New Research: The Role Of Communications In The C Suite Is Rising


Cheryl Conner, Contributor

September 7, 2015

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Interestingly, just five years ago the CEO of a long-established PR agency I know suddenly gave up the ghost on public relations and diverted his agenda to marketing instead. After the shift, he wryly noted that when CEOs stopped attending his company’s pitch meetings, the sinking role of public relations in corporations was known.

That was then. Today we see evidence that communications is not only valued by management, it is vital, as witnessed by the growing rise of the Corporate Communications Officer (CCO) as a strategic management role.

The strength of this relatively recent addition to the C suite is growing. In its fourth study of Fortune 500 CCOs since 2008, research firm Korn Ferry has discovered the following in its 2015 report: Increasingly, Fortune 500 CCOs take greater responsibility for the organization’s brand and reputation. The newest report, issued at the end of July, notes that the vast majority of respondents (83%) identified reputational threats/risks as the most critical challenge they are facing today. In fact, nearly all respondents (more than 91%) identified “providing leadership on reputation, values, and culture across the enterprise” as receiving more attention and effort today than in seasons prior.

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Other findings included the following:

  • Having a strategic mindset was noted as the most important CCO leadership trait by the majority of respondents (67%), followed by having courage. (49%)
  • The role of the CCO is greatly expanding, as social media (39%), corporate social responsibility/corporate philanthropy (35%) and reputation management (32%) have been added to the CCO mandate in the last 24 months.

“While we’ve long recognized strategic mindset is a must for CCOs, we were intrigued to see that courage was listed by 49% of respondents as a priority trait,” said Richard Marshall, Global Managing Director, Corporate Affairs for Korn Ferry. “To succeed, today’s CCOs need the courage to be truth tellers and to have the courage to provide leadership with an accurate view of the world, regardless of the consequences.”

CCOs are highly compensated, which again mirrors the increasing value of effective communications to the nation’s top organizations. Base salaries for the officers queried ranged from $100,000-$149,999 to $650,000-$674,999. The most commonly reported salaries ranged from $275,000 and $450,000 (43%); within that bracket, most responses were between $300,000 and $324,999 (16%).

For communications professionals aspiring to a CCO position, be aware that today’s candidates are seasoned executives. Each respondent in the current study has a minimum of a bachelor’s degree; an additional 25% hold master’s degrees and 15% have MBAs. Ages reported in the 2014-15 survey spanned more than 30 years, consistent with 2012. The largest age bracket was 46 to 55 (those born between 1960 and 1969), accounting for 60% of results. The two largest segments in that age bracket were 46 to 50 (31%) and 51 to 55 (22%). The vast majority of respondents (72%) have worked for three to six companies to date. The largest segment (27%) has worked for five employers.

Looking for a cushy position? The CCO role isn’t it. The data shows significant turnover in CCO positions, with the majority (65%) of respondents having held their current positions for four years or less. Forty-eight percent have served for 2-4 years and 17% have served for one year or less. But communications is compelling. Most respondents (65%) say they plan to stay in communications for the rest of their professional lives. Cheryl Snapp Conner is author of the Forbes eBook Beyond PR: Communicate Like a Champ In The Digital World. Do you have a great entrepreneurial PR story that others could learn from? If you do, reach out to Cheryl Conner via Forbes with your thoughts.

This article was written by Cheryl Conner from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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