Following the launch of The Independent Voice, our report co-authored with NEDA on the role of Non-Execs in corporate reputation management, Senior Account Manager Tal Donahue (TD) talks to Anne Groves (AG) – Infinite Global Non-Exec and former Global Head of PR at Clifford Chance and former Head of PR for the EMEIA region at Andersen – about her experiences as both a PR and a Non-Exec.
TD: Hi Anne, thanks very much for speaking to us today! Just to kick off, can you give us a brief overview of your PR career – your CV in a sentence if you will?!
AG: No problem at all! OK, so quick-fire, I have spent 40 years in PR and Communications as; in-house PR in publishing, financial services and professional services, followed by executive search, and latterly as a career and skills trainer and teacher in PR.
TD: With such stellar experience you must have a lot of stories. What’s your go-to PR tale you always reach for at dinner parties or events?
AG: Definitely the Andersen collapse following the Enron bankruptcy. It was both unforgettable and traumatic, but a huge learning experience for the PR team.
TD: So what made you want to take on a Non-Exec role?
AG: Essentially I was interested to use my earlier experience to help contribute to an entrepreneurial business going through lots of changes. Plus, I have a high opinion of the person who asked me to do it - Jamie! [Infinite Global CEO]
TD: Thinking about the Non-Exec landscape more broadly, boardroom diversity has been a big topic of debate recently. How far do you feel this should be as much about diversity of skills and backgrounds as it is about gender and ethnicity?
AG: I agree very much regarding the skills agenda: diversity in this area is essential in the role, but people from different backgrounds is also very useful.
TD: Our recent research with NEDA looked at whether Non-Exec roles can be PR’s route to the ‘top table’ in business. What do you think has prevented PR from getting there so far?
AG: PR has previously often been categorised or compartmentalised as an add-on to the business strategy. Importantly, though, it encompasses internal as well as external communications, which is better recognised now. In the past, Marketing Directors, to whom PRs often reported, would definitely think this was their role and that PR is one of the channels to market rather than the holistic long-term strategic role it actually is.
TD: During our research, one of the challenges that emerged from the people we spoke to was boardroom logistics, with only one or two seats on most boards being free (ie. not compliance roles) for PRs to be considered for.
What is the PR’s ‘sales pitch’ in this situation? What is it that a comms professional can bring to a Non-Exec role that a legal or finance specialist can’t?!
AG: Crucially, the view from outside the company. Comms people generally have a much better understanding of this, including expectations of transparency which finance/legal specialists don't necessarily take into account. Also, an understanding of and unyielding focus on reputation.
TD: That’s an interesting point – taking that on, how do you think the role of the Non-Exec has evolved in recent years so that advising on reputational issues is part and parcel of the job? Is more training required?
AG: Very much so. In my experience, Non-Execs generally understand the concepts inherent in reputation but would find training and background information, particularly on the practicalities, very valuable in the role.
TD: Finally, what’s the one thing you would tell aspiring Non-Execs that you wish you’d known before you took on a Non-Exec role?
AG: Don't be shy, would be my advice! You do have something to offer, although people often struggle with this. And what you have to offer is often broader than you may think because of your general management experiences, as well as your functional expertise.
TD: Would this be the same message to PR professionals who want to be Non-Execs?
AG: For PRs - your knowledge and experience of the outside world, the art and practice of communications, and understanding of reputation management is key. With growing market expectations of transparency and the need to build an understanding of business in the market PRs can be a particularly valuable asset for boards.
Get in touch to learn more and become involved in Infinite Global and NEDA’s Non-Executive Director campaign. NEDA holds events and training programmes for aspiring and current Non-Execs, which can be found here.