On The Board of Public Opinion

APR 26, 2018

Recent Woes Highlight The More Public Role of Boards

(Originally appeared in the April 26, 2018 'Across the Board' publication, a Board Director, Board Advisor, and Business Newsletter reaching 24,500+ thought-leaders and visionaries in over 65 countries with articles focused on leadership, strategy, and governance topics - sign up here)

Perception is reality. We are all taught this at the earliest stages of our professional careers - whether through formal education or learning it the hard way. Controlling and cultivating a positive company aura and ethical brand awareness continues to elevate in importance, especially in today's world where a negative perception can be created in a 'digital instant'... and no company is immune. Taking it one step further, no Board is immune, either. Compared to the public, private, and nonprofit Boards of yesteryear, today's Boards are seemingly more open in their public communication and company representation to help in creating positive public opinion, especially in instances where something reputationally catastrophic has already occurred.

Numerous recent instances of Board involvement in attempting to control and rebuild public perception have been witnessed with companies such as Facebook, Uber, Newell Brands (read about Newell Brands' recent PR crisis here), and Starbucks. Unfortunately, Uber's Board intervention following Travis Kalanick's meltdown somewhat backfired, but this served as a harbinger moment for Board Members to be just as prepared publicly as the company's CEO. Anything less will not do.

...But are Boards prepared for this markedly additional role, able to balance the fine line in not undermining the CEO, and close enough to the minute details of a situation to add value? As has been the norm, there is typically a clearly defined border nestled between the CEO being the sole public messenger of the company vs. a publicly vocal Board. Furthermore, the 'point of entry' into the discussion, such as a CEO's potential prioritization of the company's defining values over the Board's potentially prioritized shareholder concerns, can confuse a company's outward stance on serious topics. Any misalignment in this arrangement has the potential to upset customers, rattle shareholders, erode confidence, and escalate smaller issues into bigger ones. In preparation for these scenarios, extreme care and purposeful communication planning in advance are a must.

Boards and their CEOs should openly discuss their communications strategy and approach, for planned as well as unplanned events, and for positive and negative public perception scenarios. This pre-alignment can prove to be quite valuable for instances when it is needed most.

What will you consider for your company's CEO/Board communication plan?

Reach out directly to Mark A. Pfister to discuss how to create parity in your CEO and Board's outward communication.


Mark A. Pfister Independent Director | Outside Director | Strategist | Board Macro-Influencer | Speaker | Author

About the Author: In addition to sitting on numerous Boards, Mark A. Pfister is a 'Board Macro-Influencer,' a certified Board Director and advises public, private, and nonprofit boards in efficient and effective operations. Known as 'The Board Architect,' he is also the inventor of the 'Board as a Service' (BaaS) engagement model and an expert project manager frequently consulting on strategic global initiatives in their initiation and operational phases...<< read full bio here >>