What comms leaders must know to remain relevant

Egon Zehnder's Amanda Roberts says lines between PR and other areas are becoming blurred.

The rapid elevation of comms leadership gave many practitioners a seat at the table, but left them to fill the role without a guidebook. Looking at how the top comms spot has changed since the ’90s — and what its trajectory might be into the next decade — shows how extensive this change has been. It also underscores the two factors that drove this transformation: increased complexity in comms tech and platforms, as well as in the relationship between organizations and society.  

One might think it’s enough to master the comms function. However, the lines between PR and other areas are becoming blurred. For instance, the increasing overlap between PR and marketing means a good comms chief needs a solid command of branding strategy. Indeed, we’re seeing the rise of the chief marketing and comms officer.

Society is more polarized than ever, with hot-button issues erupting at the center of public discourse. An organization’s values will be a guide to how to respond to unfolding events, but will not provide cover. Comms leaders and the CEOs they advise may be called on to stake out positions on issues they could have avoided in an earlier day.

A company’s brand isn’t the only thing to worry about. The CEO has always been the face of the enterprise. Today, the visibility of that face is amplified by social media, speeches, philanthropy, and public service. This gives the publicly minded CEO a larger platform in which to build his or her brand, and more opportunity to reinforce or detract from the organization’s messaging.

Society will continue to judge companies on their values and actions. Even those that provide digital life solutions, such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon, are not immune to scrutiny.

The speed with which the CCO role spec is changing means that while expanding one’s competencies will always be necessary, it’s no longer sufficient. The best comms leaders will thrive on change rather than merely manage it. They must also possess qualities such as curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination.

Amanda Roberts is head of Egon Zehnder's U.S. consumer practice and leads the firm's chief communications and corporate affairs practice.

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