Edelman's 2023 Future of Corporate Communications Study showed that the role of communications leaders in the business world is rapidly changing.

"What we're now seeing is an environment where communications leaders are increasingly informing and advising the enterprise on strategy," Edelman's Radina Russell tells Doug Simon. "Pre-COVID, about one third of communications leaders would say that they were viewed as a strategic advisor or a strategic partner to the enterprise. Today, that number has jumped to about 50 percent of communications leaders that we polled."

That expanding role has, not surprisingly, led to some extra work as well as greater recognition. "About 20 percent of a corporate communication leader's current workload is actually on matters that are not related to communications." Those matter encompass such concerns as dealing with the supply chain, social issues navigation, and employee concerns. The result: Comms leaders are "starting to think differently about what the role is, what the function is, and how they are integrating with the broader C-suite."

Does Russell think that expanded scope of work could lead to expanded resources? "Communications leaders are still being asked to do more with less," she tells Simon, "but they have an opportunity to rethink ROI and how the function itself is being measured. As you have communications leaders that are sitting more and more frequently at the table in the C-suite, they have the ability to tie outcomes together so that you can really see the ROI and the value that the function is providing."

Russell points out what she sees as "keys to success" in this new environment. She stresses the importance of "collaboration and partnership." Another must-have trait: "being able to understand the organizational values, plan for worst case scenarios, establish a process to analyze and determine when to act or not to act."

Possibly the biggest factor is that "communications today is data." However, "it's not good enough just to have data or big data. What's important is actionable data. Data that can be used to inform decisions."

AI, of course, is another major variable. "Where we see the most uptake in AI right now is actually in areas and in industries where there's already AI at play. So, you think about certain retail and consumer industries where AI is already used or, for instance, customer service." In those areas, "we're seeing the comms functions bring AI on a little bit more quickly."

As regards the future in general for comms pros, Russell has a positive outlook. "I did feel optimistic coming out of this study," she tells Simon. "While recognizing the challenges that we have today from everything from geopolitics to social issues," she says that the stidy participants "do feel that the direction of the communications function, getting closer to the boardroom, having a seat at the table, is headed in the right direction."

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