The Use of Data and Technology in PR

April 17 2023

Technology has a central role in communications and organisational operations, to the degree that a technology blind spot on a company board can have serious and wide-ranging implications for a company.

A board’s lack of understanding of the technology landscape can cause missed opportunities for growth that stems from the evaluation and adoption of or capitalisation on new technologies.

Lack of expertise at board level can also mean ignorance of the potential risks associated with emerging technologies or of tech-related vulnerabilities in the organisation; such a board could not reasonably be expected to engage effectively with a senior executive responsible for IT, for instance, or to make informed decisions regarding technology investments or implementation.

The risks here include wasted or lost resources, potential liabilities, and missed opportunities for innovation due to failure to capitalise on the latest industry trends and developments. There are obvious potential competitive implications here as well.

There is also the risk that a board may be entirely unqualified to assess the productivity of the organisation’s core product or service – perhaps the most notorious recent example being the U.S. company Theranos, which promised to “democratise healthcare” and revolutionise blood testing with a machine-read fingerprick test that could run up to 240 different tests on just a few drops of blood on its proprietary ‘Edison’ machines.

Founder Elizabeth Holmes raised hundreds of millions from investors and stacked the Theranos board with luminaries including former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, retired Marine Corps four-star general Jim Mattis, and former Wells Fargo CEO Richard Kovacevich – but none of them had the tech credentials or know-how to critically assess whether the Edison was delivering what the company claimed, or to authoritatively delve behind the founder’s claims about the progress that was being made.

The best way to tackle a technology blind spot in a board is to bring in outside expertise – possibly a specialist consultant or other industry expert – who can give the board an understanding of the current tech landscape and potential risks associated with emerging technologies. Arguably, such an independent expert interrogator or educator might have uncovered the problems at Theranos much earlier, or at least have guided the board to ask more probing and specific questions about the brand-new tech.

Directors could similarly benefit from tech-related conferences, seminars, or workshops, or even classes on specific tech areas or issues on which they know their knowledge or perspective is insufficient.

Crucially, the board should look for ways to involve the organisation’s technology team or departments in board meetings and strategic planning sessions. The degree or frequency at which this needs to happen will vary depending on the centrality of the function of tech in the company’s operations, but having a true technical perspective in the boardroom, and regular input on the subject, can help ensure that the company is properly evaluating the latest trends and developments in the technology world and mitigating risk as a matter of course.

23 bad habits in the boardroom

Bad things – economic downturns, geopolitical instability, you name it – happen to good companies, but the leaders and workers who have remained focused and steadfast deserve to be acknowledged for everything they have done right. 

However, some boards and leaders will commonly display some self-destructive (but entirely avoidable) habits before, during, and after potential crisis situations. 

23 bad habits - technology in PRAs told by the leaders who have contributed to a new white paper on issue and crisis management by PRGN member Alexander PR, alongside global experts, here are the top 23 bad habits:

  1. Failing to meet often enough – or at all.
  2. Reversing strategy too often, and not adhering to the strategy in the first place.
  3. Not understanding the key stakeholders of the organisation, both internal and external.
  4. Failing to strike the right balance between empathy and frenzy.
  5. Retracting into the boardroom bubble.
  6. Acting without sober preparation and planning.
  7. Lack of emphasis on communication, or avoiding difficult conversations.
  8. Trying to declare ‘crisis over’ too early.
  9. Not thinking about diversity in the right way.
  10. Not making the time to understand the implications of emerging ESG regulations.
  11. Not being disciplined about using an ethical decision-making framework.
  12. Overweighting the value of name or reputation in board appointments.
  13. Not understanding the lifecycle of the business to ensure you have the right talent.
  14. Letting ego into the boardroom.
  15. Undermining, beating up on, or abandoning the CEO when things get rough, or publicly blaming the CEO.
  16. Directors need to come prepared, and they need to read their board reports.
  17. Underestimating the dimension of a crisis on their own workforce.
  18. Not backing themselves.
  19. Not focusing on cyber security.
  20. Not knowing the difference between the responsibilities of being a director versus being a manager in a small business; this can manifest as getting too involved, at the expense of the helicopter view.
  21. Underestimating the need for quality data outputs and insights, and investment in technology.
  22. Favouring short-term results over long-term objectives.
  23. Not having a (disaster) plan in place.

In the end success comes down to this: leaders ensuring they surround themselves with a multidisciplinary ‘dream team’. Diverse experience, expertise, and viewpoints fuel confidence and competence, particularly when it comes to preparing for and dealing with instability and crises.

Kate Alexander
Founder & Corporate and Financial Communications, Alexander PR
A former broadcast journalist with more than 28 years’ public relations experience in New Zealand, the United States and South Africa, Kate brings strong finance and corporate public relations skills to the marketplace, propelled by her trademark media savvy. She has been recognised globally for her work in the area of crisis communications and issue management and founded her own PR business in New Zealand in 2005. Kate has handled the communications for many prominent projects, from IPOs to receiverships, such as the South Canterbury Finance receivership, and has managed the New Zealand-facing crises of a number of multinational companies. On the corporate and consumer side, she has led complex and award-winning campaigns on behalf of financial and fiduciary services, retail, manufacturing and not- for-profit organisations, among others. Kate was national director of STWS Communications when it was Africa’s largest PR consultancy, and has worked for several large listed companies in New Zealand and Africa and on landmark projects such as the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 and the launch of the country’s first McDonald’s. She is accustomed to engaging with high-profile leaders in business and politics, having worked on projects led by the late President Nelson Mandela and with subsidiaries of Anglo American. Kate is a Paul Harris Fellow for Rotary International. She has served as a judge for the Workplace Savings NZ Communication Awards (2013 to 2015).

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