Global CCOs Say Digital Communications and Employee Engagement are their Top Priorities, According to Survey by Spencer Stuart and Weber Shandwick

Thursday 06 October, 2016

NEW YORK – More than seven in 10 global chief communications officers (CCOs) report that digital communications ranks as their top priority for the next 18 months, and in North America the highest priority for top CCOs is employee engagement, according to a survey released today by Spencer Stuart and Weber Shandwick.  Additionally, more than half of global CCOs report that their companies have been impacted by shareholder activism, with an even higher percentage (58 per cent) of CCOs in North America reporting impact. These findings come from The Rising CCO VI, a survey conducted by global executive search firm Spencer Stuart and global communications and engagement firm Weber Shandwick. Now in its sixth year, The Rising CCO explores how CCOs expect their responsibilities to evolve over time in a rapidly changing world.

“Effective and engaging employee communications is in great demand today as the communications function continues to touch all parts of a company’s business,” said George Jamison, who leads Spencer Stuart’s Corporate Communications business. “CEOs are asking their top communications leaders to ensure that employees internalise strategy and company purpose.  Our research shows that CCOs are working hard to drive employee advocacy and deepen their relationships with stakeholders both within and outside the company.”

Digital Communications A Strategic Partner, Hiring Priority

Digital communications is reported as the top area of focus globally for the next 18 months and is a top hiring priority for the near future. In North America, digital communications is the second top area of focus for the next 18 months, behind employee advocacy/engagement.  Importantly, CCOs in every region also report that digital and social media would be their closest working partners in the future. This aligns with a related trend of using data analytics widely to evaluate corporate reputation, refine messaging, and identify company supporters and allies, according to the study.

Focusing on Employee Communications and Engagement

The importance of employee communications as a top tier priority differs regionally among global CCOs. By very wide margins, North American CCOs (90 per cent) report that employee communications is a top tier responsibility compared to 70 per cent of EMEA CCOs. In line with North American CCOs’ strong focus on employee communications, these leading communications professionals in North America are also more likely to report that employee advocacy and engagement will grow in importance in their portfolio of responsibilities over the next 12 to 18 months compared to EMEA CCOs (70 per cent vs. 45 per cent, respectively). Global CCOs also plan to make hires in the employee engagement and internal communications field in the next 12-18 months. Specific positions cited include Global Head of Employee Engagement, Head of Enterprise Communications (Internal and Leadership) and Employee Engagement Specialist.

Fostering Ties to Human Resources

As global CCOs focus on strengthening their connections with employees as part of their skill set today and in the near future, a large 83 per cent report working closely with their human resources (HR) departments. Another 14 per cent report that they do not currently work closely with HR, but their company would benefit from doing so. Global CCOs report that they work with their HR peers as often as they do with marketing (86 per cent) and legal (83 per cent) counterparts. Additionally, 79 per cent of global CCOs expect to work more closely in the future with HR departments. These findings underscore the importance of internal alignment within organisations and the rising importance of employee advocacy and engagement in the years ahead.

By very wide margins, North American CCOs (93 per cent) are more likely to count HR as close partners in how they do their jobs compared to 75 per cent of CCOs from EMEA. When it comes to expectations about the next few years, North American and EMEA CCOs are in greater agreement that they will be working closely with their HR brethren (81 per cent vs. 77 per cent, respectively).

Other Areas of Concern Facing CCOs

The research uncovered other top concerns on the minds of CCOs. They include:

  • More than one out of two global CCOs (53 per cent) have been impacted by shareholder activism. Of those who have been impacted by shareholder activism, 92 per cent say their department was very or somewhat involved in addressing the event.
  • Nearly one-half of global CCOs (47 per cent) spend a great deal or a lot of their time preparing for or dealing with cyber security, followed by understanding shifts in consumer spending behaviours (45 per cent) and managing financial crises (44 per cent).
  • 80 per cent of global CCOs believe that marketing and communications departments are more collaborative than ever, and 54 per cent expect the two functions to be fully integrated in the next few years.
  • When asked what would be the one thing global CCOs would most like to focus on in their role if they had the time, the top answer was reputation (28 per cent). (This question was asked on an open-ended basis.)

“As seen in this study, reputation management is a prime responsibility of the corporate communications position today. Nearly every CCO, 93 per cent, places this responsibility at the top of their lists, regardless of region,” says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick. “Clearly, global CCOs take their jobs as reputation guardians seriously and are ever-vigilant about protecting their company reputations from harm, whether it be cyber threats, crises of any kind, or the growing importance of employee engagement.”


About the Survey

The Rising CCO, now in its sixth year, examined the expectations, challenges and changing responsibilities of CCOs in the world’s largest companies. The 153 survey respondents came from companies based in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. The survey was conducted online from April to July, 2016.