A few decades ago, public relations was just public relations. However, in recent years, I’ve watched it expand to include a full portfolio of internal communication, social media, and the countless types of external transmissions companies make nowadays.
Naturally, this means the chief communication officer (CCO) has taken on a significantly more prominent leadership role within modern companies. As a strategic adviser to the CEO, the board, and the entire management team, today’s CCO is involved in everything from branding (both corporate and personal) to public corporate positioning.
Why has so much changed so quickly? In my view, three main factors are responsible for this evolution:
- Globalization: Because of the global integration of capital markets, business is now a far more complicated endeavor than it was in the past. Compared to a decade ago, there’s a much wider range of things to consider when it comes to creating a PR strategy.
- Communication channels: Twenty years ago, there were far fewer communication channels, and the ones that did exist were far more pedestrian. Today, there’s a seemingly endless source of them, and each requires a distinct style, voice, and overall strategy.
- Communication speed: In the past, it was common for brand messages to be slowly crafted and honed over time. Today, however, speed is key. Companies are expected to communicate frequently and instantaneously via various digital channels.
Given this impressive increase in complexity, it’s no longer enough for a CCO to just be a good communications professional. He or she must also be bold, strategic, worldly, and business-savvy.
All modern CCOs must have:
Intellectual agility. Top CCOs need to possess strong intellectual curiosity, be willing to immerse themselves in a wide range of unfamiliar subjects, and be fast learners. Ultimately, they must have the ability to confidently communicate about a variety of topics to a multitude of audiences.
Strong intuition. In CCOs, I tend to look for an intuitive ability to read the signs before they settle at the bottom of the cup. This means they have a sharply honed intuition that can anticipate and understand the needs of each and every C-suite executive. They need to be able to read someone’s personality, priorities, and decision-making skills, and they must also know how to get a room full of individuals to move together as a group.
Objectivity. When dealing with a management team, the CCO is continuously calibrating every minute of every day based on what he or she is seeing, hearing, and sensing. This skill relies on the ability to maintain a neutral mindset. It’s not this person’s role to pass judgment, but it is his or her job to provide very clear, objective thinking and perspectives.
Advisory capabilities. A CCO serves as a behind-the-scenes PR adviser to the entire C-suite. He or she should always be available to provide guidance and coaching on how to handle particular situations and how to best articulate a message.
Excellent judgment. A good CCO knows how to judge when an organization should make a public statement, as well as when it should keep its mouth shut. In any C-suite job, if someone doesn’t have good judgment, it doesn’t matter how well-read or experienced he or she is.
The role of the CCO has changed considerably over the years, and it will continue to evolve as the business and PR worlds become more complex. It’s crucial for HR professionals to recognize these growing responsibilities and help their organizations keep up with the times.