Study: Comms heads still struggle to gain CEO's favor

An APCO Worldwide study weaves a complicated narrative about the state of the CCO today.

APCO Worldwide Chicago MD Tina-Marie Adams
APCO Worldwide Chicago MD Tina-Marie Adams

CHICAGO: Comms heads lack confidence that their opinion in business-critical discussions at a company matters, a survey by APCO Worldwide found.

Although the study, led by the firm's Chicago office, found that the majority of comms chiefs surveyed believe their function plays a key role in the company, mixed results have APCO Chicago MD Tina-Marie Adams "scratching [her] head that comms hasn’t made more progress in some areas of reporting."

While 79% of respondents say the CEO views comms as being relevant and important, barely more than half (51%) were "highly confident" their opinion in business-critical discussion mattered.

"Fundamentally, communications is still earning its place at the C-suite table," Adams said. "[It’s] better than 25 years ago, and I’m heartened by how far we’ve come. But I’m still scratching my head as to why some things haven’t progressed further."

Large swaths of respondents said they have access to the CEO (89%). The ascendance of social media has driven comms’ significance in their organization, according to 62% of respondents.

Still, less than half (47%) think comms is "highly integrated or involved throughout the organization." Only a quarter (26%) believe their opinions always matter when the company makes "business-critical decisions." And 52% said they report directly to the CEO, with 29% indicating they’re a key business advisor to the company head.

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"What I hear from those folks is that the CEO marriage takes work," Adams said. "[Comms heads] say you have to get in there, have a voice, and be respectfully direct with the CEO."

Clients serving in a company’s senior-most comms position have pursued a seat at the table by relating to the business goals, according to Adams. They have also "been persistent in" establishing key performance indicators and quantifying the ways in which comms contributes to the organization.

Additionally, Adams advised comms heads to learn the company’s business thoroughly, and to be a business leader first and a comms leader second.

"The chief corporate communicators who say it’s working well for them first assume the role of a business leader and being a comms lead is secondary," she said. "Otherwise, there’s a tendency to think, ‘this person’s only a comms person.’"

APCO Worldwide Chicago coordinated the study between October 4-21, with help from its in-house research group, APCO Insight. 114 comms heads participated in the survey, 93% of whom are based in the U.S. APCO commissioned the study to quantify the results of a separate qualitative study it released in the spring.

This story was updated on November 9 to clarify that the study was led by APCO's Chicago office.

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