LinkedIn is a great template for the CEO-CCO relationship

A conversation on stage between CEO Jeff Weiner and CCO Shannon Stubo yielded excellent clues to an effective relationship between comms and the C-suite.

LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner could just be the CEO from heaven for a chief communications officer.

You hear a lot about CCOs who don’t have proper access to the CEO in their organization, especially in Silicon Valley, where in some quarters PR is considered a dirty word.

But listening to Weiner interviewed by his CCO Shannon Stubo at LinkedIn’s CommsConnect conference on Wednesday in San Francisco, you couldn’t help but notice the high priority he put on communications as a key driver of his business.

Admittedly the session did descend into a bit of a love-in on a couple of occasions. And Stubo certainly grasped the opportunity to get a glowing appraisal on stage in a public forum. But the exchanges also gave some major clues as to what an effective CEO/CCO relationship should look like.

As Weiner pointed out, it is his strong conviction that CEOs should have a direct relationship with their heads of communication. He put this down especially to the speed of modern media and the importance of story - and the confluence of these two factors.

But it goes beyond that. "Shannon [Stubo] is much more than a head of communications," said Weiner. "She advises on a whole host of things and has had to gain complete fluency not only with communications but also with the products and the company, both externally and internally."

Stubo and her team play an essential role in the quality of decisions the company makes across the board and Weiner clearly thinks it is vital to have a very strong partnership with them. He took this a step further when he advised all founders in the Valley to have a head of communications that reports directly to the CEO and a strong conversation between marketing and communications.

Our sister brand The Hub’s editor-in-chief Omar Akhtar explained how "Jeff met Shannon" in a post earlier this week, but Wiener said he felt a great rapport with Stubo as soon as he met her and knew she was the right person for the job. The happy couple even finishes each other’s sentences, not in a negative way but as "shorthand for us to reach conclusions much faster than we would otherwise."

The qualities he values in his CCO include amazing storytelling; great written and verbal communications skills, which he says are not necessarily synonymous with each other; the ability to take on change quickly; and her superlative relations internally and externally.

The budgeting arrangements at LinkedIn may also cause other CCOs to turn green with envy. "There is no budgeting conversation," said Weiner. "She asks and I give her what she needs. I trust her."

Weiner went on to expound on his view that companies are comprised of individuals telling their stories and people are accessing information in real time that they couldn’t before.

"It’s important for companies to be crystal clear on their narrative, codifying it, and communicating it well," he added. This is essential from both and internal and external point of view, because, as Weiner also pointed out: "Employees are our most passionate evangelists, and they are ideally placed to explain why their company is the best place to work."

When that narrative is authentic it adds incredible value to an organization, so communicating and empowering internally is crucial: "Sharing values and mission is essential to fostering an atmosphere where they [staff] feel comfortable sharing content," explained Weiner. "You can’t tell people what to share."

In fact, he notes that the better your internal communications team is, the more work they generate, because they are engaging with staff and stimulating genuine interaction.

I suppose the nature of LinkedIn’s business means none of this is particularly surprising. The only potential downside for a CCO of having a close relationship with the CEO is when that leader departs the company or organization – and we have seen many examples of comms leaders following them out of the company shortly after.

On the other hand, there are stalwarts in the comms profession who have navigated several CEOs at the same company. In my opinion these people deserve immense respect, because they have managed to forge a strong bond with more than one leader, and that takes some doing.

Often it comes down to the culture of the organization, the time at which you join the company, and the extraneous business environment impacting it. If the CEO is in a sink or swim situation, the CCO inevitably is too.

Many communicators positively thrive in crisis or difficult situations. But I’m pretty sure that most CCOs would opt for the positive and enabling relationship Stubo has with Weiner if they were given the choice.

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