Jul 27, 2023 - Economy & Business

Communicators to the rescue

Illustration of a glowing siren on top of a microphone.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The first edition of Axios Communicators led with a bold statement: "Every CEO needs to be a communicator."

Why it matters: The recent slew of geopolitical and economic issues, cultural landmines and corporate crises have proved this to be true — and the influence of communications has grown as a result.

State of play: Communicators were tasked with being the steady hand as leaders, brands and corporations navigated Supreme Court decisions, mass layoffs and labor battles, crises that ranged from train derailments to bank runs, shrinking newsrooms, culture wars, the rise of generative AI, and a revolving door of new social platforms and features, to name a few.

  • And behind closed doors, communication leaders point to Anheuser-Busch, CNN and Twitter as case studies for what not to do.

What they're saying: Along with being a trusted adviser, communicators must also be able to connect the dots between reputation and risk and a company's success, says Jessica Bayer, managing partner at DHR Global.

  • "We need to make sure the comms industry is continuing to evolve so that it's more closely aligned to the business impact and the bottom line," Bayer said. "It's up to the communications [chief] or increasingly the head of corporate affairs to see around corners and proactively develop strategies that appeal to a broad group of stakeholders, but are also authentic to the brand."
  • Or, as Microsoft chief communications officer Frank Shaw once put it, communicators “do more than just hold the pen, we help write the story.”

Yes but: To have impact, your story must appeal to the right stakeholder groups — and they are more distracted and harder to reach than ever before.

  • Data can help communicators better understand where audiences are and provide insights on what channels will grab their attention.
  • "We take a data-first approach to assess what stakeholders see and hear in their environment — whether through media or social channels," Penta Group president Matt McDonald recently told Axios. He adds that communicators can gain equal footing with their corporate peers by providing insights that lead to strategic choices.

🥊 Reality check: Even though the role of comms is more broadly understood, budgets are still tightening and communicators aren't done proving their worth.

  • 86% of CCOs do not control their operational budgets and roughly half are are struggling to maintain the workload and staffing it requires, according to a Conference Board report.

The bottom line: The art of effective communication is increasingly imperative even as it's become harder to execute.

  • As Pfizer chief corporate affairs officer Sally Susman previously told Axios, "We've made great strides in getting the seat at the table, and I think that argument has largely been put to bed. What I'm focused on is for professionals and leaders to have the best, most sage advice, [because] communicators are solving problems in a rapid-fire environment, across multiple channels and with an array of stakeholders — the seat is very hot."

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