CCOs can't be catalysts for change if they're out of a job

Two big stories in the last week reflect the trend we have been following here at PRWeek for the communications function to be increasingly subsumed under marketing.

Two big stories in the last week reflect the trend we have been following here at PRWeek for the communications function to be increasingly subsumed under marketing.

AG Lafley, the mercurial former CEO of CPG giant Procter & Gamble has been parachuted back into his former role following the anticipated departure of incumbent Bob McDonald last Friday. One of the drivers of this change was rebel shareholder Bill Ackman, who among other things highlighted P&G's supposed profligate spend on marketing as a reason for change at the top.

The jury is still out on whether this is an indictment of the continued focus on advertising as a prime communications tool for its CPG brands; a breakdown in P&G's internal measurement techniques, especially those relating to digital and social; or a failure of the then 175-year-old company's much-vaunted change in marketing focus last year, aimed at cutting costs as well as increasingly prioritizing earned and shared media.

“Public relations and digital and social media are less expensive than traditional advertising, have a higher return on investment, and get people to engage with the brand on a more personal level,” global brand building officer Marc Pritchard told PRWeek last year.

Hooray for that.

But it seems Pritchard is having trouble convincing investors, analysts, and shareholders of this new truth. And no-one at P&G was prepared to comment publicly on the topic when PRWeek contacted them this week for a follow-up article.

Separately, Maggie FitzPatrick, CCO of Cigna, is leaving the health insurer in August following the recent arrival of Lisa Bacus in the newly created role of global CMO. The communications department is being subsumed into marketing and it seems FitzPatrick is unlikely to be replaced.

It follows similar recent developments at other companies including Visa, FedEx, Allstate, and SAP.

It is logical that the two functions should come more closely together as the influence of social media in amplifying advocacy and changing behavior increases. And we have cheered from the sidelines as pioneers such as Jon Iwata at IBM, Simon Sproule at Nissan, and Blair Christie at Cisco evolved from communications backgrounds to lead these combined functions.

But the recent iterations of these changes seem to be resulting in the disappearance of the CCO role - and that is a cause for concern.

I have already stated that it is important communications isn't sacrificed on the altar of marketing and marginalized to the fringes. Not all CMOs are as sympathetic to the effectiveness of earned, shared, and owned media as P&G's Pritchard and others such as Jeff Jones at Target.

Indeed, Roger Bolton at the Arthur W. Page Society and other senior PR execs seemed to affirm this when they told PRWeek it is vital that CCOs still have the ear of the CEO and the C-suite in these newly merged marcomms operations. But that becomes slightly irrelevant if there is no longer a CCO in place.

Iwata, who is also chairman of the Page Society as well as SVP of marcomms at IBM, declined to participate in PRWeek's article on the implications of the increased folding of the CCO/comms function under marketing.

He has been a prime mover behind Page's “Building Belief: A New Model for Activating Corporate Character & Authentic Advocacy” initiative. Iwata's premise is that models really matter but that the current models informing advocacy have been around for generations and are “inadequate for the world in which we work today.”

The CCO role needs to stretch way further than it used to, into parts of the enterprise such as HR, sales, product development, and customer service, as well as its traditional territory of corporate communications, PR, and marketing.

Iwata envisages a core role for the CCO as a “catalyst for collaboration across the C-suite.” The CCO must be an “integrator, a systems designer, a master of data analytics, a publisher and developer, a student of behavioral science, and a curator of corporate character,” says Iwata – and who is to disagree with that.

But the CCO can only do this if they are still actually in a job and if they have the ear of the CEO and the C-suite to be able to perform this catalyst role. Maybe that is one of the problems AG Lafley will reflect needs to be attended to over at Procter & Gamble if he is to turn around the fortunes of the CPG behemoth.

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