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Edelman explores how COVID, disruption, geopolitics have increased C-Suite reliance on communications

by | Nov 2, 2021 | Public Relations

In the wake of several converging cultural and social phenomena over the last few years, the role of corporate communications has been forever altered—shifting away from what has traditionally been viewed as a support function towards one increasingly recognized as an enabler of enterprise value, affirms new research from comms giant Edelman.

The firm announced the release of a comprehensive global study, The Future of Corporate Communications, revealing a dramatic shift in the importance placed on corporate communications by CEOs, Boards of Directors and other C-suite executives at the world’s leading companies.

“From a lingering pandemic to growing social and geopolitical tensions, technological disruption and an accelerating climate crisis—at no time in recent history have top global companies been forced to confront so much change and complexity,” said Jim O’Leary, Edelman U.S. Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Affairs Practice Chair, in a news release. “As leaders navigate this myriad of issues, the role of communications has become more materially important to CEOs, Boards of Directors and other C-Suite executives.”

Edelman explores how COVID, disruption, geopolitics have increased C-Suite reliance on communications

The new report, among the most comprehensive studies of its kind ever conducted, examines trends driving the evolution of the modern communications function and current and future priorities of today’s senior communications leaders. Edelman researchers also benchmarked the design of the corporate communications functions at more than 200 global companies, including the scope of responsibilities, operational model, budget, and investment for communications teams.

Edelman explores how COVID, disruption, geopolitics have increased C-Suite reliance on communications

“We wanted to hear directly from communicators about what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling on the front lines,” said Dave Samson, Edelman’s Global Vice Chairman, Corporate Affairs, in the release. “We conducted this research to better understand the ever-changing landscape and learn how growing expectations and new rules of engagement are not only guiding communicators but the businesses and industries they represent. In an era of accountability for corporations, there are more demands—but also more opportunities—for corporate communications leaders who choose to lead differently.”

Edelman explores how COVID, disruption, geopolitics have increased C-Suite reliance on communications

A modern organizational structure only gets you so far

Corporate communications structures continuously transform. Forty-three percent report having a centralized structure, compared to 26 percent matrixed and 31 percent decentralized. In any model, it is important to focus on governance, process, and accountability.

Notable highlights from the study include:

Communications has become more materially important to the C-Suite

Forty-six percent of CCOs surveyed now report to the CEO, compared to 34 percent in 2014. Seventy-seven percent said perceptions of the role of comms as a strategic business driver favorably changed within their organization during 2020.

The modern communications function is agile and multidisciplinary

The modern corporate communications function is agile, multidisciplinary, and insights driven. Eighty-nine percent ranked functional evolution in their top areas of internal investment for the coming year.

CommsTech allow comms to deliver greater ROI

CommsTech is ushering in a new era and communicators can use it to deliver quantifiable value to the business. Seventy percent report CommsTech as a top area of investment for the coming year.

Edelman explores how COVID, disruption, geopolitics have increased C-Suite reliance on communications

Stakeholders are holding companies more accountable

Expectations around social issues have shifted, and 73 percent report that these issues have shifted their communications priorities.

A modern organizational structure only gets you so far

Corporate communications structures continuously transform. Forty-three percent report having a centralized structure, compared to 26 percent matrixed and 31 percent decentralized. In any model, it is important to focus on governance, process, and accountability.

The increased focus on employees isn’t a pandemic fad

The attention being placed on the workforce, workplace, and well-being of employees is here to stay. Nearly two-thirds report an increased focus on employee communications.

Edelman explores how COVID, disruption, geopolitics have increased C-Suite reliance on communications

Communications enables transformation

Communicators are increasingly acting as change agents, with 77 percent reporting that business transformation is driving their communications agenda.

The corporate brand matters now more than ever

In an increasingly complex activist and multi-stakeholder universe, the corporate brand matters now more than ever. Nearly two thirds of CCOs said “Brand and Corporate Identity” is something their team is responsible for today.

Communications importance is increasing but resources are lagging

While CCOs are experiencing more functional responsibility, only 6 percent anticipate a budget increase of 15 percent or more this year.

The line between communications and marketing continues to blur

The rapid proliferation of available channels has led communications to play a bigger role in marketing. Sixty-five percent of CCOs rank marketing communications in their top five areas of increased agency partner investment for the coming year.Edelman explores how COVID, disruption, geopolitics have increased C-Suite reliance on communications

Download the full report here.

Research for this study focuses on two tracks: a quantitative survey fielded with 200 participants and in-depth interviews with 35+ senior communications leaders. Surveys and interviews were conducted between December 2020 and February 2021. Geographies spanned North America (85 percent), EMEA (7 percent), APAC (4 percent), and Latin America (4 percent), and sectors were divided between Public (49 percent), Private (49 percent), and Non-profit (2 percent). The survey was conducted by Edelman Data & Intelligence, an independent research firm that is part of the DJE family of companies. Data analysis was performed by an integrated team of Edelman organizational design subject matter experts and subject matter experts.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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