Vying for Seats in the C-suite: Baylor University Research Suggests Marketing and Public Relations’ Focus Is Too Narrow

C-suite
May 11, 2015

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WACO, Texas (May 11, 2015) — Corporate communicators and marketing teams are often in direct competition to be in the “C-suite” — the coveted boardroom seats — according to a study by a Baylor University researcher.

“So few seats are available that it’s often an ‘either/or’ for PR and marketing,” said study author Marlene Neill, Ph.D., assistant professor of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. “People perceive them as quite similar,” although their responsibilities are distinctly different.

The research indicates that both groups’ focus on the C-suite, with members that include chief executive officers and chief financial officers, is too narrow. “Everybody wants more power and influence, but strategic issues arise at the division level as well as executive-level committees,” Neill said.

The study — “Beyond the C-Suite: Corporate Communications’ Power & Influence” — is published in the Journal of Communication Management.

Neill conducted 30 in-depth interviews with senior executives in three Fortune 500 companies and a fourth multinational company that has been featured among Inc. 5000’s list of the fastest-growing private companies.

None of them included both marketing and PR executives in the C-suite, she said.

Those interviewed included executives in corporate communications, marketing, sales, human resources, investor relations, finance and operations, as well as division presidents.

“The executives’ interviews indicated that corporate communications and marketing do supply distinct and essential services that justify their membership in executive-level decision teams,” Neill said.

While PR executives in corporate environments generally manage social media, reputation, internal communications and government relations, marketing executives had influence due to their expertise in market research and branding.

Factors affecting the power of PR and marketing are industry type, CEO preferences, organizational hierarchy and domain expertise.

“PR had a bigger role with companies handling crises and reputation, while marketing was more dominant when the company was focused on branding and sales,” Neill said.

She suggested that both groups need to build internal relationships with their colleagues to educate them on the contributions they can provide. For example, in one company, the corporate communications group initially was excluded from the decision team for a wellness initiative. But after an unsuccessful launch, the communication team provided key messaging about why employees' health matters to their families. Participation rates increased.

“It requires an effort on the part of the manager of public affairs to really build the internal relationships . . . so that people always think to call them,” said one public affairs executive.

In the interviews, executives discussed these issues: transition from a print to an electronic publication; public relations’ response to two crises; a merger/acquisition; fee increases across business units; appearances on a national television show; an employee wellness program; and a new business partnership.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 24 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

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