Corporate Communications Today

May 13, 2009

Corporate Communications Today

Since I joined the communications field, I have always been fascinated by the intellectually stimulating and wide variety of activities that comprise communications officers’ jobs. At first, I encountered “you are in the pr field?” when I told people that I left publishing for public relations. I used to oversee public relations as part of my previous job as Marketing & Communications Director at Fortune. Perhaps I have been luckier than most but the field suits me fine because of its expertise in shaping corporate and CEO reputations. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I am very interested in examining the reputation of the corporate communications professional today. As I saw presidential strategists’ David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs shape candidate Obama’s daily messages and actions, I knew that the CCO job might finally be recognized as critical in a 24/7 always open always on marketplace.


Last year we partnered with executive search firm Spencer Stuart on researching the changing role of the CCO (Corporate Communications Officer). Now we are in year two, a more challenging year. What did we learn about the CCO’s job, reputation and responsibilities?  In a time of unprecedented economic volatility, global CCOs have actually seen their “stock” rise over the past 12 months. Just what I predicted. In The Rising CCO, conducted with KRC Research, 58% of global Fortune 500 CCOs now report to the CEO, compared to 48% a year ago. That is a large increase. Not only do more CCOs call the CEO their boss, but 40% of CCOs consider the CEO to be their biggest ally in the organization. This leadership momentum coincides with an increase in CCO tenure: in 2008, CCOs’ average tenure was 65 months, compared to 54 months in 2007. By comparison, the average tenure of chief marketing officers is 28 months, according to research conducted separately by Spencer Stuart. The CCO is definitely on the rise and a greater asset than ever during these critical times.


We also found that experience in crisis communications and issues management is critical to a CCO’s success. It was not always the case when the marketplace was plentiful and everything seemed to be pointed upwards. According to CCOs surveyed, the need for crisis/issues management experience increased 45% since 2007. Additionally, and importantly, CCOs cite social media/blogging as the most frequently added function to their corporate communications departments in 2008, and they believe that social media/blogging will be their most important tool in 2009.


As corporate reputation—anticipated to be the number one communications priority in 2009—endures extreme stress and the Internet provides unanticipated opportunities and risks, skills often “owned” by the CCO are in greater demand: crisis and issues management, social media monitoring and online engagement, reputation management, and management of a complex portfolio of stakeholders such as employees, investors, nongovernmental organizations and trade media.


It goes without saying that CEOs and boards are under tremendous pressure to navigate through the stormy seas of the current economic tsunami. Like never before, CEOs are depending on CCOs for crisis and issues counsel to steady their company reputations and calm stakeholders.  

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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