Axios Communicators

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August 25, 2022

😎 Happy Thursday!

  • Greetings from Maine, where I'm soaking up the last weeks of summer with sunshine, salt air and family time.

Today's newsletter is 1,140 words, a 4.5-minute read.

1 big thing: 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.

2. Chart: Chief marketing officers' focus

Data: PwC Pulse Survey; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: PwC Pulse Survey; Chart: Axios Visuals

According to the latest PwC Pulse Survey, chief marketing officers are most focused on playing a more strategic role and building better relationships across the C-suite.

  • As conveners, chief communication officers can help with both.

3. Geopolitical CEOs

Illustration of a CEO sitting at a desk with arms crossed next to a globe

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Consumers are concerned about geopolitical issues like foreign threats, labor practices and climate change — and they are willing to punish brands for poor practices or a lack of response, according to the latest Morning Consult Global Corporate Purpose Tracker.

By the numbers: Roughly half of consumers said they would stop purchasing from companies that use forced labor, and 42% said the same about companies that continue to operate in countries that have invaded neighboring territories.

  • This mirrors Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer, which found that 50% believe companies should stop doing business in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Zoom out from Russia, and 64% believed CEOs should proactively curtail business in countries that commit human rights abuses or threaten our national security (62%).

State of play: Altering business activities isn’t enough — U.S. consumers want CEOs to actively communicate their stance on global issues too.

  • 76% of those asked said it's important for business leaders to speak out on foreign cyberthreats, 75% on labor rights and 66% on climate change.

The bottom line: The pressure for CEOs to comment on global issues isn’t fading and these stats are important to keep in mind as tension with China mounts.

4. Workplace flexibility makes it harder to unplug

Illustration of a desk on a beach under a palm tree.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Employees left an average of 9.5 vacation days unused by the end of 2021, with one-third not taking any time off.

State of play: Even when we do take PTO, roughly half of us work at least one hour a day and about a quarter work at least three hours a day, a Qualtrics study found.

The big picture: Working while on vacation doesn’t allow for a true reset— and certainly won’t combat the burnout employees report feeling.

  • To help, companies like Nike and Mozilla have closed corporate offices for a week to focus on employee wellness.
  • "Because everyone was away at the same time, teammates said they could unplug ... and because we could all truly disconnect, our time away was more restorative," Nike chief human resources officer Monique Matheson said.

Zoom in: It's important for executives to communicate the need for workplace wellbeing and lead by example.

  • Microsoft president of North America Deb Cupp makes it clear she’s unreachable while on vacation.
  • “I used to say, 'If there’s an emergency, you can reach me via phone,'" she told CNBC. "I stopped doing that because everyone’s definition of an emergency is different. ... In most emergencies, [my team] doesn't need me. So it’s actually a good thing to tell them I’m not available. It makes people really pause and realize, 'I can probably solve this issue.' And by the time I get back, it’s usually handled.”

Yes, but: Not everyone can go dark. Even during a company-wide wellness week, senior leaders are expected to be on-call in the event of an emergency.

  • In this always-on environment, how do you strike the balance? What tips do you have for recharging while also staying in the loop?

5. Bonus chart: Countries that mandate PTO

Data: Center for Economic and Policy Research; Chart: Axios Visuals 

🤔 "The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee paid vacation and holidays as a minimum employment standard," according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

1 fun thing: Tweet du jour

Screenshot: @LeannaO/Twitter

August is the “worst month to do business,” so consider this a sign to channel your inner European and take a few days off.

🌊 And with that, I'm headed to the beach ... but before I go, many thanks to copy editor extraordinaire Kathie Bozanich.

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