As the architect of Edelman's 2021 Future of Corporate Communications Survey, Jim O'Leary has a detailed view of the issues that face commnicators in corporate environments where the role of communications is growing rapidly.
"I think the main headline of our research," O'Leary tells Doug Simon, "is that the role of corporate communications has become more materially important to CEOs, boards, and other members of the C-Suite than it's ever been before."
Recent events, he says, have played a major role in that shift. The increased pressures that have accumulated over the past 18 months, he says, have made it "a heck of a lot harder than it used to be, to be the CEO of a company." And "more often than not," those pressures "are in areas where corporate communications is directly involved."
The result? "CEOs are increasingly relying on their chief communications officers to help them navigate these challenges."
CCOs now need to be able to negotiate a wide range of issues and challenges. Important factors include "engagement with the workforce and in the workplace," "the role that business plays in society" amd "ESG and purpose."
As ESG has transitioned from what used to be known as "corporate social responsibility," communicating about it has become a more complex task. "The increased expectations around taking positions on issues or taking action on issues come with increased pressure, increased scrutiny, increased risk," O'Leary says.
But increasing complexity does not always lead to more resources. "The total amount of resources that are being dedicated to communications is not increasing very much. Communications professionals are being asked to do a lot more with either the same as before or just slightly more."
Handling activism, he says, whether from investors, employees or NGOs, is a challenge some clients are better equipped to handle. "What we have found is that the organizations that are very focused on what purpose and values often fare better in activist situations."
O'Leary also says that communicators need to be open to many approaches and strategies. Because of that, communications teams need to bring in people from a broader range of disciplines.
"While you may have seen a number of former journalists in the past, now you might start to see a data scientist, you might search to see more focus on creative and content, and all of these new areas are leading to communications teams, both in-house and agency being much more multidisciplinary."
Interested in taking part? Contact Doug Simon at [email protected]