The role of the CMO has long been documented. Its back and forth into the boardroom has been about as public as Facebook’s outage the other week. Last year, three UK brands reinterpreted the traditional CMO role and merged marketing with its customer team. Johnson & Johnson abolished the title of CMO, while McDonalds and Coca-Cola reinstated their CMO positions, reversing earlier moves to replace them.
So why has there been so much movement? There are many reasons for the CMO role being displaced, one being the change in the chief technology officer’s role and a sudden surge in programmatic around the customer journey. Overnight, digital heads had a better handle on data and, therefore, a competitive advantage in understanding customers, how they behave and how to commercialise those behaviours. The CMO became wrong footed by the power of digital and data.
But this time around, the expertise come from a role often found on the bench, yet it has made its way onto the first team during the pandemic to attain ‘superpower’ status. Meet the Chief Communications Officer (CCO). A C-suite hidden gem that’s been working tirelessly behind the scenes to connect the internal and external dots to make an organisation prosper and often, make sense, to its stakeholders. But, it seems, now is the time to take centre stage as according to new research out by Porter Novelli, 97% of business executives believe that the Chief Communications Officer is more important to their organisation than ever before.
For many organisations, the CCO was potentially guised within a Head of Corporate Communications or Head of PR role, yet their prominence was propelled forward overnight to C-suite status due to the pandemic. Marketing went quiet. Coca Cola said it was focussing on other things and other brands dimmed their marketing lights. What they all suddenly reversed into, was powerful and strategic communications.
Suddenly there was a new-found power in communications. There was a flurry of messaging to employees on public forums. Organisations needed messaging and quick-fire internal communications around how businesses were quickly adapting. There wasn’t time for on pack promotions and the hiring of influencers. Suddenly, many CEOs around the world were leaving their lawyer waiting in the lobby on Teams and would not go on a zoom call without the trusted communications lead. Businesses’ needs changed quickly. However, as the CCO moved into the starting line-up, the challenge many organisations face now is one of legacy and silos. Hopefully with communications moving to the helm, this now means the merging of corporate, internal, consumer marketing and investor relations out of their corporate silos which will mean operational change and more integrated brand behaviour.
‘Do more with less’ is often what CMOs are told and especially at the start of 2021. ‘Do something with nothing’ is generally what CCOs must do. As a result, their ability to be resourceful is at the heart of everything they do. Yet you don’t need much to unravel the complexity in today’s world. Expectations are at all time high and CEOs find it increasingly hard to know what to prioritise and where to turn first. There’s also the pressure on societal issues which mean it’s not good enough to have an ambition to just make money, it’s about making money responsibly or you will fail.
Recent research revealed that 95% of business executives say it is more important to them now than in the past to understand the needs and concerns of all their stakeholders and 95% of executives say the social, cultural, and economic challenges of the last 18 months have made them more aware of how their role can impact society. And with this kind of societal complexity gathering focus, this isn’t to say that there’s not room for both in the boardroom, it’s just that communications across the right channel can fix many customer journeys and the lifespan of a CCO far exceeds the average 34-month shelf life of the CMO.