Weber Shandwick study: Digital comms, employee engagement top CCO priorities

Overall results of the semi-annual study remain "pretty constant" from year to year, according to one researcher.

Image courtesy of Weber Shandwick.
Image courtesy of Weber Shandwick.

NEW YORK: Digital comms and employee engagement top the list of priorities for global chief communications officers, according to a study by Weber Shandwick and Spencer Stuart, an executive search and leadership consulting firm.

The study, called The Rising CCO VI, gauges how CCOs anticipate their responsibilities will change over the next 12-to-18 months. It indicates more than 70% of CCOs rank digital comms as the highest item on their to-do list, followed by employee engagement at 65%.

The respondents said digital comms would be an area for hiring priority. CCOs also reported that digital and social media would be their closest working partners in the future.

Researchers found it striking and telling that employee engagement is now top of mind for many CCOs. George Jamison, who heads Spencer Stuart’s corporate comms and IR business, said this may be a "side-effect of the fact employees have a louder voice now more than ever."

"It’s particularly interesting employee advocacy has risen [close] to the top," added Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick.

As a result, 83% of CCOs expect to work closely with their company’s HR department.

"Employees are one of the company’s most competitive assets as potential spokespeople who know the company inside and out," Gaines-Ross said. "The war for talent is the biggest, most worrisome concern of leaders."

The survey had a sample size of 153 corporate comms pros and took place between April and July. Views between North America and EMEA, who made up the lion’s share of the sample, diverged on certain topics.

While North American CCOs designated employee engagement as their top growth area in the near future, their EMEA peers gave that distinction to digital comms. Less than half of EMEA CCOs (45%) agreed that employee engagement was a growth area.

Overall, however, the results remain "pretty constant" in the sixth iteration of The Rising CCO study, Gaines-Ross said. But focus areas do shift.

For example, CCOs were more likely preoccupied with corporate reputation, crisis management, and financial communications when the study was first commissioned in the midst of the economic havoc wreaked by the financial crisis in 2008.

That focus has since shifted, Jamison said.

"As companies continue to focus on growth, brand building is a key function for both marketers and communicators," he added.

The average length of a CCO’s tenure was relatively steady between 2016 (72 months) and 2015 (73 months). When the study was first commissioned in 2007, the average CCO tenure lasted 54 months.

Additionally, of the 53% of global CCOs affected by shareholder activism, 92% said their department played some role in addressing it.

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