Corporate affairs is gaining in influence and should never report to marketing

Just catching up on last week’s PRWeek and Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief of Brand Republic’s marketing titles, wrote a great op-ed on the growing importance of corporate affairs directors.

A top corporate headhunter told me this week that corporate affairs directors had, without doubt, gained in influence compared with marketing directors over the past few years.

Whether this is a good thing or not depends on which career path you have taken, but it is certainly grist to the mill of all those corporate reputation advisers who have been arguing for a seat at the top table.

Indeed, many CEOs are now insisting that ‘reputation’ is among the top three items on the board agenda.

As Marketing, the bible for marketing directors, is also part of my Brand Republic Group portfolio, I’ve certainly got no desire to see either role diminished. On the contrary, in enlightened organisations, the two functions work in harmony, with corporate and product brands integrating to form more than the sum of their parts.

But I would argue that having corporate affairs reporting to a chief marketing officer is rarely a good idea.

This is welcome news, but as Danny also points out it also highlights an alarming skills gap. There are far too many public relations professionals who still struggle to think outside the limited marketing box. You still find lots of 20+ year veterans of the industry who just don’t actually know or understand what public relations actually is and struggle to get beyond media relations, publicity and promotion.

I’d go even further than Danny and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that a corporate affairs or corporate communications head should report into marketing. Just because some public relations tactics and skills are an essential part of the marketing communications mix doesn’t mean that it all is. To have corporate affairs report in to marketing is to ignore all of the other essential elements of the role. For those that argue about the importance of sales and profit, I’d counter with that in the long-term sales and profit will be damaged if corporate affairs is part of marketing.

After decades of agonising, the age of 360-degree stakeholder relations has arrived. In fact, the recession may even have accelerated this process. Firms that are ‘up against it’ have been forced to see the value of both tactical and strategic reputation management.

But all this means the corporate affairs role is becoming more demanding. Where once such advisers could specialise in media relations, with comparatively long lead times on issues, true stakeholder relations require so much more.

With more regulation, government affairs is growing in importance; the connected world means internal and external comms must be seamless; and social media crises come out of left-field, at sickening speed.

If some corporate affairs professionals aren’t fully versed in managing all these stakeholder groups, you’ll find even fewer corporate affairs professionals who truly understand the impact that the social web is having on the actual fundamentals of their business and organisation. This goes far beyond simply using social media for marketing, but its impact on the attitudes and behaviour of all stakeholders.

The social web truly does mean that corporate affairs professionals must focus on the reality of public relations which is behaviour and what you do, which is what ultimately has the biggest impact on your reputation.