To German CEOs, PR heads still not ‘equals’

Ansgar ZerfaßIt was disappointing to learn that public relations people, even at the topmost level in an organization, are not seen as the go-to person on communication topics among senior leaders, according to a study involving more than 600 German executives.

In research presented at the International PR Research Conference this year, Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig and newly minted M.A. Muschda Sherzada surveyed CEOs, managing directors and executive board members of German corporations in ten industries. They discovered several interesting findings, including:

  • Mass media is more influential on corporate reputation than social media — 96% to 71%
  • Personal communication by leaders is more impactful than that of professional communicators — 87% to 65%
  • When exchanging views on building public opinion or communication strategies, peers on the board or in functional divisions are most important, versus the contribution of the communicators or communication departments — 87% to 64%
  • CEOs and other top execs say motivating employees, fostering corporate trust and supporting a positive image are the most important objectives of corporate communications, more than fostering dialogue with stakeholders and gaining trust among journalists.
  • Marketing communications and financial communications are rated the most effective sub-disciplines in corporate comms, but internal communication is seen as most relevant.

That comms pros aren’t seen as the first choice when it’s time to talk communication strategy is telling. Many of my colleagues say that they are business people who use communication skills in service of company objectives. But clearly in Germany, our function is tactical, not strategic, and communicators focus too little on internal communications and effective counsel.

What is it like in your organization?

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2 Responses to “To German CEOs, PR heads still not ‘equals’”

  1. No surprise at all. I think the same is true in most other countries, including the U.S. CEO’s still don’t “get” a lot of issues. The best and perhaps the only time CEOs get it is when they are in trouble. Then there is much respect. Or at least they listen because they want to get out of trouble.

  2. Sean says:

    Gerry – sorry for the late reply (I don’t know why WordPress stopped notifying me when comments come in…) I think there’s a fair amount of ignorance of communication as a business discipline. It’s not covered in business curricula, and even though nearly every HBR case study has some aspect of communication at its heart, we’re just not seen as experts in the same fashion as our c-suite colleagues. Thanks for your comment…