With today's institutional scrutiny, information overload, speed of change, increased connectedness, and globalization, corporations need someone who can shape and direct how the organization communicates with all of its audiences, both internal and external.
CEOs want their communications leader to advise them in achieving the overall goals of the business, with measurable results, just like they would with any other management function. A CCO must have an in-depth grasp of the business, good critical thinking skills and the ability to use communications to help further the organization's success. Judgment and ethics remain the keystones.
A communications professional with strong business acumen can and must serve as a strategic counselor to help the company advance its business goals.
Our clients look favorably upon candidates who have dealt with varied business cycles or who have handled complex business challenges, which may include reorganizations, acquisitions, mergers and divestitures, or bankruptcies. Such issues require high-level external communications programs as well as top-notch employee and change management communications initiatives.
Through good listening skills, a communicator can stay current on important nuances within their specific industry and overall field of communications. That includes following the conversations in social media, which is a gift from the communications gods.
Corporate communications requires good writing skills, no matter the level. A CCO must know how to craft a message and have the versatility to develop that message for all formats. Good writing skills apply whether the material is a lengthy op-ed or a corporate Twitter post. Those who hold the role of CCO are still asked to write key speeches for the CEO; another example of being a trusted adviser.
The communications leader must not only have business acumen and an understanding of communications, but also the ability to combine the two. A CEO will want to see that the CCO can closely and successfully collaborate with other departments such as IT, marketing, human resources, finance, and legal. CCOs should not see themselves as specialists, but rather as people with comprehensive and flexible skills that provide value across the organization.
The top communications person must also create strategic and consistent messages for the organization on a proactive and reactive basis for both internal and external audiences. Proactively, the CCO must play "offense" in corporate brand development. Reactively, he or she must also handle "defense" in the event of a crisis or issue. A communicator with media-training skills can also help a leader focus the message.
Social and digital media need to be seen as communications tools that further business goals. A solid business rationale for social media enables a company to participate strategically in the digital realm in the face of the fast, voluminous, and global nature of the medium.
The CCO must serve as a successful people developer and make the communications function increasingly strategic by hiring and mentoring the right people. A CCO focuses on the strategic vision, but the overall department should implement the strategy with flawless tactics. A communications chief should also be receptive to learning from others who might have more hands-on expertise in social media.
In many cases the best communi- cators are considered outstanding because of intangible qualities. A communications leader needs to have personal courage, conviction, and ethics to help make sure the company continues to do the right thing. Companies realize that communications is more important than ever as a result of today's fast-paced, transparent, and connected world. The CCO must not only create communications that help the business, but also be a lifelong learner and personal innovator. l
Bill Heyman is president and CEO of Heyman Associates, an executive search firm in New York that specializes in senior-level communications and public affairs positions.