Communications leaders are becoming leaders in business transformation

Study reveals expanded role of strategic communications and provides tools to practice them.

At CASACOM, we are always looking to “go beyond,” to “elevate.” Elevating to increase the impact of our ideas and programs is our raison d’être. So, you won’t be surprised to know that a new study about the increased role of leaders of public relations and communications (or CCO for Chief Communications Officer) has caught my attention. This research concludes that the sphere of operation for high-level communicators is becoming even more extensive and strategic in the context of corporate transformation. As a result, CCOs form a real team with the CEO to deploy necessary projects.

The comprehensive study comes from the American association Page, supported by public relations firm APCO. For 18 months, 200 communications leaders around the world were interviewed in depth and 170 others were surveyed. Four emerging areas of focus were identified for communications teams. These are

1. The Corporate Brand

Historically under the responsibility of marketing, corporate brand stewardship is now in the hands of 66% of the communications leaders surveyed. These leaders oversee the experience of all target audiences at all points of contact. The corporate brand becomes a multidimensional master brand that must be strong and integrated. For instance, customers are more interested than ever in knowing the brand attributes of the companies from which they purchase products or services, both in B2B and B2C. For the corporate brand to become a strong lever for transformation, brand attributes, storylines and messages need to form a coherent whole. A central place must also be given to evaluation. There is still work to be done in this area: the study shows that only 44% of communications leaders assess the scope of their brand in the way it should be assessed.

2. Corporate culture

Corporate culture refers to how you do business in each company. For a long time under the responsibility of human resources, more and more often, it reports to communications leaders. Here, we are not referring to internal communications, but to the creation of a common culture.

This includes adopting innovative ways of working, such as the Agile method, or establishing processes so that business decisions can be based on data. Most of the communications leaders met and surveyed intervene to strengthen customs, training, tools and sometimes even the systems to transform their organizational culture in a sustainable way. These are highly strategic interventions, particularly when it comes to retaining and recruiting employees, the issue of the day in Quebec and in Canada.

3. Societal value

Customers, consumers, employees, investors and citizens, to name only a few, are increasingly pushing organizations to become agents of social change. At a minimum, they expect companies to contribute to society, whether it be from an environmental, social or cultural standpoint. This primary responsibility is very often placed on the shoulders of communications leaders. Their scope of action is vast. It includes, among other things, the definition of the company’s raison d’être, the ESG (environmental, social and governance) reports and the integration of societal value creation into the company’s strategic development. This is a sector driven by the need for transparency, and that requires strategic decisions. Organizations can’t do everything! Today, 80% of the communications leaders surveyed communicate about the societal value of their organizations, 54% lead ESG efforts and 27% conduct gap analyses between stakeholder experience and organizational objectives. This is another sector that will expand in the coming years.

4. CommTech

Finally, there is what Page calls Commtech, an emerging discipline that uses technologies to improve, understand and engage stakeholders, focusing primarily on their behaviours and outcomes. Based on increasingly accurate data, this trend leads communications leaders to design and optimize a customized stakeholder journey and assess whether these paths have been taken. This includes the integration of automation and AI. Commtech requires new tools, team structures, skills and budgets. This is just the beginning.

Impact on communicators

This is one of the most exciting studies for the profession that I’ve read. It shows how to progress in each of the disciplines—and it’s very well done.

That said, in the day-to-day reality of our organizations, I see a few challenges emerging, ones I find quite surmountable.

  • First, you must immerse yourself in the affairs of your organizations, have the information and be part of the discussion at the right time. Otherwise, how can you become an agent of transformation? This requires constant attention, a healthy distance and a certain courage. One must cultivate one’s credibility to influence change. Fortunately, we have more and more markets, consumers and employees on our side!
  • Collaboration has always been at the heart of our work, but it is becoming even more of a key element given the magnitude of tomorrow’s organizational challenges. Becoming a top-notch/first-class partner for all senior executives of the organization is a must.
  • Finally, we must ensure balance in all of this. Expectations for input from communications leaders are always higher. And the conditions for success are often unclear. Staying on a moving path requires excellent physical and mental health. And we are solely responsible!

I’d love to know your thought on this. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Enjoy reading!


Marie-Josée Gagnon About the author
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