Gary Grates
Gary Grates

Silicon Valley Bank. FTX. VW. Wells Fargo. JC Penney. Ford. And dozens of others.

Organizations who have undergone bankruptcy, near-death experiences, reputational issues, and operational disasters all have one thing in common – the lack of public relations/communications experts on the Board of Directors.

In an age of relevance and stakeholder enlightenment, wouldn’t it make sense for Boards to be populated with the experience and background of people who understand relationship-building, trust generation, and engagement?

Given the current skepticism about the way business is being conducted, the need for transparency and the uncovering of the “how,” not just the “what” and “how”, PR needs to occupy a director’s seat. Think about it: a PR executive’s whole purpose revolves around building and sustaining relationships with the organization and its stakeholders, including employees, customers, clients, patients, influencers, media, NGOs, governments, communities, and investors. No longer a “soft” issue, such work is now critical to success.

Despite this reality, PR pros are woefully under-represented on corporate boards. In fact, there are more former athletes, therapists, librarians, and academics on boards than PR pros. That is not to say such voices aren’t important, but there is nothing more important than an organization’s reputation, identity, efficacy, and overall relevance in a changing marketplace.

Let’s explore further. At the Board level, PR counsel and advice would be able to discern and dissect decisions in multiple ways:

  • How will this decision impact out constituencies?
  • Is our action consistent with our mission?
  • What is the risk associated with taking a certain course of action?
  • Are we prepared to handle a counter point-of-view?
  • Do our behaviors reflect our stated intent?
  • How relevant are we with our stakeholders?
  • Where should we be making investments given our strategic intent?
  • What is our policy for enhancing employee development and engagement?
  • Is our story clear, consistent and comprehended by people inside and outside the company?

These questions and dozens more facing every company today must be answered by strategic, sophisticated experts—PR pros—at the Board level bringing a “holistic” and measured response to the mix.

Board-level discussions and debates concentrate on strategic leadership and direction, focusing on the company’s vision and efficacy. As such, the Board must be constituted with a blend of skill, experience, acumen, and competence. In its oversight role, the Board monitors the policies, procedures, protocols, and resources of the business in the achievement of stated goals.

Ensuring PR expertise as part of the Board make-up seems like a no-brainer given how social business has become in a digital age. Yet, the consideration of PR executives to Fortune 500 Boards remains elusive.

No one is better positioned to bring a fresh, non-traditional voice to the issues and opportunities of today—including those of key stakeholders—than a PR professional. Placing the customer, the market, and the employee in the Boardroom is exactly what PR does and should be doing in a modern corporation.


Gary F. Grates is Principal and Managing Director of GConsulting Group, a global consulting and advisory firm in the areas of business transformation/change, corporate communications, and corporate relevance. He was formally principal of Real Chemistry, a health innovation firm, president/global managing director of Edelman Change and Employee Engagement, and vice president/north america, General Motors Corporation. He is an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University Newhouse School, member of the Plank Center, Page and IPR.