A company's chief communications officer (CCO) and its chief marketing officer (CMO) play vital roles that are very different from each other but can intersect in powerful ways.
By understanding what your firm's CCO does, you can gain insights into how to build a relationship that benefits not only the two of you but also your company overall.
With that intriguing image in mind, I spoke with two experts: George H. Jamison III, corporate communications practice leader in Spencer Stuart's Stamford, CT office and a member of the firm's Consumer Goods & Services, Marketing Officer, and Diversity practices; and Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at global public relations consultancy Weber Shandwick.
They recently completed a research project, The Rising CCO, that examined several aspects of the CCO role in global Fortune 500 companies. Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
Roy Young: Can you tell us how the CCO and CMO roles inter-relate?
George Jamison: A company's CCO is often a peer of the CMO, though occasionally corporate communications will be a function within the marketing organization. Regardless of the structure, these two professionals must always operate hand-in-glove. That's because the company needs a consistent message and voice and brand—which is shorthand for how a firm chooses to communicate about itself. Corporate communications and classic marketing techniques are very influential in all this, but they're accessed through different skill sets.
Leslie Gaines-Ross: In some companies, we've seen one officer (CMCO) who's responsible for both corporate communications and marketing. It's a hybrid role that's rare but may be evidence that the two functions are coming closer together.
RY: Among many other things, your study examined the average tenure of CCOs, and you found that it's longer than CMO tenure. Can you offer your thoughts about why this might be?
LGR: As our research indicated, CCOs' performance tends to be judged primarily by qualitative criteria, such as their CEOs' gut sense of their value and how positive a company's media coverage is. CMOs are judged by more immediate quantitative means, such as sales or revenue growth. If a marketing strategy (such as a big advertising campaign) doesn't generate the intended results, a CMO may be out the door quickly.
Also, CCOs have a particularly complex portfolio of stakeholders, including legislators, investors, nongovernmental organizations, community organizations (such as the local Parent-Teacher Association), and the trade media. By contrast, CMOs focus on one or two large audiences. So measuring a CCO's effectiveness is a more complex task and may take longer.
GJ: Many CEOs are also fairly pragmatic: They accept that sometimes there will be negative news about the company. They judge their CCO based on how he handles these situations—how well he communicates about it inside and outside the organization, how well he puts the situation in context. A CEO may get grouchy if bad news happens, but he won't likely fire the CCO unless he handles these situations badly. But a CMO may be judged more quickly and dispassionately if the big ad campaign doesn't deliver. That may be because this dimension of performance is more easily measurable.
RY: We've seen that emerging social media, such as blogs and sites such as MySpace and Facebook, are presenting new challenges and opportunities for companies. How does this affect the CCO's role?
LGR: The social-media world is really a CCO's sweet spot. It's familiar territory, because it brings in the forces of influence, word-of-mouth, a multiplicity of stakeholders, and diversity in communication. These are fragmented, hard-to-reach audiences, so CCOs have to be well versed in how social media work, monitor what's being said about their company online, and pay particular attention to the fringe groups out there. They have to look for emerging signals of possible harm to the company. Our survey showed that blogging and social media count among the key tools that CCOs expect to be emphasizing this year.
GJ: I've also found that CEOs looking to fill high-level executive positions are expressing a lot of interest in social-media skills. They want people who not just pay attention to social media but who also engage in it. And they want leaders who have the right skills—including comfort with technology, team leadership, business and financial acumen, and reputation management.
RY: How can CCOs and CMOs work together most productively? What does each role need from the other to deliver their best value for the company?
GJ: They need to communicate well and frequently with each other, and each has to understand the other's role. They should be comfortable sharing information and resources. In fact, strong collaboration between them can be a real multiplier for the value of marketing and communications campaigns. For example, marketing organizations typically have more resources than corporate communications organizations, so a CCO could use marketing's materials to communicate about the company with the media and with local leaders. Likewise, a marketing plan can get additional juice if the corporate communications function can help sell it to employees. Workers who are excited about a marketing plan can be its strongest advocates.
LGR: CCOs and CMOs can also work together to make sure that none of the stakeholder groups that both functions are responsible for are overlooked in the company's overall communications efforts. Even if just one group of stakeholders is overlooked, that can get a company in trouble and should raise a red flag.
RY: How can people considering possible career paths determine whether they should go into marketing or corporate communications?
GJ: I tell people to listen to their heart instead of focusing too much on managing their resumes. When you're in a job that you're passionate about, you'll be much more effective, and you'll advance faster in that job.
RY: Marketers seem to be under much more short-term pressure to show results than corporate communications managers are under. What can marketers do to get their CEO to understand the need for a longer timeline for evaluating marketers' effectiveness
LGR: They need to balance short-term and long-term pressures, and CMOs and CCOs can learn from each other on this.
GJ: I agree. It's about managing expectations. CMOs need to explain to their CEO what the end game is, lay out the intermediate steps needed to get to that end game, and then deliver on that plan. If you build a track record of being clear and strategic about your plans and delivering on them, you'll get less debate from your CEO about whether the goals or timeframe of a particular plan are OK.
RY: The word brand is used in many different ways. In general, what does it mean to a CCO, and how is that different to what it means for a CMO
GJ: It refers to the identity of a company—its values and promise to stakeholders.
LGR: For CMOs, "brand" often means something that urges customers to buy or try the company's products. For CCOs, the definition is broader. It's the company's reputation. And reputation can determine not only whether people buy your product but also whether investors buy your stock, whether job applicants send their resume, and whether the public gives your company a second chance even after reading a negative headline about you in the news.