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Comms in 2018… the voice of the CEO

Okay, it’s that time of the year again.

Holidays. Families. Friends. Celebrations (like our end of year celebration we hope you’re all attending).

And, of course, predictions.

At around this time every year, the guru hordes magically emerge from their hidey-holes, replete with crystal balls and the ability to stare knowingly into the distance. They stride across our social platforms and regale us with mystical tales of the year ahead and the secret sauce that will lead us all to next year’s promised land.

Now, we’re not meaning to criticise end of year predictions articles. They’re actually a great way of validating your plans for the coming year.

And, we at IABC Victoria did consider joining the throng and ending 2017 with an article that goes all guru on you. But, instead, we decided to try something different. That is, turn to the one voice that matters more than pretty much any other when it comes to our communications priorities… the voice of the CEO.

Recently, we came across two reports that have been published over the last twelve months. One came from the New York-based Arthur W. Page Society and the other from VMAGroup, which is based in London.

These reports have two interesting things in common.

The first is that they both look at what today’s CEOs expect from CCOs and their comms teams. The Arthur W. Page Society report also takes this a step further. Because it’s a longitudinal study, they’ve been able to show how CEOs’ views about communicators have changed over the last ten years.

The second is that these two reports seem to defy the natural law of surveys by saying almost exactly the same thing. Anyone geeky enough to enjoy a good survey would know that’s never meant to happen. It makes life far too easy.

But, maybe that’s the point. Maybe the fact that these two surveys – from different companies in different parts of the world – say largely the same thing means there’s something here we should listen to.

So, for your end of year reading pleasure, here is a brief summary of five things we communication professionals could do in 2018 to make our organisations successful and our CEOs really happy. Each is supported by two pieces of evidence:

  1. An observation of how CEO views have changed since 2007 (Arthur W. Page Society)
  2. A quotation from a European CEO (VMA Group).

1. Get Smart 

In 2007, CEOs hoped that CCOs would know about their organisation in detail. Now, they expect it1.

 “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.”

Paul de Krom, CEO, TNO2

2. Get Strategic 

In 2007, Communications was seen as an important contributor to strategy, but did not have a seat at the table. Today, CCOs are recognised as having an important role to play in the creation and implementation of strategy1.

“In my view, the involvement of communications needs to take place at the very beginning of the strategy-building process. It’s important for them to be there, challenging ideas and highlighting opportunities: ‘What does that really mean?’ ‘Can we live up to these standards?’ ‘Have you thought about A, B, C?’”

Andreas Joehle, CEO, Hartmann Group2

3. Get Vocal 

In 2007, CEOs saw social value and CSR as important, but not a key priority for Communications or Strategy. Today, social value is seen as a key part of both… and a major role for the CCO1.

“I think that’s one of the internal things that a really good corporate comms person does: they hold a mirror up to the organisation and keep everyone honest, and they do it by focusing on what’s important and what’s real and understandable.”

David Lockwood, CEO, Laird PLC2

4. Get Real

In 2007, CEOs recognised that consumers wanted transparency and authenticity. Today, they are looking to CCOs to help them manage their online engagement to ensure it is authentic and consistent with the brand1.

“We are currently seeing a complete revolution, as the world rapidly becomes ever more transparent. The pressure to increase transparency is enormous, and I believe that corporate communications can play a very significant role in that process. The ability to steer this process in the right direction – to communicate your story, your strategy, your culture – is becoming ever more important.”

Stepan Breedveld, CEO, Ordina2

5. Get ahead

In 2007, CEOs saw the CCO role as largely tactical with a focus on identifying and countering threats. CCOs are now expected to be able to identify and counter issues before they escalate into threats1.

“The key challenge is: have that foresight to anticipate what is likely to become important over the next few years, because if you get it wrong now, it’s going to be hard to recover.”

Mike Hawes, CEO, SMMT2

A closing thought…

There’s one other interesting observation that springs up in these reports. It’s the decidedly good news that CEOs view communications as an increasingly important function. Two quotes from the VMAGroup report, in particular, seem to highlight this…

“Technology used to be a cost, but today that same technology is the business. For many of the same reasons, communication used to be seen as a cost but is now becoming the business.”

Saskia van Uffelen, CEO, Ericsson Belux2

“The communications director has to be your alter ego; somebody in whom you can have blind trust – in their ability to unpack both the company vision and your personal vision. It should be a person you can fully trust and who deepens your capabilities, who advises and reviews your ideas and opinions – and, overall, who gives you the feeling that here is someone you can always rely upon.”

Albert Röell, CEO, KPMG NL2

References:

  1. Innovative and executive: this is the next-generation of communications director, VMAGroup, 28 November 2016.
  2. Analysis of The CEO View: Communications at the center of the enterprise, Arthur W Page Society.

Download our summary

Our summary is also available in a downloadable PDF document, available below:

Comms in 2018… the voice of the CEO

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