Another impact of digital: more centralization

The impact of a world gone digital is having two big, new effects on the corporate communications function: it's becoming more centralized, even in the most decentralized companies, and content creation/syndication is entering a whole new sphere.

The impact of a world gone digital is having two big, new effects on the corporate communications function: it's becoming more centralized – even in the most decentralized companies – and content creation/syndication is entering a whole new sphere.

Given the magnitude of these two trends, I'll devote this column to the issue of centralization and my next one to content creation.

You might have noticed a growing trend in which communications and marketing people report to the same executive. The new boss could be the former CMO, CCO, or president of a business unit. But the trend of a common boss should come as no surprise. We forecast this a couple of years ago and if you look at some of the country's most admired companies, e.g. IBM, GE, Johnson & Johnson, you see it in action.

Why?

The media landscape has, of course, become more complex. Marketing and communications people are often engaged in common media with shared interests. 

The old PR belief that marketers engage in one-way output and PR people engage in two-way conversations is more outdated every day. Marketers are more savvy than that.

The other phenomenon is that companies are realizing a digital world means a real-time world and that means much more rapid stakeholder engagement. More and more companies are running their communications function like a political campaign, with daily message meetings, etc. That pace of business has generated recognition among market-leading companies that they cannot afford to go to market in a decentralized way. In other words, a strong, central coordinating body is more important than ever. 

There must be a single narrative for the enterprise and all business unit work must support the narrative and be executed with total awareness of what's going on elsewhere in the company.

Absence a change in total organizational structure, this means CCOs, whether working laterally with marketing or vertically with their various business unit communications pros, must assert themselves more dynamically and impact activity via knowledge and force of personality. There is minimal authority via hierarchy and the organization's reporting lines are getting less and less relevant.

Another interesting consequence of this is a growing need by corporate comms execs for a new type of staff person: someone who is a great storyteller and writer for a multi-platform world.

What does that mean? We need people who can craft a company's strategy and messages into a singular compelling narrative and then can help take that narrative and adapt the way in which that story is told across all the various platforms we use: traditional press, influential blogs, short-form video, town halls, and so on.

Interestingly, some CCOs are telling me these skills are now trumping industry knowledge as a priority job requirement. The thinking goes a smart person can learn the industry and the company has plenty of industry experts. What is a unique and highly valued skill is the capacity to convert the wisdom of the organization into compelling communications.

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