Amith Prabhu: Where’s the Seat at the table?

23 Mar,2015

By Amith Prabhu


I was at two back to back events last week in Mumbai. One organised by the Association of Asia Pacific Communications Directors to launch the India chapter. And the other organised by yours truly to bring together senior communications folks from both sides of the aisle under one platform.


Both events had much in common. One thing that stood out is the question that a member of the audience asked at both conferences. As to when would communications leaders get a seat at the table? Two interesting perspectives emerged from the respondents on stage.


Before I share those responses in this column I would like to place my viewpoint on this question which should be a non-question. Communications leaders are hired by chief executive officers more often than not to assist them in a function that they love to lead from the front. Take the example of Anand Mahindra or Harsh Goenka or Tony Fernandes or any other vocal and communicative chief executive to understand this better.


These CEOs and several others like them drive communications strategy, have a seat at the table and technically lead the communications function with the communications head reporting to them. That should answer the question in some part. Next, how many communications heads have made attempts to earn the seat at the table by acquiring a business qualification or being able to contribute to the bottomline?


Other questions that come to mind are – Who are the outstanding communicators in India who deserve to have a seat at the table? What have communicators who have earned a seat at the table done differently? And what will communicators with a seat at the table do differently that they are unable to do now?


Well, there are communicators who are senior enough to have been nominated as independent directors in companies other than their own and truly on merit. Roma Balwani and Veena Gidwani are two such names. This is a beginning as communications as an independent function is much newer a function compared to the traditional functions of sales, marketing and operations.


This trend will certainly change and we will see more and more communicators earning that seat at the table in addition to the CEO who for all practical reasons is on that table? So the question we should be asking is when will communications earn the second seat at the table? And in order to find answers let us think innovatively to make a truly remarkable difference that will contribute to the business beyond the plain vanilla role of communications advice and execution.


I think I have answered the question without mentioning it explicitly. Now it’s time for communicators to ask their CEOs for that second seat by building a fool-proof case to deserve that. The time is not far.


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