McKinsey fires a warning at CCOs

McKinsey & Co. has just fired a warning shot across the desks of CCOs.

McKinsey & Co. has just fired a warning shot across the desks of CCOs. And those CCOs better pay attention.

In The McKinsey Quarterly, a regular publication of the large consulting firm, the article “Rebuilding Corporate Reputations” describes the dramatic extent to which the events leading up to the current recession have eroded public confidence in corporations.

The piece outlines the many “changes” in how corporations need to manage their reputations: integrating their communications activities, engaging with digital and social media, genuinely changing business practices, stepping up the quality of their research, listening to and activating constituencies, and engaging the CEO with the community.

Good advice – indeed, it's what the best CCOs have been doing for some time. But the kicker comes at the end:

“To achieve the necessary coordination,” the article's final paragraph begins, “a senior executive should be accountable for such efforts. A strong understanding of customers and marketing might make the CMO appropriate to play this role.”

Surprisingly, the article didn't develop that theme further. While abstract arguments can be made for the CCO or CMO, the prize – and the budget – will go to the leader who seizes the opportunity, and who demonstrates the knowledge, the skill with emerging media, the right talent pool, and the creativity to become the “chief reputation officer.”

In many, if not most cases, that should be the CCOs who are engaged in just the kind of integrated communications strategy McKinsey recommends: authenticity, transparency, candor, and proactivity. But with McKinsey pushing CEOs towards consideration of the CMO, CCOs may want to take a hard look at their own operations and make sure they're not falling behind.

A best practices audit and the creation of a two-year strategic road map may be appropriate. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your communications operations, get far more immersed in digital media strategies, and develop innovative new metrics and dashboards to measure and track performance and ROI.

Although McKinsey is telling CEOs to take a hard look at who's in charge of reputation, this is a prime opportunity for CCOs to take an equally hard look at their own operation – and to do it with some urgency.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a communications management consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. Bob's column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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