Is the chief communications officer position going the way of the dodo?

The CCO role has disappeared at several major organizations.

Leah Haran
SVP, client services, Airfoil

More than 20 years’ experience in marcomms working with large brands such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and GM

"We’ve got to think differently. We are the last dog at the bowl. You see what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies."

This is a great quote from the movie Moneyball, where general manager Billy Beane challenges the Oakland Athletics to think radically different from the traditional baseball approach. The CCO’s position is much like how the A’s were to Major League Baseball – the last dog at the bowl. Corporate comms budgets are being cut, departments are severely understaffed, and PR is an afterthought once the business strategy is baked.

The CCO role is going extinct due to many reasons, including lack of strategic alignment. Often, comms fails to connect its programs to the business. This short-sighted approach to what PR strategies need to be is shocking. Being an adviser to the CEO is one thing, but comms as a strategy for the company is imperative.

Slow adaptation to digital is another reason. Technology has disrupted traditional PR. The old rules no longer apply. Executives need to demand the budgets and talent to manage comms in this dynamic digital age in order to survive.

Then there’s diversification of skills and outsourcing. According to Korn/Ferry, today’s most typical Fortune 500 CCO is a 51-year-old man who manages an internal team of fewer than 50 people, and 96% use external agencies. Clearly, companies are not investing in developing the skills of talent internally, relying instead on agencies.

Finally, there’s morphing with marketing. One example of this is eBay’s CMO Richelle Parham leaving the company. Her departure came as eBay merged its branding and comms teams, which will now be led by the CCO. Marketing has different objectives – many times tied to sales, which neglect core comms audiences such as staffers, the heart and soul of companies. As these areas continue to morph, the traditional role of a CCO will shift from comms to a more marketing-oriented position.

CCOs are at that critical point where they need to adopt a pioneering Billy Beane-esque model that catapults the function into a strategic imperative for business success.

Gary Sheffer
VP of communications and public affairs, GE

Lead comms at GE and is the chairman of the Arthur W. Page Society

The role of the CCO is not only here to stay, but it is also growing in value and becoming more distinct from marketing than ever before.

Today, trust is crucial. Customers are more inclined to buy from a trusted company and advocate to others that they do the same. Costs decrease when a company has trusting relationships in its supply chain. Trusted companies retain employees and outperform their competitors. The CCO’s role revolves around earning and preserving this valuable currency of trust.

Also, a company’s actions must be consistent with its corporate character – the unique values that define it. CCOs are well equipped to work with CEOs to define that character and bring it to life, through storytelling and employee-engagement efforts.

Character also drives corporate strategy. Companies have expanded their definition of success to include factors such as sustainability and ethical labor practices. There are examples of where CCOs have a strong voice – such as CVS Health discontinuing tobacco sales.

Also, today’s consumers increasingly prioritize social responsibility when deciding which brands to support. With deep external expertise and understanding of the enterprise, CCOs align a company’s character with its business strategy, helping it to be socially responsible in how it acts and to create broader societal value, not just customer and shareholder value. This requires a CCO to advise with these integrated strategies.

Finally, peer recommendations outweigh advertising in terms of influencing perception and behavior. The social environment demands digital storytelling and real-time responsiveness. Engagement strategies need to be personalized and focused on creating content that cultivates authentic relationships. That’s work for communications professionals.

None of this diminishes the important work of marketing. But our enterprises require strong leadership on defining values, demonstrating them through action, and ensuring that stakeholders are engaged fairly. It’s in these areas that the CCO has – and will – lead.

PRWeek’s View: The CCO role has disappeared at several major organizations. That is why it is incumbent upon communicators to demonstrate their value and expertise in more areas than ever before.

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