By Rebecca Whitney, Head, VMA Executive

It is no secret that iconic brands thrive on reputation. When we consider the astronomical impact that web 2.0 - and the associated rise of social media - has had on the way we communicate, Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage, “it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it”, is arguably truer today than when it was said. So, with this in mind, why are more companies not recognising the value of involving communications professionals at the senior level?

The need for experienced professionals to take the lead in managing not only relationships between directors and their stakeholders, but also steering brand perception is clearly evident. However, according to the latest Business Leaders in Communications (BLCS) Study from recruitment consultancy VMA Group – which polled over 250 communications directors across Europe - the representation of lead communicators on the board or management committee sits at just 47%. This figure does represent a 6% increase since 2012, but when quality of communication can make or break a brand – why is this figure not higher?

Perhaps the answer may be as simple as facilitating senior level communicators have greater access to top decision makers. Yet, according to the BLCS Study, around two in three communications directors report directly to the CEO, and within the public sector, this figure sits at just 27%. A recent round-table hosted by VMA, and attended by senior communications professionals, found that a clear line of contact with the CEO, coupled with a strong relationship built on trust, allows communications directors to make a real difference to organisational outcomes. After all, it is only by being a part of the development of company strategy – rather than a reactive business function - that senior communicators can truly make a difference.

It is staggering that when reputation is so high on the agenda, there is not more cohesion between business leaders and communications teams. This disparity may, in part, be attributed to the fact that CEOs don’t always know or understand exactly what they want from their communications function. The previously mentioned round-table found that, although this uncertainty of remit can be frustrating, it opens doors for ambitious, skilled and savvy communications directors to take the lead and show what they can do. Actions speak louder than words, and professionals who can demonstrate the communication function’s ability to contribute - not only at a tactical level, but also strategically - will raise the profile of communications within the organisation, while simultaneously cementing their own value within the team.

As reputation is such a huge issue for businesses large and small - and one which makes a real difference to the bottom line - be it in sales, share price or the retention of valuable talent – we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of communications experience at the top.

Let us not forget that although the communications challenges of large multinationals serve as valuable examples to the wider profession, smaller companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs must also understand the importance of the communications function. After all, it is only through building and maintaining a solid reputation, that companies can truly thrive.