Global research shows that senior communications executives are expected, and trusted, to deliver more than ever

Global research shows that senior communications executives are expected, and trusted, to deliver more than ever

Findings from the 2017 Holmes ReportInfluence 100 list, which annually recognises the most important and influential in-house communicators from around the world, shows that corporate communications executives are facing more complexity than ever.

Not only do major corporations face more intense public and media scrutiny, senior PR executives are also expected to deliver more – more strategy, more content, more channels, more creativity and more measurement. Meanwhile, smart CEOs have come to realise that trusted communications advisers are ever-more integral to their – and their organisations’ – success.

A key finding is that the lines between communications and marketing have become very blurred, and the communications role is growing in importance and influence. However, certainly in the corporates that were surveyed, the ‘traditional’ hierarchy in which communications officers report in to the marketing function still needs to be turned on its axis.

While the Holmes Report focuses primarily on the USA- and UK-based corporate communications industry, Kevin Welman, director and co-founder of ByDesign Communications (winner of the Sabre Award for Best Newcomer Consultancy, EMEA Region in 2017), says that this observation holds true locally as well: “As people engage with and consume information from an ever-changing and growing array of sources, and the pressure mounts to demonstrate return on investment, the chief communications officer role must adapt – or be adapted – to succeed and thrive.”

Welman asserts that the communication function should have representation at board level. “A chief communications officer who has oversight of a business at board level would be in a position to assimilate this exposure to all facets of the business into a cohesive strategy that talks responsibly and effectively to all stakeholders. This person would also be well positioned to translate the perspective of the business’ external audiences into meaningful high-level feedback.”

Certainly, within ByDesign Communications’ client base, which comprises both local and global ‘big brands’, Welman is seeing more direct engagement between communications and CEOs despite resistant corporate structures.

Holmes Report respondents find this reporting hierarchy perpetuation ‘very worrying’ in what has been termed the ‘post-PR’ and ‘post-brand advertising’ world that today’s communicators operate in. The report states that “marketing is struggling to find its new mission in a world where the 30-second TV spot has been made redundant.”

This comment is bolstered by the Influence 100’s answers when asked which areas they expect to be spending more money in: 87% said reputation management; 74% said content development. The more traditional marketing focus areas show considerably less budget allocation: 32% on advertising; 23% onsponsorships; and just 19% on paid social media.

Welman is unsurprised: “In a world where consumers are highly engaged and consumer activism is the norm, a reputation can be broadly damaged by 140 characters going viral. Companies are now more overtly seeing the value of building strong, authentic brands and then protecting them. In South Africa, in our context of the Gupta leaks, widespread corruption, and product recalls, building an impeccable and robust brand is critical. Reputation management is critical.”

The role of the communicator within the corporate world is indisputably growing. This year’s Holmes Report finds that 79% of respondents, all communications leads, are now also the primary decision-maker for digital/social agencies (a significant increase from 64% last year).  Showing that a clear distinction is being made between social marketing and social communication with the latter gaining in importance.

The full study, says Welman, is further evidence that the communications function is gaining in importance very quickly and the value of reputation is more and more evident.