After the fifth call we received this year asking about "best practices" for structuring corporate communications functions, I knew something was up. It appears that chief communications officers across the globe are experiencing somewhat of a "perfect storm" at the moment as they attempt to navigate the following three forces: increasing demand for communications support in the face of the digital revolution, more empowered stakeholders, and heightened public scrutiny of corporate actions; resource constraints as a result of recessionary indicators, credit market upheaval, and earnings pressures; and renewed focus on accountability from the executive suite, still in search of evidence that the communications function is generating true business value, not just communications outputs.
Any of these three factors would otherwise be manageable on their own, but taken together they can present a seemingly insurmountable challenge for today's CCOs. It's no surprise, then, that CCOs are increasingly asking themselves, "How will I ever get it all done?" This hints at the real question that CCOs want answered: "Is my communications function optimized for maximum performance?"
In answering the optimization question, clients should first take a serious look inward and audit how they line up in the following areas:
Is the communications function properly organized, and how does it stack up against those of its peers? Would a centralized or more decentralized structure be more effective? Or does a client-centric model better serve the needs of the organization? How does this play out on the global stage?
Is the communications function driving the company's overall business strategy, or is it focused on creating communications outputs? Are there systems in place to evaluate and screen requests to ensure focus on high-impact tasks?
Does the proper mix of core competencies and critical skills exist within the department? Are systems in place to ensure the team is staying fresh with respect to leading-edge tools, such as social media and digital strategies?
Is the function properly resourced, given its objectives and increasing stakeholder demands? How does this compare to peer companies in the sector? Are there possibilities for increased efficiency that are overlooked?
Is it clear what value senior leadership has placed on the communications function, and what expectations are there for its performance? Is the function highly valued by the executive team? Could this value be better communicated?
No two companies are exactly alike, but most share similar challenges when attempting to maximize effectiveness and better deliver business value. By taking stock of how the communications department measures up against these dimensions, CCOs can weather today's perfect storm and ensure smoother sailing in the years ahead.
Paul Jensen is head of the corporate practice and GM of the New York office of Weber Shandwick.