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.