Aug 25, 2022 - Economy

The C-suite shift

Illustration of two open briefcases facing each other with speech bubbles over them as if they're having a conversation.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

We’ve all witnessed social media posts, marketing emails or ad spots go awry — and if you’re like me, your first thought is, “How many approvals did this have to go through and why didn't anyone flag this?”

  • Chances are, it’s because the marketing and communication teams weren’t in lockstep.

Why it matters: The lines between communications and marketing have always been blurry, but the rise of social media, branded content and corporate activism has further complicated an already tense relationship.

State of play: Communicators are now leading strategic messaging and storytelling, while marketing has shifted its focus to growth and reach.

  • Because of this, marketing teams are realigning under the umbrella of communications.
  • An Edelman study found that 43% of communication teams are now centralized under the CEO — a pivot away from reporting to marketing, human resources or legal functions.

What they’re saying: “I’m talking to more CEOs every day who recognize that one of the most critical skill sets they need sitting by their side are communicators— and I include marketers in that," says J.C. Lapierre, chief strategy and communications officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

  • Lapierre, who reports directly to the CEO, says PwC has benefitted by combining marketing and communications because her team “owns every channel, so you actually cannot get anything out that isn't aligned to the strategic agenda.”
  • IBM recently took a similar approach, bringing marketing under chief communications officer Jonathan Adashek.
  • According to Adashek — who holds the dual title of CCO and SVP, marketing and communications — this reorganization allows the two teams to deliberately work together in a more streamlined way.

Yes, but: Why is marketing coming under communications and not the other way around?

  • Boathouse Group CEO John Connors says it has to do with marketers' history of pushing expensive, shiny objects instead of long-lead strategic planning.
  • According to Connors, “Agency presentations were reserved for lunchtime, and so we were treated like creative jesters. … Over time, I think too many marketing people gave up the strategic high ground.”
  • This tracks with Boathouse’s 2022 performance study, which found that less than half of CEOs trust their CMOs and only 25% believe their CMOs have strong decision-making skills.
  • Meanwhile, only 5% of CMOs consider themselves high performers in contributing to the overall direction of the business, garnering support among the C-suite and impacting strategic decisions, according to a Deloitte study.

Between the lines: The strategy piece is where communicators come in.

  • By aligning with communications, marketers are better equipped to protect and promote the company’s brand, “and CEOs recognize that if they can use storytellers as strategic assets, they can help shape a strategy that is quicker to execute and will accelerate ROI,” says Lapierre.
  • Together, the two departments can build messaging campaigns that reach broad audiences, says Connors. “It’s not just about reaching consumers anymore. There must be several issue narratives that companies can use to differentiate themselves among employees, consumers, legislators and the media.”

The bottom line: Communicators and marketers are magnetic forces that can either attract or repel.

  • So communicators must lead by crafting clear messaging that aligns with company strategy, and marketers should use those narratives to attract the widest audience. Together, they can directly impact growth.
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