Leadership Opportunities for Chief Communications Officers

10 years, 3 months ago


Distinctions between corporate brand, culture and reputation are becoming increasingly blurred, giving CCOs greater scope to play an enhanced role in what their companies do. By Bill Margaritis.

These are times of extraordinary change, challenge, and opportunity for everyone in public relations, but, most particularly, for Chief Communications Officers. As we haltingly emerge from the Great Recession, people remain angry, anxious and fearful. Employees are nervous, as jobs growth remains anemic. And the old compact of employee loyalty in exchange for job security is increasingly fragile.

This discontent manifests itself more widely and rapidly than ever through the channels of new media. With trust in business now polling at near all-time lows, anyone with a decent computer, a reasonably fast connection and a point-of-view has unprecedented access to a company’s stakeholders. The distance from a blogger’s basement to the boardroom is now measured in little more than the time it takes to press ‘Enter’.

Continuing trends

And these developments are only going to accelerate. While predicting the future has always been risky, it’s reasonable to expect the following trends to continue through 2015 and beyond:

• Growing stakeholder expectations of corporations, particularly among younger stakeholders, in the area of social responsibility
• Rapidly increasing power over corporate reputations among member of generations who are under 30 and waning influence over reputation among older Baby Boomers
• Further rapid evolution of social media norms and platforms, bringing with it intensified ability to pressure companies on reputation
• Continued pressure on corporations to reduce labor costs, resulting in more outsourcing, contracting, part-time and other arrangements that further erode worker loyalty and damage valuable corporate cultures
• The growing voice of employees through new media

The key player in the work of managing these disparate forces is the CCO. More than anyone else in the C-Suite, the CCO combines sophisticated insight into business with the ability to distill a story to its most persuasive essence. And, importantly, it is the CCO who can bring to bear tools to measure, analyze, and manage the sweep of forces playing out in the economy and the media landscape.

The need for leadership from CCO’s has never been greater. Using the tools and skills noted above, CCOs can demonstrate to C-level executives the imperative of building relationships with all stakeholders around actions rather than just words. We can play a much larger role in what a company does, rather than just what it says.

Managing reputation in this way is the central value proposition of our profession. While the Marketing discipline has successfully rallied around ‘brand management’ as a value creation platform, the growing sensitivities of stakeholders make reputation at least as important as brand for many corporations.

Indeed, I believe the convergence of brand, reputation and culture represents the nexus in which the true value of the CCO emerges.

Reputation and brand

What a company sells shapes its brand. What a company does as part of that process shapes its reputation. Because brand can, to some extent, be bought, it can’t in and of itself create ‘license to operate.’ That can only come about through a brand management approach in which reputation – which must be earned through the daily actions of employees and the corporation itself – is an important part of the equation.

It is therefore no longer valid to build brand image by buying controlled messages in traditional media channels while hoping reputation will somehow mirror brand. The new world values authenticity, transparency, candor, empathy and dialogue. In this world, brand and reputation are converging. A strong reputation is essential to achieving the old but true saying, "A great brand is a promise kept." Managing the two in a holistic way is thus not only desirable – it’s essential.

Reputation and culture

According to Socrates, "The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear." The daily actions of employees and their attitude toward their employer and customers have always been fundamental to a business’ success. But in today’s transparent world, the impact of these actions and attitudes are greatly amplified.

CCOs can and should play a key role as catalysts for positive culture change within their companies. Working closely with HR, Legal, IT, Marketing and executive management, they can add compelling value to this effort through their knowledge of stakeholder expectations, firm grasp of the importance of authenticity and credibility and overall communications skills.

By demonstrating to their CEOs how a strong corporate culture shapes corporate reputation and by serving as a ‘culture counselor,’ CCOs can use the culture-reputation nexus to align a company’s workplace with its marketplace. They can help strengthen the experiential components of the company’s brand and give customers an increasingly desired feeling of having a closer relationship with the company.

Managing reputation in this holistic way offers our profession a great opportunity. CCOs have the chance to move beyond an occasional "seat at the table" to play a consistent role influencing critical business decisions. We have the ability to stand at the center of discussions that shape our corporations, helping senior executives assess core business strategies and decisions through the critical lens of reputation.



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The Author

Bill Margaritis

Bill Margaritis, SVP Global Communications and Investor Relations, FedEx and president, Arthur W. Page Society.

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