"The biggest challenge right now arguably is that it is just more complex to be a leader than it's ever been," Weber Shandwick CEO, North America Jim O'Leary tells Doug Simon.

In addition to such tasks as "managing inflation and recessionary pressures," O'Leary says that today's CEOs now have to navigate "any number of issues," many of which—whether they’re geopolitical, social, economic—would likely not have occupied them as much previously.

That, he says, has made the corporate affairs function "more important than it's ever been, because that's the person who typically going to be helping a CEO alongside maybe a general counsel and a few others, navigate all of the complexity that is new."

And while "it's arguably always been hard to be a chief communications officer, member of communications, I think it's harder today than it's ever been. I think that that difficulty is also why the value creation potential is greater than has ever been."

To make the most of that potential, O'Leary says communicators working in corporate affairs need to work from a new playbook. "The silo wing of yesteryear is insufficient to deal with the challenges of today."

That means that "you need to think about things from a much more multi-stakeholder perspective. And you need to be incredibly agile."

One coming trend O'Leary sees is "more corporate affairs leaders in higher positions. This is driven by the fact that there's a need to manage any number of issues on a near-daily basis." Another is the increasing dominance of "digital technology tools AI, generative AI and the disruption that is causing."

There are also "much greater expectations for a wider group of stakeholders than there's ever been."

The resulting pressure can be felt all the way up to the CEO's office. "CEOs are losing their jobs or being pushed out of their jobs or vacating their jobs at a rate that is higher than it's been some time."

Does O'Leary see the potential for CCO's to make their way into CEO spots in the wake of these changes? "I think it is more likely that CCOs will continue to evolve into chief corporate affairs officers. I have increasingly seen these things combined under singular leaders who are have a seat at the at the highest level in the c-suite."

"Fundamentally, this is both a challenge and opportunity," he says, "and I think that the difference between the people who see it as a challenge versus those who see it as an opportunity is ultimately going to be the difference between who is successful in our profession and who is not."

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