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Lexie Janney

Published on

January 28, 2023


communications, leadership, PR

The role of the Chief Communications Officer has evolved over the years. From setting strategy to managing resources, CCO's oversee the entire marketing communications strategy.

During my most recent semester of teaching, I asked my PR case studies class to define the role of communications and public relations (PR) professionals in their own words. Collectively, we struggled to reduce the role to a single, condensed area of operation. At least as it is traditionally defined. Some students immediately jumped to media relations and press releases, others added social media and community relations to the mix, while a few even made a point for crisis communications and reputation management.

Blurred Lines

Developing and distributing external and internal messages was once fairly simple. With technology innovation, channel proliferation and increased access to stakeholders, corporate communications has evolved to encompass many other critical business functions like those my students described above. These complexities have led to the emergence of the Chief Communications Officer (CCO) role to effectively oversee it all.

CCOs serve as a strategic partner across the organization from setting the overall marketing communications strategy – both internally and externally – to managing resources to ensure effective execution of that strategy. While modern CCOs still carry out this role, the list of responsibilities has expanded and as a result, this leadership role has evolved over time.

In the last two years, society has had to experience unimaginable and unexpected change. The pandemic, digital transformation, the Great Resignation, and demand for social justice among other major trends and movements, have served as an inflection point for today’s business and communication leaders. Stakeholder priorities and expectations are different than pre-pandemic ones, and as Millennials and Generation Z grow in population, CCOs must tailor their marketing and communication strategies accordingly.

This Generation’s Take

Gen Z’s expectation for company leaders overall is to drive for change. CCOs have the great responsibility of engaging stakeholders and serving as an arbiter for desired change within their organization. The reason communicators have long asked for a ‘seat at the table,’ is because that visibility, accessibility and additional voice is vital to influencing impactful business decisions.

Generational shifts and changing societal priorities have put a focus on leadership. Executive leadership teams are being held accountable for that drive for change, especially when the ‘talk’ doesn’t seem to match the ‘walk.’ CCOs are tasked with making sure the two match.

As such, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is an increasingly important topic among communications leadership. CCOs must centralize organizational data and increase departmental visibility to support decision-making marketing messaging around ESG initiatives and progress for their audiences. Afterall, if information isn’t properly communicated – regardless of the department it’s about – the CCO is held accountable. Building channels for organizational collaboration helps ensure accurate and comprehensive communication.

Breaking Down Silos

As companies aim to recruit diverse talent in the current workforce landscape, CCOs will need to work closely with human resources and diversity leaders to effectively communicate company culture and values. Further, CCOs must ensure strong employee communication and engagement to ensure employee satisfaction and drive retention. When working together, the teams can maximize their ability to recruit and retain talent with inclusive information and accessible means of distribution.

While communications teams have often operated as their own engine, it will be critical to ensure visibility into and accessibility to nearly every organizational department. With this interdepartmental system, CCOs can educate other internal leaders on the importance of information sharing and how the communications team can help them reach their own goals. If done properly, these internal employee representatives will witness the positive impact communications can have and can even serve as ambassadors.

These modern challenges can be overcome, but no longer through traditional solutions. CCOs can respect and respond to the growing accountability by creating interdepartmental cohesion through a culture of communication. Instilling a culture of communication will help navigate organizational silos – and eventually break them down. Ultimately, this collaborative approach will not only support the communications goals of building and nurturing stakeholder relationships but will also elevate the efforts across the entire organization.

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