A lawyer, a management consultant, an investment banker and an accountant walk into a bar…

The holy grail of any CCO, CMO, or communications adviser is to have the ear of the CEO; to be considered a trusted adviser by the C-suite in an organization. And judging by recent research, the expertise communicators can bring to the table is in rapid demand.

The last edition of Aon’s biannual Global Risk Management Survey showed that damage to brand and reputation was the most concerning risk for 2 000 respondents from public and private companies all over the world. That is significant, as it means that loss of reputation was perceived as a bigger risk than economic slowdown, legislative changes or cyber-crime – just to mention a few of the other risks highlighted in the report.

Supplementing Aon’s survey, a white paper by the UK Non-executive directors’ association shows that over six out of ten non-executive directors say they want monthly or weekly reporting to the board on corporate reputation. Boards see that the rise of millennials in the workforce, the rise of the conscious consumer, the activist investor, and keen regulators create a perfect storm where companies increasingly comes under scrutiny from a wide variety of stakeholder groups.

Enter the Fifth Seat

A central part of H+Ks strategy revolves around taking what we call the Fifth Seat; being a trusted adviser for top management. Traditionally, the CEO and the rest of the C-suite have been used to having four types of people advise on their business: The management consultant, the lawyer, the investment banker, and the accountant.

However, times are changing. The importance of corporate reputation is steadily increasing, and there is no reason to believe this trend will run out of steam anytime soon. Additionally, we see a public rising; consumer activism and a more vigilant society is the name of the game. Thus, we believe that a Fifth Seat is opening up, and becoming increasingly important, at the table: The seat of the public. The seat that can understand, analyze, and communicate the vox populi.

How, then, can we as communicators – advisers, CCO’s, CMO’s – enter into this role? How can we show our value and fully utilize the important role of the public seat at the table?

To put it bluntly, what can we do to increase our impact rather than be the butt of a bar joke; the one left out when the high-impact decisions are being crafted?

Understand the business

Simply put, I think the Fifth Seat needs to be earned – regardless of whether you’re an external adviser or a CCO/CMO. It isn’t one you can take. And in the same way that lawyers and bankers have taken a seat at the table, I believe there are some specific steps we communicators need to take in order to enter the Fifth Seat with credibility and authority.

First, we need to have a broad understanding of the business. Even though the lawyer is a subject matter expert, top lawyers also need to understand their client’s business model and the industry they operate within. We need to do the same. We need to not only understand communications and marketing; we need to have a firm and comprehensive grasp of both the organization we represent and its industry.

Secondly, we need to show how we are crucial to the business’ success. We need to offer something more than interesting perspectives; we must offer business-critical advice. But, how then, can we be business-critical?

There is no quick-fix. But it starts by showcasing how active external reputation management build stakeholder and consumer trust. It starts by demonstrating how creativity can support brands, and how a stakeholder centric approach can drive sales and engage the consumers. It starts by presenting how internal communications is key to keep the workforce motivated and engaged. And it starts by showing how timely public affairs activities help us shape the regulatory framework.

It’s only just begun

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, we need to be adept at building trust as advisers. Everyone involved in business decisions are human beings, which automatically entails basic trust dynamics coming into play. Therefore, to really be allowed the Fifth Seat, it helps having chemistry with the others seated around the table.

Build trust with the decision-makers through relentlessly focusing on the client – both the professional and the personal side. Build trust by having a collaborative approach, and by showing that you’re in it for the long run – you’re not there with a short-term transactional focus. And build trust by being transparent in all you do. That is how we can build the needed trust to be included in those most crucial decisions.

I see the C-suite in organizations rapidly maturing in their view of reputation and how business critical the traditional domain of the CCO is. As a profession, we need to step up, though, to show that we are prepared to deliver value to the upper echelons of business. To earn a seat at the table. Because reputational advice will become increasingly business critical.

This was posted originally  on Lars Erik Grønntun’s LinkedIn here.