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Succeed At the Executive Table

I’ve often thought that if Dante had spent more time in the Inferno, he would’ve found another circle where people are forced to read financial statements and write budgets. For me, creating budgets or calculating the depreciation for long-term assets used to sound like a punishment (maybe the latter still is). When I heard the phrase “let’s talk about the budget,” I looked like a deer in headlights. But as much as I didn’t like accounting or the general idea of numbers, I also didn’t like that I had no clue what was happening with the money at my organization. Will we be able to pay our bills next year? Is there room to ask for money to start a project I want to work on? As a communicator, I take pride in my ability to reach audiences, but it was incredibly frustrating that I didn’t know how to talk to my own finance team. And the worst part was I didn’t even know where to begin. All I could think was that I just had to avoid saying something stupid so I wouldn’t get “caught” for being financially illiterate and thrown in financial jail by the financial police. How could anyone take me seriously when I didn’t understand my budget or know how we were performing financially? I don’t have an MBA and I use my calculator for more basic math than I should. I was stuck in my Inferno. I was trying to avoid the reality that if you want to have a seat at the executive table and be a key-decision maker of an organization, you have to understand the financial statements. 

Thanks to the business and financial skills I learned at George Washington University’s business and financial boot camp, I now have the confidence to sit at the table where decisions are made and contribute value to those conversations. When it’s time to discuss the budget or review financial statements, it’s no longer a punishment. It’s an opportunity for me to demonstrate to leaders of my organization that I understand the obstacles they face and that I know our business.

The business and financial boot camp was presented by George Washington University and Ragan Communications. Industry leaders taught me how to read financial statements, develop and plan budgets, and use financial tools to evaluate organizational trends. The camp was taught in a non-threatening way where I felt safe to ask questions about finance reports I didn’t understand. The presenters patiently explained key business tools to me and how those tools impact organizational decisions. Lots of people can tell you what an income statement is or how to advocate for more budget, but these presenters live their teachings in the communications world. They are all seasoned industry leaders and had been in my shoes before. The caliber and diverse range of presenters included Ragan Communications CEO Diane Schwartz, to professors from George Washington University’s Strategic Public Relations program- Director Larry Parnell, Marie Lerch, and Karen Vahouny. They showed us how to read financial statements, how to deal with business obstacles, and how to apply financial and business tools in strategic plans. Porter Novelli’s Joe Farren shared global business trends with us and how to communicate sensitive business issues with internal and external publics. And we even heard from Michelle Russo, Chief Communications Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Robert Lee, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the American Society of Association Executives. Russo and Lee shared their knowledge and experience earning a seat at the executive table as communicators. Their experiences overcoming obstacles taught us how to influence and gain the trust of leadership at organizations and how to offer leadership solutions to business problems. This all-star lineup of presenters knows what it’s like in the real world fighting for a communication budget. They have all mastered the ability to create strategic plans that deliver profit and demonstrate value to executives. The boot camp provided me the opportunity to ask them questions and receive honest answers that will help me grow professionally and personally.

During the camp, we broke into teams where we applied the presentations in a real communications plan. We were responsible for creating strategies, goals, tactics, and budgets in the plan. Practicing this process with help from the experts in the room sharpened my talents in a way nothing else can. The teams were also a great way to build relationships with other attendees. I met professionals who work across the country and formed some professional relationships I never would have if I didn’t attend the boot camp. 

Because of the boot camp, I’m trained for the business and financial problems that communication professionals face. I’m prepared to walk into a boardroom, look at an income statement, understand what’s on it, and ask the right questions. I’m confident that I can apply the business tactics I practiced and make good decisions. I’m ready for the next time I’m given a budget and told that I need to find a way to save $250,000 in our forecast and the budget is due in two hours. I’m equipped to present a new project to executives with accurate financials, increasing the likelihood my project is approved. The boot camp empowered me to speak C-suite, so I not only have a seat at the table but thrive there. With a seat at the table and the trust of the board, I can communicate the needs and wants of my department and be trusted to understand how my actions impact the whole organization. 

The world is more connected than ever before and it’s essential to know the basics of business and finance to succeed in this environment. The boot camp is a great opportunity for communications professionals, at any level, to build or refresh their confidence as a decision maker. Perhaps you know more about finances and are better at discussing business than I am, but for me, the boot camp was valuable for my growth and confidence. I still don’t find working on a budget or income statement an exciting way to spend my time, but because of the boot camp, I can understand financial statements and know what I’m talking about. I’m prepared to sit at the executive table.

David Overy is a GSPM Student Ambassador currently in the Strategic Public Relations master's program. He is a manager of state advocacy and government affairs at the American Academy of Opthamology.

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