Why ‘GC’ Should Mean ‘Great Communicator’
In recent years, several developments have created the need for GCs to take a larger role in corporate communications—most notably the rise of shareholder activism, proliferation of social media, and heightened awareness of workplace misbehavior as reflected in the #MeToo movement. Shareholder activists have brought corporate governance issues once considered arcane into the public spotlight, and increasingly do not confine their overtures to proxy season.
Adding to these dynamics is the impact of social media, which has eroded the wall that used to separate internal and external issues. In a culture where individuals often feel comfortable sharing the trail of text messages, emails and even recordings that track virtually all interactions, what used to be a discrete human resources issue now has the potential to explode into a public news event in the blink of an eye.
These and other factors mean the risks to a company’s reputation—and market capitalization—are constant, more varied and can accelerate faster. Public company GCs can no longer afford to look at corporate communications through the traditional prism of quarterly filings, intermittent 8-Ks and press releases. Today they must take a holistic view encompassing what is being said by—and about—the company anywhere in the public domain, including social media. This must include a frank analysis of the array of narratives that can be used by an activist, competitor, ousted executive, disgruntled employee, or any others who might seek to advance an agenda adverse to the company.
The management of legal and reputational risk, and interaction with management teams, are therefore far more complex and require a GC to take a truly central role in a broad range of communications.
Reprinted with permission from the December 7, 2018 edition of Corporate Counsel.
Hugh Burns, a former GC, is a founding partner of Reevemark, a New York-based strategic communications firm. He has been counseling corporate clients, including GCs, on their most significant and complex communications issues for nearly two decades. Tom Orewyler is a strategic communications consultant based in New York. A former practicing lawyer, he has been counseling prominent law firms, general counsel and corporate clients on sensitive communications issues for more than 15 years.
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