Frustrated Chief Communications Officers Want More of the CEO’s Ear

The real-time news cycle and rise of activist investors have arguably made the CCO's job more important than ever. Just trying tell that to the CEO.

There is anecdotal evidence of CEOs forming close bonds with their chief spin doctors. However, although 89% of 114 communications leaders questioned in a new survey said they readily had access to their CEO, only 52% reported to them directly.

In fact, in a speaking engagement last year, former GE chief Jack Welch described the interaction as an important one, built on truth and trust. “The CEO and the CCO have a unique relationship,” Welch told a gathering of the peer group Arthur W. Page Society.

“There’s still a huge gap to fill when the majority of CCOs neither consider themselves to be a key business advisor nor always feel their opinion matters on business-critical topics.

But it appears not all CEOs get so chummy with their CCOs. In new research commissioned by Chicago-based public relations firm APCO Worldwide, just a third of respondents viewed communications budgets as being tighter compared to other departments, or more likely to experience cuts. And only about a quarter of respondents felt their opinions always mattered when business-critical decisions were being made.

“There’s been huge movement in the increased importance of communications to the C-suite in the last 25 years,” APCO managing director Tina-Marie Adams said.

“But there’s still a huge gap to fill when the majority of CCOs neither consider themselves to be a key business advisor nor always feel their opinion matters on business-critical topics.”

CCOs are taking an increasingly important role in defining a company’s character, including its values, mission, culture and actions, according to American Airlines corporate communications head Elise Eberwein. And, as she wrote in Chief Executive in September, they can be particularly helpful in protecting a CEO’s legacy during leadership transitions.

“To put it simply, the CCO is charged with protecting the reputation and legacy of the outgoing CEO, while ensuring acceptance of the new one,” Eberwein said.

It could be time for CEOs to lend more of their ear.


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