CCO roles expand as businesses transform: Page study

Communications executives must embrace collaboration as their corporate mandate grows, the organization found.

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

NEW YORK: Chief communications officers have more on their plates than ever: managing brands, working on corporate purpose and handling new sets of digital tools, noted a study published on Tuesday by Page.

"It starts with the CEO’s agenda," said Jon Iwata, chair of thought leadership at Page and lead of the Page working group for the study. "What we've observed is that CEOs are driving the greatest wave of transformation in decades, and that is rippling across the entire corporate world. This is creating opportunities but also new things we need to pay attention to."

Page held 150 in-depth interviews last year with CCOs globally and talked with in-house communications pros at its 2018 annual conference and its 2018 and 2019 spring seminars.

Working with APCO Insights, Page surveyed senior comms pros around the world, including Page and Page Up members, the European Association of Communications Directors, Asia-Pacific Association of Communications Directors, Middle East Public Relations Association, ABERJE in Brazil, Corporate Excellence in Spain and Latin America, the Harbour Club in Switzerland, Entreprises et Médias in France, Suqin in China and friends of Adfactors PR in India.

"One of the things we found was that the majority of CCOs we spoke with now have formal responsibility for their corporate brand or the master brand of their companies," said Iwata, former communications leader at IBM. "Historically, the brand was the responsibility of the chief marketing officer. In the quantitative portion of the survey, 66% of the CCOs who responded said they have formal responsibility for corporate brand."

Part of the reason for this is that the definition of "brand" has expanded, said Page chair and former Text100 CEO Aedhmar Hynes.

"To me, it feels like one of the big shifts in the brand experience is how do all stakeholders experience the brand across every touch point of an organization, from a call with the customer service department through to how comms communicates through the media," she said.

This expansion has been accompanied by the rise of corporate purpose and the increasing expectations that consumers and employees have of corporations. CCOs are in the middle of that change, the study’s authors wrote and are "helping to define an enterprise commitment to societal value."

"I think there is definitely concern over this," said Page president Roger Bolton. "One of the most frequent questions we got had to do with brands taking a stand, even in the Middle East, and that really surprised me that it was the No. 1 topic [CCOs] wanted to talk about."

To adjust to their growing roles, CCOs are reaching for the data-based tools and techniques used by their marketing cousins, creating a new data discipline that the study called "commtech."

"Fully embraced," the study said, "[commtech] can do for communications what martech has done for marketing. It enables companies to understand and engage people, not just customers but the full array of the firm’s stakeholders, as unique individuals."

Iwata added that commtech combines the data and analysis tools used by marketers with the tools and skills of comms pros for creating content.

"Historically, we dealt with stakeholders as broad segments of the population, and the only way to reach them was through intermediaries like the press. Now we can get to them directly, which is why you’re seeing the huge way of content creation," he explained. "The big shift with commtech is we are able to target and understand stakeholders as individuals, and that is increasingly a source of competitive advantage."

Iwata added that the survey found that some CCOs are getting the resources they need for these new tools, as well as the added responsibilities, while others are not.

"Some CCOs said they are seeing the headcount and the budget moving over to them, while in some cases, when it comes to commtech, they’ll say I don’t have the money to build it out and until I get the budget I can’t do that," he said. "Others are saying they don’t need it and they can repurpose existing budget."

However, Iwata added, people looking for a turf battle for resources are missing the point.

"What’s most prevalent is that CCOs are saying they are influencing how the money is spent in other parts of business. So if you are collaborating on cultural change, the question isn’t are you getting budget or the headcount," Iwata added. "It isn’t ‘I need more money and headcount.’ It’s ‘How are we spending money in sales, in HR, in our partner network and in our digital touch points.’ CCOs are needing to develop and leverage collaboration."

This story was updated on September 10 to correct the percentage of CCOs who have responsibility for a company's brand. 

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