The rising challenge of risk managing—the conflicts inherent in balancing stakeholder support, competitive pressure and government oversight with the value of taking risk in any business—is a corporate communicator’s call to arms.

In his recent BloombergBusinessWeek article, Page chair Bill Margaritis sends a timely message to risk-alert executives that the CCO is a key player in C-suite crisis avoidance.

”The CCO advances the company’s business objectives,” Bill tells Bloom/Biz readers, “by identifying risks that may catastrophically undermine trust between it and its stakeholders…This is not ‘PR firefighting’…It is fire prevention: advance corrective steps that remove the fuel of misguided action before a spark ignites it.”

The Page Society’s Business Roundtable engagement and outreach such as this high-profile business magazine piece could raise senior executive expectations of help from their stakeholder fire preventers.

Having learned either directly or from the burns of others the potential of “misguided action”, corporate management is conditioned to realize they have in the chief communications officer a risk manager familiar with the spark potential of stakeholder perception.

Which means the CCO needs to keep improving her or his means of evaluating and managing the stakeholder trust equation.

An essential current job, it seems to Judith Muhlberg and me in teaching a PR crisis class in Georgetown U’s master’s program, is pre-crisis intelligence—constant engagement in (or at least intently listening to) social media conversations. We have students tracking selected companies to spot sparks of potential fire.

Possibly, CCOs are moving toward concepts such as Taleb’s call in “The Black Swan” (my pick for communications book of the year) to “imagine the unimaginable” relevant to advanced fire prevention.

E. Bruce Harrison
Adjunct Professor, Public Relations and Communications Graduate Program,
Georgetown University, and
CEO, EnviroComm International