A recent corporate survey reflected a growing reliance in the C-Suite on chief communications officers. While this is encouraging, it is about time. Or, more accurately, about time again.
"These best-in-class corporate affairs officers shoulder a broadening scope of responsibilities and an increasing mandate to act as high-level strategic advisers to CEOs, and they frequently serve as members of the senior leadership team," according to a Korn Ferry Institute survey.
Good news, but the public relations profession in the United States began as senior advisers, usually reporting to the president of a company. Only over time did PR became a department that was shuttled down the hall. PR became a corporate function, not a source of valued advice.
In fact, heads of PR departments struggled to be in the room when key corporate decisions were made. Sometimes they were given directions, but never consulted on matters revolving around communications.
There may be many explanations for why the role of a senior communications officer has been resurrected and accorded more respect. Certainly one reason is the rise of online content marketing and the eclipse of traditional advertising. Customer engagement puts a higher premium on two-way communications, and brands can be negatively impacted by an ill-advised CEO tweet or an inappropriate or ill-timed post on Facebook by a staffer.
In a digital world where everyone with a laptop, tablet and smartphone is an editor, communication strategy and style plays a larger role in cultivating and maintaining a brand.
Internal communications is no longer just about a bland note from the CEO or pictures from the holiday party, but a forum for continuous improvement and an advance warning system of competitive trouble.
A communications crisis can happen any time, requiring companies to respond rapidly using tools like Twitter to provide real-time updates to the media, employees and impacted communities.
While companies certainly need hands on deck to pitch stories, write ads and engage on social media, they also need a voice or voices at the very top level to ensure corporate strategies reflect sound communication strategy. That's where senior PR counselors started and, hopefully, that's where they will return.
Embedding smart communications into an overall corporate strategy is good business. And it has been good business for a long time.