Jan 21

Love ’em or hate ’em, procurement types and in-house legal teams are only gaining in power

January 21 I had the distinct pleasure of recently addressing attendees of the Corporate Communications Institute at Baruch College.

Created by Dr. Michael Goodman, the CCI holds executive education conferences twice every year: one in the U.S. and another in the U.K. Attendees represent the who's who of the global 500 and typically carry the title of director of public relations or corporate communications. As might be expected, Dr. Goodman and the 'class' explore everything from shareholder relations to ethics and transparency.

I spoke to them about client-agency relationships and shared some recent findings from the Council of PR Firms. When I reached a Council survey finding concerning the increasing role of in-house procurement in retaining outside firms and legal counsel in message shaping, you'd have thought I'd touched a live wire. Wow. Did this group ever have strong opinions.

With one notable exception, most corporate communicators held procurement officers in disdain ('They slow everything up,' said one. 'Their arcane policies and procedures are scaring away my boutique PR partners,' said another). The sole advocate of procurement actually said she loved the function ('Their background screenings have prevented individuals with past criminal records from visiting our corporate campus,' she said. 'Oh, well, that's nice,' thought I).

The relationship with in-house legal counsel was more complicated. One attendee says she typically wins one-third of her arguments with the corporate legal beagles, loses a third and compromises on the rest.

Everyone agreed that, in these days of full disclosure and massive cost-cutting, lawyers and procurement types are only gaining in importance within the corporate hierarchy.

So, what's a corporate communications executive to do? Best practices seemed to include holding conversations with legal at the very beginning of a campaign so that both parties can raise key messaging goals and potential liabilities.

As for the bean counters, some suggested an attempt to educate the procurement types on the strategic role of communications (i.e. 'Don't treat us or our partners the way you would an office supplies superstore.'). Others merely shrugged their shoulders and said they saw no light at the end of the procurement tunnel (except for the woman who loves it when the CEO of her PR firm pays a visit and has to fill out endless paperwork at the front desk courtesy of new procurement procedures. 'Oh, well, that's nice,' thought I).

What about you? Do you have any best practices for closing the gap between corporate communications and legal? Or, for educating procurement types? I'm all ears. So, too, are the CCI attendees.