Should a company's communications leader report directly to the CEO?

Comms leaders have influence over public perception.


Steve Halsey, Principal and MD, Gibbs & Soell
More than 20 years of issues, brand, business, and marcomms experience

Without doubt, the top communicator should report directly to the CEO.

Communications is a strategic function that drives business value. It is infused in and influences nearly every transaction and stakeholder engagement a company makes. Without honest feedback, assessment, and counsel from a communications perspective, a company is essentially flying blind.

That's because CEOs must make decisions based on the context of the market, and what they can do to make it more favorable for their business. It just so happens that listening to, interpreting, and influencing market context are sweet spots of communications. So, a seat at the table is not just nice to have. It is a must.

But remember, reporting is one thing, having influence is another. It's not enough to just be at the table. You must bring the insight, leadership skills, and business acumen to command the respect of everyone in the room. You must be a trusted adviser to both the CEO and the broader leadership team if you want to stay relevant.

In my experience, companies with communications leaders reporting directly to the CEO have the greatest alignment between their business, communications strategies, and activities. That translates directly into business value. When they report to heads of marketing or HR, the communications focus tends to skew toward the lead function and you don't get the same value-generating alignment.

Communications leaders must use their unique vantage point to help shape the business' strategy based on market conditions, risks, and opportunities. They must understand, convey, and champion the true power of communications and its role in building trust, shaping reputation, and driving sales. And they must influence business decisions, not just be the means of expressing them.

As Thomas Paine said, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." It's time that communicators stop pondering whether or not we deserve a seat at the table, and focus instead on how we can create maximum value for our respective businesses.


Mario Almonte, Managing partner, Herman & Almonte PR
Nearly two decades of public relations and marketing experience

It may not be good for the ego, but job wise it is best for the communications leader to report to the CMO rather than the CEO.

A communications leader needs accurate information to do their job right. But in large, and especially in publicly traded companies, that information doesn't always flow as freely and accurately as it should from a company's CEO.

Beholden to a board of directors, a CEO's actions are often politically motivated, and in times of crisis, his or her knowledge is sometimes surprisingly flawed. This could be deadly, especially when a sensitive response is required to address a crisis.

A notorious example is Tony "I'd like my life back" Hayward, former CEO of BP, whose epic bungling before the camera after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico revealed his utter lack of knowledge about the company's operations.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief executive Jamie Dimon was also exposed as a leader who seems to have no clue about how his people are making - or losing - the bank's money.

The problem is that a corporate CEO doesn't necessarily get their hands dirty running the day-to-day operations, and so he or she doesn't always know what's going on at the ground level, where the product is made, and the people who sell it. By contrast, a CMO does. They know precisely what their resources are, the capabilities of their people, and the best way to use those resources.

Another inherent problem for communications leaders who report to the chief executive is trust. CEOs and CMOs, while presumably working for the same team, don't always share the success or failure of the company equally. A CMO's head is the first to roll when the company is doing poorly because they are a more natural scapegoat than the CEO.

In that scenario, if the communications head reports to the CEO, the CMO, would be skeptical of their motives and reluctant to share everything with them, calling into question the accuracy of the information he or she receives.

PRWeek's View
Communications leaders have influence over a company's public perception. They should report to the CEO and have his or her ear during times of crisis as well as calmer periods when they should be providing strategic counsel.

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