What are CCOs? What is their role in organizations? In which ways do they back up CEOs and how involved are they with an organization’s strategy and resources? Why is it crucial that they tell true stories, more than good stories?

Chief Communication Officers: An Increasingly Important Job Inside Organizations

According to Barri Rafferty, former CCO and current CEO of Ketchum’s Atlanta quoted by Korn Ferry, “CCOs are getting recognized for their role in driving the day-to-day business results of a company”. Together with a couple more examples like Richard Plepler, who also transitioned from CCO to CEO at HBO, this Korn Ferry‘s piece is built with the goal of highlighting how crucial COOs are becoming.

Today, Chief Communication Officers in large, global organizations do way more than “timed announcements around earnings, product releases, appearances, or promotions anymore“. They are responsible for orchestrating the tone and content of business narratives and they decide the best way to handle crises such as coronavirus.

They make the bridge with many different stakeholders and information messengers with different expectations. From planned interviews for the media (done by them or by the CEO) to spontaneous conversations in social media live streams.

Societies Don’t Trust Businesses and All Eyes Are on CEOs

The conversations with PRs, CCOs, and CEOs and what they said help stakeholders frame an organization into the categories that matter most to them – whether there’s a good working environment, an inspiring leadership, or if the operations are sustainable. They are part of the process of building an organization’s reputation – for the good and for the bad.

Studies have been showing society expects businesses to stand up and help tackle the world’s most challenging issues. At the same time, in Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer, the results showed 66% of people say they don’t have confidence their current leaders will successfully address their country’s challenges.

As CEOs are often the main face of a company, their role has never before been under so much pressure. It is not only about being a company’s role model and inspirational figure or being in the front line of important deals with major partners. There is way more CEOs need to keep up with.

CEOs Must Know It All, so COOs Need to Know It All Too

For today’s CEOs, knowing the organization’s main stakes, challenges, and the action plans across different areas is just the basics. On a personal level, they need they are public figures whose personal and familiar life is watched out closely. In some way, their life outside work, the people and the communities they are involved with helps establish an image -one that ends up being linked with the one of the company they represent.

On the work level, they need to know all of the company’s products/services and their specificities while being aware of the environmental impact assessments conducted and how these impacts are being mitigated. They are expected to acknowledge possible gender diversity challenges and to know the ongoing internal efforts to overcome them. They need to have work-life balance policies top-of-mind, speak about active partnerships and how more resilient supply-chains are being designed…

As much of this information is collected and carefully crafted by Chief Communication Officers, the latter become key organization players too. They know who knows what and what’s the best way of quickly reaching out to these people to obtain information quickly. CCOs end up having a holistic view of all that’s happening in an organization – which increases their value for corporate functions. But will they use their communication skills as a force for good?

From Greenwashing To Transparency: Telling The Right Stories

Companies are facing huge pressure to keep up to the expectations of society. Their environmental concerns and action plans, as well as the way they treat employees and handle partnerships and other stakeholders is increasingly being scrutinized. In large, complex organizations, being CEO is no easy job.

CEOs rely heavily on CCOs, and the latter often ends up developing many important skills and traits that might make them suitable to later fill more executive or strategic positions, including becoming a chief executive officer.

It is hard not to make a connection between CCOs, marketing departments, and the communication of internal CSR initiatives. And it is known that greenwashing is a thing and many organizations aren’t really committed to achieving positive environmental or social impacts – though they like to say they are. More than anyone, COOs know how to tell a good story.

Let’s hope they stay on the right side: showing humanity, admitting imperfection, and telling a true story of whether an organization is truly contributing to sustainable development – one that is backed up with CSR reports, materiality analysis, impact assessment, and sustainability strategies.

[Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash]