The coming of age of the comms professional: A new era of scrutiny and reputation management

Gartner’s recent report finding 83% of chief communications officers report growing influence among the C-Suite is welcome news for the comms industry. It’s another sign that the profession has come of age and moved away from the short-term tactical function that it used to be, and instead becoming the long-term strategic consultancy that it needs to be. 

In its press release, Gartner outlines some core drivers for the increasing influence of comms in the C-Suite. For example, ​​companies are placing a larger emphasis on stakeholder communications and cross-functional collaboration, while the fallout from COVID-19 and the ‘Great Resignation’ have put greater emphasis on employee communications. 

These are all important drivers. But another factor with at least as much impact is around the increasing sensitivity of reputation management.

In today’s complex and unpredictable environment, organisations of all sizes are operating under a new era of scrutiny: with ESG regulations, dissemination of fake news, political polarisation, diversity and inclusion standards. A laser focus on purpose-driven corporate authenticity also means that what organisations say and how they act have greater consequences than ever before. The only way organisations can get this right is to have strategic comms embedded into the fabric of the business -from planning, execution and forecasting.

Comms professionals need to work more closely with new stakeholders within the organisation such as supply chain operations, chief sustainability officers, compliance departments and HR directors. Spotting early warning signs in areas ranging from employee dissatisfaction to global supply chain weaknesses are essential to avoid potential crises. The real-time information climate created by social media has meant that crises are more difficult to manage than ever before. The role of comms to prevent issues – rather than just manage them – is more critical than ever. 

I asked three industry experts for their views on the strategic role of comms today, in light of Gartner’s research. Here’s what they told me. 

Paul Flatters, founder and CEO of The Trajectory Partnership, said: “Comms is becoming increasingly important for brands in their search for talent. To attract the best people you have to be able to communicate effectively. There is another key element to why comms is so important. Today’s geo-political climate has created a minefield for purpose-driven brands. Taking a stance on bigger social issues without being accused of greenwashing is incredibly hard and has created a whole new dimension of complexity in comms.”  

Andy Saunders, business journalist, told me; “The pandemic has caused a step-change in communications, as companies have needed their messages to get through in a thoughtful and effective way. Although the increase of communications has been felt on a quantitative level, messaging hasn’t always been high quality. This is where comms professionals play a key role in helping organisations with more authentic and impactful communications.”

Helen Thompson, head of corporate communications at ACCA said; “Organisations have to speak with one consistent voice and it has to be authentic. That can only be achieved through a trusted relationship between the c-suite and comms professionals – external and internal. We are also living at a time when news and opinion travel faster than ever, and it’s only by having that trusted and strategic relationship between comms and the c-suite that an organisation can stay in control of their message and voice.” 

It’s clear that comms professionals today are increasingly part of the fabric of their organisational structure, as this new era of volatility and consumer scrutiny has sharpened the focus on how organisations act. 

Sadly, it doesn’t look like the world is going to become less complex any time soon. As such, it’s vital that the c-suite and comms professionals continue their close collaboration to build trust and stability, driving positive change wherever possible.

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