Study: Comms execs gaining clout as corporate America transforms

Internally and externally, top-tier communicators are driving more than messaging—helping to improve company cultures, cultivate staff advocacy and enhance the brand name.

Comms execs wielding more clout

Executive communicators are at the heart of restructuring corporate leadership.

Chief communication officers (CCOs) are assuming new responsibilities, taking a greater role in protecting the corporate reputation, improving corporate culture and engaging a wide range of stakeholders, according to new research from Page, a professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives.

More CCOs are assuming responsibility for the corporate brand, a role that’s sometimes transferred from chief marketing officers (CMOs), who have long focused on the customer’s viewpoint.

Corporations now realize they must pay greater attention to the ever-changing views of employees, investors, governments and the public. That requires new thinking, as well as new systems and tools.

A shift in the corporate mindset

The Business Roundtable’s new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, signed by chief executives of 181 major corporations, asserts that shareholder value is no longer the singular concern for corporations and that corporations must take into account all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.

CCOs are stepping up and playing a leading role in helping CEOs transform their organizations.

“CEOs across industries and regions are driving the greatest wave of transformation in generations,” the report states. “It is striking that not only are so many companies changing simultaneously, but many are changing into the same kind of company. We are seeing the emergence of a new business design.”

Customers and, increasingly, investors demand that corporations demonstrate their value to society. The most vocal demands come from employees, who often base career decisions on opportunities to promote positive change in society. Many CCOs already manage, or work closely with, corporate responsibility departments and are taking a larger role in corporate social responsibility.

Working closely with human resources specialists, CCOs are moving beyond traditional internal communication to addressing the gap between an organization’s aspirations and reality.

CCOs are adopting new communication technologies to better engage stakeholders. Such tools will be essential to combat the growing threat of machine-amplified misinformation. Progressive CCOs are establishing dedicated teams, formally training them and equipping them with technological tools.

The expanding CCO role

“This position has never been more critical to the health and success of a business,” writes Lou Casale, head of communications at specialist insurer Hiscox. “The role is no longer to simply generate attention and positive press coverage for the company. The person in this position needs to promote and protect the brand’s reputation. And in today’s high-stakes, combative environment, protection takes precedence over promotion.”

The shift is most noticeable among elite corporate affairs executives.

“These best-in-class corporate affairs officers shoulder a broadening scope of responsibilities and an increasing mandate to act as high-level strategic advisors to CEOs, and they frequently serve as members of the senior leadership team,” states the report from Korn Ferry Global Corporate Affairs Practice.

Although responsibilities and influence of top CCOs have increased, corporate communications may garner less respect than more data-based departments because of the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of corporate communications. However, sophisticated media measurement tools and other technology will help CCOs gather the data and insights needed to reach informed decisions.

“While it’s still tough to measure the efficacy of corporate communications, new tools in sentiment analysis, reputation analysis, and brand assessment are adding more rigor to the field,” Wendy Marx, president of Marx Communications, writes in an article for Fast Company.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog.

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