Public relations isn’t discussed much in public by CEOs and business leaders, so it was refreshing and reassuring to hear two of the best Fortune 500 CEOs discuss how PR helps them achieve their business goals.
Speaking at the recent Arthur W. Page Society Spring Conference in New York, Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods, and Andrea Jung, chairman and CEO of Avon Products, candidly discussed the critical roles being played by their PR teams.
Defining “good” for the corporate affairs (a.k.a. PR) professional, Rosenfeld said communicating well and executing flawlessly are fundamental. “As corporate affairs professionals, you literally hold the reputation of your organizations in your hands. We depend on you to capture the look, the sound and the feel of our businesses, and translate them consistently into different media and languages around the world. And we trust you to sweat the details — every last one of them — because with one click of your mouse, you create public, indelible, and in many cases legally binding communications, that document our past and shape our future.”
She noted that “great” PR professionals don’t just communicate. They help drive the business agenda. She cited the following four ways to move from “good to great” in the profession:
- Match the solution to the problem. Don’t build us a Lamborghini, if we need a scooter.
- Pick your battles. With the volume of news articles, employee questions, policy and public opinion issues on any given day, you have to focus on what really matters.
- Businesses don’t operate in a vacuum. Great corporate affairs teams help us understand how our business decisions will be viewed by critical audiences, and then advise us how best to manage — both the opportunities and the challenges.
- You need to balance the short and the long term. Day-to-day business has a short-term cycle but when you’re talking about governments, unions, regulators, media…those groups have very long memories.
Avon CEO Andrea Jung credited PR with driving change at Avon over the past decade. Jung said she turned to her communications team to help articulate a clear turnaround strategy. She said Avon’s 360 communications approach seeks to engage all their constituencies and bring them on the journey. Despite the Great Recession, Avon is doing well and Jung credits PR for helping drive the company’s success.
Jung’s high regard for PR was summed up beautifully: “I hope I’m only one of all CEOs who stand here and say that communications is indispensable – there’s no change, no company success without it… the power that you have to change your companies, to help shape your leader’s success… is immensely important in today’s world.”