A need to make sense of financial matters

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One day this summer, as public relations professionals across New York City power-lunched at fashionable cafes, Jan Sneed remained at her desk. While her PR peers were networking, Ms. Sneed was working the `Net.

The Grey Global Group senior VP-director of corporate affairs and her staff spent the afternoon tuned into a virtual seminar on the Fundamentals of Finance for Communicators. The decision to sign up for that session, as well as others on crisis management and ramifications of mergers and acquisitions, came in the wake of heightened scrutiny of corporate America.

"The range of knowledge required today is broader than ever," Ms. Sneed says, explaining that PR practitioners must be able to accurately communicate their company's financial information.

Ms. Sneed is not alone in realizing the increased need for financial knowledge in the PR arena. In this post-Enron environment, PR professionals say such expertise is invaluable. A corporate spokesman not only must remain in close contact with the company's investor relations arm but also has to be able to talk about finances themselves.


"It has become increasingly important for PR representatives to have a deeper understanding of investor relations," says Adrienne Scordato, PR practice leader at executive search company Gundersen Partners. "Companies are now under the microscope as a result of recent scandals. A good PR person now has to not only be a skilled media spokesperson but also needs to be cognizant of all financial aspects of the business."

Industry experts say that while IR and PR don't always overlap in terms of their audience-with investor relations mainly dealing with analysts and institutional investors and public relations hitting a broader constituency-these two components of corporate communications must make sure to always work in conjunction. And while crisis communications also can come into the picture, it does so as a component of the PR function.

"The best companies have integrated investor relations and public relations so all corporate communicators are singing from one hymnbook. It's vital that they talk to each other," says Harris Diamond, CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Weber Shandwick Worldwide, New York, the U.S.' largest PR agency, with 2001 revenue topping $280 million.

"Certainly, the penalties for being dishonest, disingenuous or devious have never been clearer," says Mark Weiner, CEO of the research-based PR consultancy Delahaye Medialink, Norwalk, Conn. "That's forcing a lot of people to change their policies if they weren't open."

Communication specialists say the main duty for PR professionals is to encourage frequent, easy-to-comprehend messages from top management, who in many cases also must increase their exposure.

"CEOs need to be much more forceful in getting out of the boardroom and greeting their primary audiences. The conduit to achieving this is public relations," says Reed Byrum, president-elect of the Public Relations Society of America.

These imbroglio-laden times also present company executives with the opportunity to disseminate advantageous messages. Mr. Weiner points to Cola-Cola Co., which received waves of positive publicity after it overhauled its accounting for stock options. "There's an opportunity to take advantage of-'s not being mercenary," he says. "People are looking for companies to stand up and act responsibly."

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