I’ve been doing some late night reading of a rather interesting piece of research. Commissioned by the recruitment firm, the VMA Group, the study reached out to business leaders across Europe to ask a simple question: What do CEOs expect of today’s chief communications officer?
The research looked at a number of key areas, and I’ll outline the key findings below.
- The Value of Communications
- Although the value of communications as a central business operation is implicitly accepted by CEOs, many communications directors still need to make a more convincing ROI case for the impact of their own work.
- CEOs are still uncertain that the company’s social media activity is driven by either a strategic purpose or a clear sense of the desired returns.
- Reputations are more fragile than ever. CEOs frequently see this as the key value point provided by the communications director.
“We see a corporate communications director as the builder of the brand value proposition, the custodian of the corporate reputation – not in a reactive way but proactively. In order to sell our products and services, increasingly we first have to sell the company. Whether it’s government giving you incentives, or it is customers buying because they trust you. Unless you’ve got a meaningful brand proposition you can’t get off first base.
A strategic communications director understands that and understands that’s their role, and it really ought to have as much value on the balance sheet as other assets of the business because any strategic move will create stress points in the brand proposition that need to be managed.” David Lockwood, CEO, Laird PLC
- Strategy: Is Communications Trusted
- Communications directors are frequently involved in strategy creation; almost always at least with some input.
- The Majority of CEOs actively involve the communications director when there is a demonstrably ‘communications-centric’ issue.
- Three core strategic viewpoints that communications directors bring to the discussion: how to translate the strategy into content and channels; and the reputational rewards and risks of strategic decisions.
- CEOs from multinationals see communications’ input more broadly and progressively – as a vital strategic voice in all business decisions, especially from the perspective of reputation and brand.
“I think it’s obvious that a communications professional needs to be closely linked to the strategy because what they work on – formulating the communications and regulatory environment – is of strategic importance. So communications and public affairs needs not just to be ‘part’ of the company strategy but actually linked to the strategy – wired into the board and well resourced. If it’s an afterthought you might as well save yourself the money and not do it.” Wim Mijs, CEO, European Banking Federation
- All Change – The New Communications Culture
- The digital revolution has brought arguably even more significant changes to the approach and culture of communications than to the core skills of the job.
- The ‘message control’ model is over. Key challenge: communications professionals must somehow now find a new way to create alignment among audiences without ever dictating to them.
- Authenticity and transparency are the essential tonal cues today – otherwise your communications will be dismissed out of hand.
- Audiences expect evidence of a new type of business model – socially responsible, publicly responsive, democratically inclusive.
“We’ve noticed a big and increasing demand for transparency. Our consumers and stakeholders at Arla want to know where their food is coming from. They want transparency in the supply chain. And I would say that the balance between a ‘communications’ approach to stakeholder engagement and a ‘marketing’ approach is shifting in favor of communications. In my business, that’s manifested by an increasing preference for having very honest, authentic, transparent conversations, and moving away from grand claims, mass advertising and so on.” Tomas Pietrangeli, MD, Arla Foods
- The Challenge of Filtering in an Age of Noise
- Discernment and filtering have become core skills – the ability to select from a vast and noisy information flow what is of actual value to the business.
- Communications professionals need to rise above the manias and mass panics the online world can create, providing a cool head in a crisis.
- A key, proactive part of filtering is to anticipate major disruptive events coming down the pipeline and to have a plan of action for how to deal with them.
“I don’t think anyone’s figured out quite how corporate communications works in a world where social media is on the scene before you are. Trying to control the message is really tough in that environment, of course. But it’s the speed with which other people out there react – with real-time messaging before you’ve even had a chance to get your messages out and establish the facts.” Mark Tanzer, CEO, ABTA
- The Need for True Leadership
- Core technical skills are still important; they must now be supplemented by more core business skills.
- CEOs want more than support, counsel or executive ‘translation’ services. Businesses now need true leadership from communications directors.
- Proactive endeavour is the critical element – delivering new business growth, rooting out commercial opportunities, driving change internally.
“I find that communications people should be closer to the business. They should be able to understand the company figures properly – to understand the business, but also where it’s heading and what issues it’s going to face. In general, if communications people have sufficient insights in the business, I truly believe they are able to generate more value.” Paul de Krom, CEO, TNO
- The Future: A Profession in Revolutionary Change
There’s no key findings here (I’ve highlighted the capabilities required by CEOs today in the image at the beginning of the article). However, I do want to pull up one last quote, as it’s particularly apt to the Middle East, where we have an issue with speaking truth to power and instead focusing on political maneuvering inside the organization.
Before that, I’d like to say thank you to the VMA Group for this thought-provoking report, especially the International Association of Business Communicators EMENA board member Willem de Ruijter, for handing the report out to IABC EMENA and pushing this onto the agenda.
“The communications director works in the same room in the building as the secretary of the board – in fact we are all now on one floor, we do not have separate rooms anymore. S/he has full access to everything, no restrictions. S/he is actively involved and is asked to stimulate and to give feedback. Her/his message should be frank when required… and provocative too. S/he needs to be able to tell a senior leader who has worked at KPMG for 25 years that he or she does not possess the correct KPMG vision. That takes a certain character.” Albert Röell, CEO, KPMG NL