The rise of the Chief Communications Officer

10.27.20 / 3 min read

A recent survey of Fortune 500 companies found that a Chief Communications Officer (CCO) has an increasingly prominent role and rising expectation from leadership; in fact, 67% of respondents said that a strategic mindset was the most important leadership characteristic for successful CCOs. CEOs expect CCOs to act as high-level strategic advisors and, in turn, CCOs expect their teams to operate as a strategic function.

With a greater focus on reputation than ever before, organizations are seeing the need to pay more attention to reputation when it comes to business decisions. This means that a PR team and the CCO should be able to answer key questions and operate more strategically, something the Chartered Institute of Public Relations highlighted in their State of the Profession report.

With a chief communications officer in place there is a greater focus on reputation and how business activities might impact an organization’s perception among its stakeholders. It also means PR teams are more closely aligned to overall business objectives. In our recent webinar on reputation management, Stuart Thomson, Head of Public Affairs at leading law firm BDB Ptimans, said: “It’s important to have a voice and have a champion of comms at the leadership level, but it’s also important to speak the language of leadership. Ask ‘are we delivering for the objectives of the various members of leadership or are we talking about comms metrics that they might not fully understand?’”

For PR teams to adjust and better align with leadership’s objectives, they need a more strategic remit. This transition doesn’t just benefit leadership though. It has the ability to enhance the reputation of the PR team and its members within the business, not just through successes in line with company goals, but in aiding departments through distributing key information.

Let’s take two examples: firstly how PR teams assess media coverage. Instead of focusing on reach or number of mentions, they can assess the sentiment behind coverage with an AI-powered tool. Using more detailed insights, PR teams can help leadership understand the effect of strategic decisions on the company’s reputation.

Secondly, how PR teams demonstrate their success. PR measurement has often been overlooked, but selecting the right metrics can show how Comms teams are changing behaviors and delivering impact. Our measurement expert Neil Morrison said: “Moving beyond vanity metrics and better defining the success of the PR operation is a big task. Leaders may ask ‘So what if my team achieved 150 articles in the Nationals? So what if the AVE value of my coverage was £4.2 million? What does this mean to me?’ With the right metrics that show the true impact of PR & Comms, fewer CEOs and boards will be able to say ‘So what’.”

Posing more strategic questions in day-to-day activities will better define a team’s remit. Demonstrating more nuanced ways of measuring success will also help leadership understand and engage with Comms. Now, when it comes to making key decisions, the C-suite has a trusted advisor in the form of their Comms leaders, and reputation is considered at every turn.

Read more on demonstrating the value of PR in our whitepaper by Neil Morrison.