the C-suite table is a bit of an obsession in our industry. It’s consistently used as a yardstick for the importance of communications or PR. As a CEO, former head of communications, and founder of agencies, I find this a little self-indulgent.



In a new article for CommPRO, “A Seat at the C-Suite Table: It’s Not About the Importance of PR I argue that it is much simpler.

“Communications leaders, in fact all business leaders, are invited based on the value they bring to it. The seat is not one-size-fits-all.”    

In the new article, I highlight three principal ways I’ve seen CEOs engage communications, marketing, and agency leaders that are relevant to how we as communicators should think about the C-suite table.   

The first is when a chief communications officer or head of marketing is always at the table as part of the CEO’s inner circle. This is based on their ability to contribute not only on communications but also strategic discussions. I note, “Professionals who have run businesses in the past and have become communications leaders later have a natural advantage in this regard.”

Since most come from a different background, it’s more likely that communicators will get a call to occupy a seat when the CEO is looking for communications help.

This is not to be sniffed at. Being at the table when communications or related issues are being discussed is a measure of your value as an advisor to the CEO on communications issues, rather than a reflection of the progress of corporate communications or PR as a function. If you are not brought in it’s time to ask the question - what do I need to do for the CEO to bring me in?

Why does it matter that a seat at the table is not about the importance of communications? As I note in the CommPRO article, “If we see a seat at the table as a metric for the status of the profession, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of self-entitlement or self-importance, which never go down well with CEOs.”

Communicators or marketers should be concerned if they are not at the table when communications decisions are being made. Some may be at an early stage in their careers and need to grow into the senior advisor role. And some CEOs (rightly or wrongly) may not see the function as important. Before getting too bent out of shape, the CEO’s priorities will be different based on industry, stage of development, and if they are in the midst of a crisis!        

In the CommPRO article, I make the point that discussions about the role of corporate communicators or heads of marketing in the context of a seat at the C-suite table need to be more nuanced than they often are. And, furthermore, that this should not be seen as an entitlement simply because we as industry professionals believe what we do is important (which it is).

The real currency and metric against which communicators or marketers should be measured is not whether you have a seat at the table, rather it is the value you provide to earn it.        


Simon Erskine Locke is founder & CEO of communications agency and professional search and services platform, CommunicationsMatch™. CommunicationsMatch’s technology helps clients search, shortlist and hire agencies and professionals by industry and communications expertise, location, size, diversity and designations. CommunicationsMatch developed the industry’s first integrated agency search and RFP tools, Agency Select™, with RFP Associates. 



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