Claiming your seat at the boardroom table
As featured in Communication Director Asia Pacific
As a specialist communications and PR recruiter, I work with my clients to define the capabilities of an ideal Chief Communications Officer (CCO). The obvious skills required in a CCO role are strategic capabilities, being a trusted adviser and owning relationships with media and influencers. In addition, there is a need to have a business brain, be financially literate, understand the importance of legal and compliance as well as navigate highly matrixed work environments in order to try and earn a seat at the boardroom table.
The challenge as a recruiter is not finding the candidates with the basic communications skill set, but rather to find senior communicators who posses the skills to take on a larger role within the business and take responsibility to provide greater value to the business.
In contrast, the challenge for many candidates is adopting a leadership mindset that goes beyond being just a trusted adviser but is truly a leader in the business that shapes behaviour – inside and out – and makes the company’s values a reality.
In today’s business world, the CCO has to have a strong understanding of reputation management, the ability to integrate digital, the experience to drive internal collaboration with key stakeholders across the business, while also managing the convergence of marketing and communications. By adopting these, the CCO can have the greatest impact on the business as they become more than a trusted adviser but indeed deserve and secure their seat at the boardroom table.
Reputation is a Business Issue
More than ever, business leaders need to listen to what is being said about them. Volatile financial markets, issues of privacy, consumer activists and the rapid rise of digital communication channels mean that business reputation can be built up and torn down in an instant. As Warren Buffet once claimed, ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
It was not long ago that many companies equated communications with press relations. Today the communications leader or CCO increasingly manages a wide range of audiences reaching far beyond the press including investors, analysts, shareholders, regulators, governments and employees.
This means the CCO is quite simply “the guardian of that most precious, and difficult to measure… corporate reputation.”[SOURCE]
In an interview with PR Week, AIA Group’s Stephen Thomas shared “Think of it [communications] in terms of the old adage that beauty is only skin deep. Perhaps there was a time where a company could try and put a nice face on its actions after the fact. But if the communications team is involved from the start, then you have a more organic process where the right corporate behaviour leads to the right image.” [SOURCE]
Gone are the days when the communications teams are to just manage a controlled message to selected press. Today the communications lead oversees teams that are more proactive, and in more cases, content owners themselves. And when the value of CEO engagement is now a mandate for building a company’s reputation, and in most cases recognised as a fundamental driver of a company’s reputation and market value, what is said and how it is said is even more important. [SOURCE]
As the CCO drives the company’s reputation, it is the reputation that drives corporate strategy.
The CCO is in a unique position. Their deep external engagement expertise and understanding of business operations means they can define a company’s social responsibility and a new strategy for a business to create customer and shareholder value.
There is great opportunity for more of Asia’s CCOs to define this for their business – we have seen it with Unilever and their sustainable living plan and IKEA and their commitment to energy reduction. Asia’s CCOs need to harness their knowledge and leadership and look to take their management of corporate reputation and drive a new era of business engagement.
Today’s communications leaders no longer manage the traditional method of controlled distribution of company information. While engagement with traditional media remains a key part of many communications teams, they know that social media will increase in importance and have the greatest impact on their roles in the coming years. [SOURCE]
“Digital, social and mobile continue to grow in strength and importance, expanding and diversifying the Asia media landscape. What’s exciting is that this change provides brands and agencies more ways to communicate and engage with stakeholders and communities,” said Andy Oliver, Senior Vice President (APAC) at LEWIS PR. [SOURCE]
This change allows communications teams to listen, aggregate and even publish more content than ever before. Social media provides not just an opportunity to engage with their stakeholders more frequently but has the opportunity to build greater insights and understanding through data analytics that are invaluable for business leaders.
From my perspective, data collected from social media provides a huge opportunity for company communications leaders with invaluable insight and secures their role not just as an adviser on key trends but also a contributor to corporate strategy and planning.
The CCO has to distill and frame the information that is imperative for the business. Communications teams no longer just report the ‘news of the day’ but instead are required to identify what content should be shared or responded to.
The CCO needs to understand the new media environment as well as be responsible for distilling the flow of information and actively present sentiment or data that will impact the business. The link between the two helps craft the right message for the right audience through the right channel, resulting in a more effective communications campaign.
As Andrew Seah, Head of Communications & Environmental Affairs, DB Schenker (Asia Pacific) explained, “Just as Big Data is transforming business information as valuable currency, communications has always been in the realm of converging the science for Big Data with the art of measuring perceptions and influence. While this has become empowering, it has also become far more complex and sophisticated. But as we are fortunate to be witnessing such disruptive and transformational changes, we have to remind ourselves that the very fundamental role of communications still hasn’t changed, and hence the paradox of the evolution or revolution of the Communications role in organisations.”
Internal Leader – Collaboration and Advocacy
“This position is in a highly matrixed organisation, the candidate will need to communicate across multiple business functions.”
Sound familiar? It’s across almost every job description you see today. However I argue that this is where some candidates struggle to show these capabilities. While digital skills can be taught, the ability to recognise the intricacies of business organisations and effectively navigate a complex organisational chart is a challenge many communications professionals struggle with.
The ability to network within a complex business environment is often overlooked. Some inexperienced communications leaders think the most important relationship to invest in is the one with the CEO. However there are multiple relationships within an organisation that need time and investment from the CCO. This will in turn determine his or her success.
Gary Sheffer, the former VP of corporate communications and public affairs at GE, recently said, “Communications [leaders]… are much more actively involved as a shaper, influencer and partner on culture with HR and other members of the C-suite… it is not just about talking about culture, but also understanding what motivates people in their jobs, how they view the company, and how the vocations in their own life match that of the organisation.” [SOURCE]
Traditionally the communications leader has been closely connected to HR, internal communications, and legal, but today a new relationship is emerging that is key to the communications director: the CIO.
A forthcoming report by Arthur W. Page Institute has found “the number one increase in relationship changes for communications leads is their relationship with the CIO. As investments into social media continue, communications leaders need to be confident in not just using new technology tools for listening and data analytics, but also to ensure that technology is right for the business and advocate it to other business functions. [SOURCE]
Murray Newlands co author of How to get PR for your Startup : Traction said “I increasingly see the disciplines of PR and SEO working together. There are many similarities in skill sets of creating great content and reaching out to other sites to develop relationships. SEO used to be a technical team all on its own, with the strong emergence of content marketing and Google’s changes to its algorithm that has changed. ” [SOURCE]
Integrating Communications and Marketing functions
There is no bigger change for communications leads than the convergence with marketing functions. Keith Weed, CMO for Unilever explained, “In a joined-up social-digital world, I don’t think that you can separate communications from marketing. If you do, you’re talking out of two sides of your mouth as a company.”
Industry reports confirm that over a third of communications leads have greater responsibility for marketing. [SOURCE] This presents challenges for communications leads but also great opportunity.
The skills that a company’s communications leader today must possess goes beyond the traditional skill set and also include the management finesse to oversee the increasingly non-traditional teams such as planners, creatives and developers.
The leaders that will be recruited for the top job will be those who know the changes but who can also bridge the divide and ensure the company communicates effectively across a multitude of channels in a variety of formats.
As more CCOs find the door to the boardroom open and their chance to sit with their business leaders, they must be an active participant. The CCO today has a responsibility, as a coach to the C-suite to guide them through the new age of business, be willing to try new things and take risks.
CCOs can be part of the leadership team and show the business how they can adopt new expertise, challenge the system and drive credibility and accountability, which will in turn deliver more for companies and ensure the CCOs seat at the top table.