“The progress comms has made brings with it more responsibility and more expectations from the C-suite,” PRWeek managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid said at the top of the recent PRWeek/Cision webinar: Keeping the Seat You’ve Earned. The title is an allusion to one of the more inspiring findings from the basis for the webinar, the 2023 Cision/PRWeek Global Comms Report: 47% of communications leaders now report directly to the CEO.
Combined with the finding that 87% of communicators say the C-suite relies on them more for strategic counsel, communications teams are clearly getting the (long overdue, many would say) recognition they deserve for the value they bring to the business. This recognition – along with the responsibilities and expectations that come with it – was one of the many topics discussed during the session.
Lending their rich and wide-ranging expertise to the discussion were: Jessica Enoch, Director of Communications Strategy, Operations and L&D at Ford Motor Company; Alfredo Richard, EVP Corporate Comms at NBCUniversal Telemundo; and Putney Cloos, Chief Marketing Officer of Cision.
We’ve highlighted some of the biggest takeaways and best pieces of advice from the discussion here.
On how communicators can keep the seat they’ve earned:
Nearly 1 in 2 comms leaders now report to the CEO: This data point served as the jumping off point for the webinar’s conversation. When asked to weigh in on how communicators can continue to build on this relationship with the CEO, Jessica Enoch, Director of Communications Strategy, Operations and L&D at Ford Motor Company, had this to say: “Communications can be a competitive differentiator for a company if you have a really strong and trusted relationship across the executive leadership team and down all levels of the company.” That relationship is key to unlocking the value communications can provide, which includes “building understanding and belief in the company's plan, bringing to life the company's culture for its employees and its partners, building reputation and building the brand.”
“Communications can be a competitive differentiator for a company if you have a really strong and trusted relationship across the executive leadership team and down all levels of the company.”
For Alfredo Richard, EVP Corporate Comms at NBCUniversal Telemundo enterprises, communicators must continue to earn their seat at the table every day, which they have been doing for some time now by “playing a more and more strategic role in dealing with internal and external factors that will allow the business to succeed.” He advised communications teams to start thinking more like the CEO and seek to understand the broader business challenges, and where they can contribute and collaborate. He added that communicators also “have to be very much on top of everything and able to understand what's happening both in the outside world and inside the company to be able to properly advise.”
For Putney Cloos, Chief Marketing Officer at Cision, building a stronger relationship with the C-suite is “as much about listening as it is about speaking.” Communicators need to act as the primary listener of all the stakeholders of the company or organization. This will enable them to bring a unique point of view to the C-suite in order to shape the strategic narrative and meet the strategic objectives of the company.
On how to measure impact more effectively:
At another point during the discussion, Fidelzeid noted that despite the advancements communicators have made, challenges remain. “According to the report, 61% still identify ‘inability to measure impact effectively’ as their top challenge,” he said. When asked how communicators could bring that number down, Cloos offered the following advice: “Think of measuring impact as a journey.” Thinking of measurement as a journey acknowledges that it’s a work in progress and allows for enhancements and optimization along the way. For example, that journey might start off with establishing a basic set of metrics to track, then as a next step, assessing those metrics to ensure they were fit for their purpose and measuring strategic goals. Further into the journey, you can start to derive insight from those metrics and use them to inform your strategy. “At every step of the journey, look for ways to enhance and optimize in order to get to the next step,” Cloos said.
For Enoch, the journey metaphor is an apt one. At Ford, her team has been actively moving from a focus on traditional media metrics (such as impressions and share of voice) to ones that take into account awareness and sentiment tracking. “So, we measure trust, we measure perception of quality, we measure willingness to advocate for our brand.” Enoch says they are also “deep in learning mode” when it comes to optimizing what they are measuring and tying it into action.
For Richard, an effective measurement strategy starts with knowing who the target is. “The whole measurement conversation gets a lot more organized if we are at least agreeing which target we are talking about, because then you can define success.”
“The whole measurement conversation gets a lot more organized if we can agree on our target is. Then you can define success.”
On identifying the right influencers for your brand:
Another major finding of the report: While most communicators agree on the value that influencers can provide and consider influencers a major part of their strategies, obstacles to working with influencers abound. One such obstacle: Identifying the right influencers to work with.
When it comes to overcoming this challenge, Enoch provided some surprising advice for communicators: Don’t focus so much on the number of followers the influencer has. Instead, she recommended looking at two other – and often more important – pieces of criteria: the level of connection they have with their followers and the level of authenticity in terms of connection to your brand.
The influencers who will have the most impact on your brand, she said, “don’t always have to be massive influencers with huge networks as long as they have a close connection and they're really engaged with their followers.”
The influencers who will have the most impact on your brand “don’t always have to be massive influencers with huge networks as long as they have a close connection and they're really engaged with their followers," according to Enoch.
On finding new and creative ways to distribute content effectively:
On the topic of effective content distribution – a subject that 59% of communications leaders struggle with, according to the report – the panelists spoke from their own experiences to provide helpful advice for audience members. At Ford, for example, Enoch said they have been prioritizing efforts to broaden the outlets through which they distribute content. She says they’ve learned a lot through experimentation, and widening their distribution approach to include podcasts, documentaries and experiential engagements, among other channels. They have also found success by pursuing partnerships with other brands and organizations to take advantage of their distribution channels and broaden their audience reach.
For NBCUniversal, Richard says they get a lot of mileage out of their social media handles, which are “doing a lot of the weight lifting in terms of getting the word out there” by linking to owned media channels, such as their press room.
Another viable solution: Look to the data. “The right data will show how the channel with which you distribute the message and the content has a material impact on the efficacy of the message with the particular audience,” Cloos said. A measurement strategy that takes audience and channel metrics into account can inform your distribution strategy. “Look to the data to understand where your audience is and where they consume messages in the most resonant way.”
“Look to the data to understand where your audience is and where they consume messages in the most resonant way.”