The 2008 Summit on Corporate Communications in Chicago June 25-27 took the most thorough look to date at The Authentic Enterprise. The conference was sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations and the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI).

Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing, IBM Corporation and Roger Bolton, Senior Counselor, APCO Worldwide APCO Worldwide gave an overview of The Authentic Enterprise report that featured case study example’s from IBM, Aetna , Johnson & Johnson and other leading companies.

Jon and Roger emphasized that corporate public relations officers now function on a global playing field of unprecedented transparency that includes radically democratized access to information production, dissemination and consumption.

Lauren Vincelli, Vice President, Financial Dynamics, led a session exploring the ideal traits CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are looking for in chief communications officers based on the research FD conducted with CEOs as part of the Page Society’s Authentic Enterprise project. Lauren was the project’s lead researcher.

Lauren said CEOs have reported a huge shift within the past five years in how various public audiences see corporations coupled with a corresponding rise in demands for transparency in everything from financial disclosure to mergers and acquisitions to personal information. She also noted CEOs believe the key drivers of this shift include: Sarbanes-Oxley, decentralization of media (including the arrival of blogs and social media), corporate scandals such as Enron, WorldCom, etc., and changing employee patterns that include shorter terms of work, blurred lines between function and diminished traditional roles.

Next came a panel discussion examining how corporate communications and other C-suite departments can work more effectively together in light of the changes facing global enterprises. Peter Debreceny, the retired Vice President — Corporate Relations, Allstate Insurance Company and the current Co-Chair of the Institute, moderated the panel that included Larry Pilon, Senior Vice President — Human Resources, Grainger; Jim Spangler, Vice President, Global Communications, Tenneco; Nancy Hobor, Senior Vice President, Communications and Investor Relations, Grainger; Tom Howell, General Counsel, American Bar Association, and Marge Wyrwas, Senior Marketing Director — Communications, Marketing & Investor Relations, Knight Capital Group, Inc..

The panel stressed the importance of building and nurturing relationships between communications and other corporate functions. Larry observed that the roles of corporate communications, human resources, marketing and some other C-suite functions are “blurred and don’t always look the same from one company to the next.” Jim pointed out this is an exciting time to be a chief corporate communications officer, especially in global companies. He said the most effective communications officers today are those who have been able to establish non-traditional expertise and strategic knowledge in areas such as finance, manufacturing and other aspects of the business.

Nancy talked about the importance of building effective collaborative relationships with other corporate functions such as legal, marketing, finance and what she called “some of the control freaks” that emerge in business settings. Tom spoke about his experiences as general counsel for a number of organizations, including Quaker Oats. He said the new technologies are changing the role and importance of corporate communications, and discussed several situations that emphasized the need for legal and communications functions to work closely together. Marge discussed various trials and tribulations involved in balancing and managing multiple stakeholder relationships.

The first day concluded with a panel of executive search professionals that explored what CEOs are indicating they want from the corporate communications function. I moderated the panel that included George Jamison, Principal, Spencer Stuart; Richard Marshall, Senior Client Partner, Korn/Ferry and Lisa Ryan, Senior Vice President/Managing Director, Heyman Associates.

This panel stressed that the most effective corporate communications officers are good leaders, with great business acumen, solid problem-solving expertise and the ability to mentor and serve as role models. Panelists also pointed out today’s remuneration packages for “the right communications experts in the right companies” are extremely attractive.

Day two featured a session with Dr. Laura Nash and Brian Morarity of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics about opportunities for building public trust. They previewed a new report due out soon from the Page Society and the BRT Institute, an independent entity established in partnership with the Business Roundtable, an association of 160 CEOs from leading companies.

Laura and Brian talked about the need for leadership and direction on matters of public trust, and discussed different ways to frame trust issues. They pointed out it is important not only to do the right thing but also being astute enough to know what’s right and how to communicate it.

The concluding session, which I led along with Matt Gonring, Co-Chair of the Institute and a Consultant at Gagen MacDonald helped attendees think about what they would do with the information acquired at the Summit when they returned to work Monday morning.

More than 40 people from the following organizations attended the conference that was held at Grainger World Headquarters in Lake Forest, Illinois and the nearby Lincolnshire Marriott Resort: Abbott, Allstate Insurance Company, APCO Worldwide, EntergyFedEx, Financial Dynamics, Gagen MacDonald, Grainger, Heyman Associates, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Knight Capital Group, Inc., Korn/Ferry International, KPMGLitton Loan ServicingMasterCard WorldwideNorthwestern Mutual, SpencerStuart, Tellabs, Tenneco, PrudentialState Farm InsuranceUSAAUTC Fire & Security and William Blair & Co..

I was pleased to organize the Summit with assistance from Michelle Hinson and Jenn Moyer of the Institute for Public Relations.

The Page Society and the Institute will join forces early in September to co-sponsor the (Public Relations Leadership Forum) in San Francisco.