FTSE 100 communications research reveals serious lack of professional PR

Photo by Alaur Rahman

Last week I blogged about some positive new research from the PRCA which revealed that 96% of CEOs and CFOs consider communications as important or very important. New research from the CIPR paints a bleaker picture… perhaps.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations analysed the boards and executive management teams of the FTSE 100 and found almost half have no director of communications, director of corporate affairs or similar dedicated (or hybrid) position at this senior level.

The CIPR FTSE 100 communications research found:

  • Just three FTSE 100 companies have a dedicated communications director.
  • Only twenty-nine have a non-executive with clear communications experience.
  • Just over half – 52 – have a dedicated communications or corporate affairs expert in their executive leadership or management teams.

This is in stark contrast to the 80% of FTSE 100 firms that have a dedicated human resources (HR) professional on their boards or executive management team.

This is difficult research to do (I’ve tried – see below on methodology), but it would have been useful to have uncovered some extra information such as gender balance, what previous roles the senior communications person has held and who is responsible for communications and public relations. It’s not unusual in some big companies that people get moved into a senior communications role, despite not having specific public relations experience as they are seen as ‘leaders’ and professional PR isn’t considered as specialist as say a legal, financial or even human resources role. So just having someone with the job title, doesn’t necessarily mean they have the knowledge, experience or expertise to do it.

The results also aren’t as necessarily alarming as they appear. I spent many years arguing passionately that public relations needed to be represented on the board. However, after discussing it with senior communications leaders of several large companies I’ve worked with around the world I’m now more open to other options.

What is absolutely critical is that the most senior public relations or corporate affairs person has direct access to the CEO and other members of the C-suite. This is the only way it is possible for them to provide counsel and advice before business decisions are made. The CIPR defines public relations as:

Public relations is about reputation: the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Chartered Institute of Public Relations
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The most important part of reputation is “what you do”. That is why it is critical that the reputational and relationship implications of decisions are considered before decisions are made. The legal and financial implications of decisions should always be considered, and it should be the same for reputation and relationships. That’s why direct access to the CEO is critical, as it should not be the role of corporate communications to simply communicate or explain decisions.

A company or organisation where communications has direct access to the CEO is more likely to avoid the need for crisis communications as many crises are actually created by companies that fail to understand reputational risk.

Where does communications and public relations sit?

The other important information we need to know is what the overall structure of the company is when communications is not represented on the executive management committee. Where then does responsibility for communications and corporate affairs sit? In some companies it is with legal, or split across roles.

I am always troubled if public relations and communications sits within or below marketing, as it’s a recipe for disaster. It partially depends on if the senior marketing person ‘gets’ public relations, or mistakes it for communications, publicity or media relations as many do. Even if the individual does get it, there is still the problem that marketing is more siloed than public relations. Marketing is primarily about sales and customers. In contrast, public relations and corporate affairs have a holistic 360 degree view that takes into account all stakeholders including customers, employees, community, investors, regulators, legislators, activists and more.

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Why not more NEDs with communications experience?

The CIPR FTSE 100 communications research also looked at non-executive directors to see if NEDs could provide communications and public relations expertise and insight at board level. The results are even more alarming with just 29 of the 100 appearing to have a NED that could be clearly assessed as having communications or corporate affairs experience.

I suspect it’s a self-perpetuating problem. If CEOs and boards don’t understand public relations and communications then they won’t know they need that expertise from NEDs. There is also the age old problem that people think they know about communications, based on little more than the fact they watch the news, read the papers (yes, printed newspapers) and know that Twitter and Facebook are. They therefore don’t think they need professional expertise. It’s a mistake they wouldn’t make with finance or legal, although admitidly that’s because they often have financial or legal backgrounds.

I’ve been a NED and am currently looking for a new NED position and see that communications expertise or experience usually isn’t a requirement. When roles specify ‘communications’ it usually means inter-personal communications and presentation skills, rather than actual professional expertise.

Methodology of FTSE 100 communications research

I found the CIPR FTSE 100 research particularly interesting as I started to do a similar project earlier this year. I was using the websites of the 100 largest companies and LinkedIn to try and identify the most senior public relations, communications or corporate affairs person. I didn’t finish as I had other work on and realised that if it took me too long to do the research then some data about the earlier companies might have changed before I got to the last one, or the FTSE 100 might even have changed.

In contrast, the CIPR was able to conduct the research in one week between the 1st and 7th September 2022. It used the same methodology of company websites and LinkedIn.

It would be interesting to conduct similar research in other sectors such as local authorities, other public sector organisations, trade associations and charities.

Alastair McCapra, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, said: “In an age of rolling, twenty-four-hour news, not to mention social media, companies without a senior, dedicated communications figure risk playing reputational roulette and leaving themselves exposed at a time of unparalleled challenge.

All too often firms only receive media interest in relation to a negative issue or for being out of step with public sentiment. In the space of an incredibly short period, a company can become front page news for the wrong reasons – a position many could find themselves in if they don’t have the right communications expertise at the very top.

The companies in our survey are some of the most scrutinised on earth given their size and, undoubtedly, reputation will be on their boardroom agenda. Having the right person to lead on transparent and timely communications advice can pay dividends all year round and not just in moments of crisis.”

CIPR FTSE 100 Audit – Sector Data

Aviation (1)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 0 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 1 company has a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 1 company has a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 1 company has a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Chemicals (1)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 0 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 1 company has a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 0 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Construction (6)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 2 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 1 company has a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 4 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 3 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Consumer (31)

  • 2 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 13 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 13 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 25 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 15 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Finance (20)

  • 1 company has a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 7 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 15 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 16 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 9 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Finance/Real Estate (4)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 0 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 1 company has a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 1 company has a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 1 company has a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Industrial and mining (22)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 6 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 10 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 18 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 14 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Pharmaceutical and healthcare (5)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 1 company has NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 3 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 5 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 4 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Telecoms (3)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 1 company has NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 3 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 3 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 2 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee

Utilities and energy (7)

  • 0 companies have a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms, Director of Corporate Affairs (or similar) on the board
  • 0 companies have NEDs or Senior Independent Directors with PR/comms background (either as a previous appointment or specified as a key skill)
  • 5 company has a stand-alone Director of Corp Comms (or similar) on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 1 company has a stand-alone dedicated head of HR or people on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee
  • 6 companies have a stand-alone dedicated head of ESG, head of sustainability or sustainability officer on their Executive Leadership team or Management Committee