I get e-mails from McKinsey & Company, including one that linked to this article on “Reinventing External Affairs.” The article notes in a bold headline: “A rising role for stakeholder engagement—and the business value at stake” as a finding after “several years of surveys on engaging external stakeholders.”
So, McKinsey, one of the premier management consulting firms, has been studying the importance of stakeholder engagement for some years now. This strikes me as another example (like change management communications) where, if there is money to be made, the management consulting firms will go there. And, because they have relationships with CEOs, they will be calling the shots, even though we communicators may have a better skill set for actually assessing the strength of and managing relationships.
One of my MBA courses was on “Management and its Environment.” Professor Stanley Hallett talked about the importance of:
- Understanding what was going on in the technological, reg/leg, socio-cultural, business/economic and green (physical) environments
- Preparing the organization for these changes
- And, in some cases, managing the environment (public opinion, regulatory affairs) to achieve better outcomes for the organization.
This is where I’ve always felt communications could play a strong role through stakeholder insight and outreach, but not without alignment with (or being an integral part of) top management.
This is C-Suite and even Board level work. If PR and communications people want to play a leading role, they will need to have many of the same skills the management consultants have. This means comprehensive business literacy and understanding at the very least. The PR practitioners I have known who have had relationships with and influence on CEOs have tended to be the heads of agencies–people like Al Golin, Harold Burson and Peter Chadlington–who, as the creators of large PR agencies, understood how businesses run, but also, as PR practitioners, thought in terms of stakeholders, issues and potential impacts on bottom lines.
If we want to take part in, and even lead, stakeholder engagement at the C-Suite and Board levels, we will need to be more like Al, Harold and Peter.