Why 2023 is the year of the chief communications officer
It’s time to break free of marketing.
PR and communications have lived under the marketing umbrella for years. The team-up has traditionally made sense: all three functions contribute to brand, and brand is ultimately the responsibility of marketing. Plus, many communications and marketing efforts are similar, often revolving around content creation or communications strategy.
But placing communications under marketing leadership can create friction. Marketing and PR have very different value propositions. While marketing most frequently seeks to drive demand and generate pipeline on a short-term, scalable basis, PR is all about the long game of brand awareness and thought leadership. These initiatives have overlap, but marketing and communications professionals know the difference by heart and toe the line of their responsibilities daily.
These considerations will be top-of-mind for executives in 2023, especially those in organizations facing the challenge of budget cuts and this ever-looming recession. And with communications leadership often acting as crucial strategic counsel during times of organizational crisis or uncertainty, restructuring will likely include the creation of a chief communications officer or VP of communications. Here’s why.
Marketing teams are already task-logged
Marketing is a crowded category. Marketers can expect to own creative output, including design and content, plus demand gen, analytics, SEO, PR, product growth, customer success and — depending on organizational structure — even entry-level sales roles. Add to these considerations the burden of hiring top talent in the current market, and marketing leaders are left burnt out or failing to meet KPIs (or both).
The problem here is that overworked marketing departments often act as a catch-all fix for one-off market opportunities. Did a competitor perform well on social media using an influencer campaign? If it caught a sales executive’s eye, the marketing department may be tasked with carrying out a similar campaign. That leaves other essential initiatives, including communications support, by the wayside — especially if communications falls under the purview of a chief revenue officer (CRO).
CROs, and oftentimes CMOs, are directed to prioritize demand gen and product growth over communications. And as tech valuations continue to fall and a possible recession threatens marketing departments everywhere, the importance of demand has skyrocketed, only widening the chasm between marketing and communications initiatives.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with marketers focusing on demand — that’s the right move. But it’s also the right move to allow communications to operate independently of non-demand tasks, such as internal messaging, restructuring announcements and DEIB updates. And this is not possible without a communications leader with the seniority and authority to make bold decisions independent of marketing buy-in.
Additionally, turnover is usually higher in marketing departments comprised of several non-collaborative teams. This configuration leaves team members to work in silos, which is unproductive at best and detrimental at worst. Besides, it’s often the case that marketing shouldn’t be privy to the information comms teams handle — especially as modern communications becomes increasingly tricky.
Communications operates in a separate sphere from marketing
Once handled by separate roles, internal and external communications have slowly unified. Leaders now recognize the importance of strategic internal messaging, and for good reason. A recent wave of reductions in force and company exposés act as a reminder that internally distributed messages can significantly impact an organization’s public image. Announcements made in poor taste or with improper wording — regardless of how well-intended — can damage a company’s reputation.
It shouldn’t need to be said that authentic, empathetic communication is key when it comes to announcing hard decisions. Company reorganizations affect employees’ lives, and communications professionals must handle such announcements sensitively. But no organization exists in a vacuum, and all internal messages will be read by external audiences sooner or later. Look no further than the fiasco at Twitter for evidence of how a company’s communications can quickly become trending news.
Modern communications professionals have to juggle all sides of messaging. This has turned an already difficult task into a complicated, high-level process with huge stakes. Handling difficult communications tactfully has become an art form, and doing it perfectly requires strong, unified leadership and collaboration.
Communications teams need to work closely with HR to nail sensitive and accurate internal messaging. HR and communications share a goal: productive messages that contribute to happy and healthy employees. Sure, marketers probably share this goal personally, but it’s not their job to see it through. Furthermore, it may be inappropriate for marketers to access pertinent HR information ahead of an official internal statement.
The consequential nature of this information also suggests that communications, and communications leaders especially, have reached a new professional level.
Communications guidance has become critical for the C-suite
The reality is that communications isn’t just a marketing function — it’s fundamental to the everyday operations of the business. Executives rely on communications leaders for strategic counsel on nearly everything, from thought leadership and internal messaging to restructuring guidance and tips on responding to societal issues. Before a top-tier interview, without fail, executives will be briefed by a communications professional. And before addressing employees during an all-hands meeting, they’ll seek advice on what talking points to hit (and which to avoid).
Let it be known that crafting a standout communications strategy and receiving executive buy-in is no small feat. It requires experience and excellence, not to mention seniority. Without it, communications leaders will find themselves gridlocked by improper access to C-suite execs. And as social media expedites the speed at which news travels, other C-suite members will realize the utility of a unilateral communications decision-maker – a chief communications officer.
Grace Williams is BLASTmedia’s senior vice president.
.1. If the Marketing budget is five or ten times more than for Communications, management tends to value Marketing more highly, meet with Marketing more often, take memos from Marketing home on the weekend and care more how Marketing makes out.
.2. The bigger budget enables Marketing to hire more people and smarter people and to pay better. When Marketing’s money talks it may entice brilliant people to “come hither” with the appeal of a Taylor Swift number.
.3. Because Marketing spends big bucks for advertising, Marketing may have more access and influence than Communications with major media.
.4. Top management may understandably see Marketing as a source of income and Communications as more of an expense.
.5. Communications may more often have to counsel top management “don’t”
but Marketing may more often counsel “here are two ways to do what you want.”
.6. Marketing often has several group chiefs, Communications may more likely have just one chief, so Marketing may have several times more people at the table.
.7. When sales are great, management is more likely to know this than when attitudes are great among a company’s publics, so Marketing gets appreciated more often and more for putting points on the board. And listen, do they not deserve it?
A good idea, if you’re in Communications rather than Marketing, is that if you can’t be with the one you love, try to love the one you’re with.
Marketing will often maintain an influence for as long as the dollars are being spent. Communication primary focus is promotion and protection of organisational reputation. Marketing influence can wax or wane depending on what campaign is being be conducted whereas the consistent is communication structures, especially in this evolving word of dis-information. The real value of an organisation’s reputation is not reflected in sales figures or share prices, it’s how an organisation survives through a crisis and the future impact in reputation.
If reality, marketing should be under the managed as a sub-branch under communication.
Thank you for this. I fully agree your data. When I worked at GE comms was made as a separate function to marketing, though we only lasted 3 years and then became a hybrid. Anyhow comms deserve further attention budget resources;)
Phil, would you rather have a great reputation and be broke—or be wealthy even if people say you care too much about money?
You’re right that dollars are influential. May we need dollars even more urgently than we need public esteem? We should admit reality so that our managements don’t see us as over-inflating our egos.
Is there anything wrong with students wanting great grades and management wanting great earnings? There’s way too much baloney about “putting profits ahead of people.” At any company including our own, judge whether most employees would rather have 50% more profit or 50% more people.
Killers should go to prison but is it wrong to promote and enrich marketing people who help customers to have more happiness and in many cases longer life?
“Let’s get out there and sell” can bring us as much happiness as “let’s get the public appreciate our goodness.” Notice that sales can help pay for goodness but no amount of goodness will pay the rent. Marketing may help us do more for the environment, women, minorities and public health. Marketing can be good for the public as well as for the marketers.
Good public esteem is enjoyable as is the “good pint” that a brainy PR Daily writer is said to enjoy. But bringing in money may deserve even more management attention than bringing in the euphoria that pints and
reputation can bring. We can enjoy both and is it sensible to prioritize?
Elena’s thoughtful comment calls to mind that the GE News Bureau was one of the greatest-ever PR teams. Hugely successful but their success was never enough for them and they were always looking for ways to increase success
Another team of that caliber was Carl Byoir & Associates, one of the two largest PR firms years ago. Today’s New York Times blast on page one against gas ranges would have brought a reply from Byoir executive Gene Martin who would have convincingly shown Times royalty (always willing to listen) why the flaws in today’s story put a ceiling on credibility (a situation one could call flaw to ceiling).
Marketing execs had no influence—zero—at GE News Bureau, Byoir and other greatest-ever communications firms. Separate staffs, separate budgets, separate objectives. Marketers wanted maximum sales, and the PR people wanted maximum awareness of positive truths. When Byoir defended A&P against government efforts to break up the company, A&P marketing executives were willingly under Byoir PR geniuses who eventually won.
Top communication teams had their own anti-discrimination rules. When GAMA (Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association) asked for an account chief younger than Gene Martin, the Byoir president said simply “Gene is the Byoir executive in charge of your account.”
Gene stayed and so did the account.
Marketing is focused on pipeline and lead gen, while reacting to real-time granular data, and constant social media. Aside from brand-building, Marketing has become tactical. Whether driven by a CCO or other smart and savvy comms pro, PR is strategic. Thought leadership, change comms, narrative development, crisis management, etc are long-term elements of strategic communications.
Marketing and Corp Comm are out of alignment – economic uncertainty and financial pressures will make things even worse in the months and years ahead. For many organizations, a Chief Comms Officer may be the answer – with the experience and gravitas to help navigate the storms just over the horizon.