IR evolves along with the CEO

As the role of the CEO changes in 21st Century corporations, the mission of investor relations and corporate communications also evolves. These staff functions often support the chief executive in achieving success – or fall short along with the boss. We ought to take note of subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in the corner office.

Cliff Kalb, a longtime marketer and strategist for drug companies, cites a spate of recent changes at the top level of Big Pharma in a column called “Splitting Image” in the July 2010 Pharmaceutical Executive. His thoughts apply across industries.

First on Kalb’s list is the splitting of the titles of Chairman of the Board, President and CEO. Five of the world’s largest pharma companies have recently divided the jobs and given different people the responsibilities of chairman and CEO, he notes.

Some institutional shareholders have long viewed separating the chairman and CEO jobs as best practice in governance (here’s a RiskMetrics page showing various groups’ policies on chairman and CEO roles).

As leader of an outside board, the chairman sees it as his or her job to oversee broad issues of ethics, policy and operating principles – and safeguard the shareholders’ interests – Kalb says. “And in the c-suite, the chairman of the board is boss,” he says. The idea of checks and balances to the CEO’s power  is, in fact, the reason shareholder activists often push for splitting the titles.

Meanwhile, the chief executive is becoming ever more visible. Kalb observes:

The CEO function is also morphing. Traditional internal roles include setting the visions and mission, elucidating a clear strategy and assuring proper management, allocating resources and developing synergies and alignment across a broad portfolio of businesses.

Now, however, the CEO’s external roles are becoming more prominent. Quarterbacking a team of c-suite players in communications with the press, the investment community, government and other key stakeholders is becoming a bigger line on this job description. Unfortunately, the duty of crisis management has been dropped on this doorstep as well.

So there it is. The CEO must interface with the outside world – press, investors, government and other stakeholders – as the face of the company in good times or bad. We’ve seen a few CEOs in crisis lately on the evening news.

IR and Corp Comm staff (and consultants) should be right beside the CEO, serving as “eyes and ears” to alert the boss to what stakeholders are thinking and guiding him or her in “telling the story” based on experience in communication disciplines.

Summer may be a good time for each of us to pause and reconsider our mission – including how our jobs tie in with the changing demands on the boss.

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.


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One Response to “IR evolves along with the CEO”

  1. Tweets that mention IR evolves along with the CEO « IR Café -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by irbloggers, Rhonda Bennetto. Rhonda Bennetto said: RT @irbloggers: IR evolves along with the CEO (via @irwebreport) > CEO also needs to evolve through IRO […]

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