Corporate communications teams are being called on to reinforce their company’s reputation in the face of a skeptical public, according to new research from research association The Conference Board. The org’s new report, Corporate Communications Practices: 2018 Edition, finds a movement toward larger team sizes, particularly among larger companies.
Among manufacturing, financial services and non-financial services firms, more than 70 percent have increased or maintained the size of their corporate communications teams over the past two years (including more than 90 percent of financial services companies). Among companies with revenue above $25 billion, nearly half said their corporate communications teams comprised more than 50 people, with 35 percent saying their team was over 100. This compares with only nine percent of companies that reported 100 person-plus teams in 2016.
“This is a critical moment for the corporate communications function,” said report author Alex Parkinson, senior researcher at The Conference Board and associate director of The Society for New Communications Research, in a news release. “It is both an opportune moment and a challenging one. Organizations need experts who can uncover and disseminate the right messages and deliver them to an audience that needs to be won over. At the same time, these experts need to inspire and motivate employees, and deliver insights to company leaders that can help them make smart strategic decisions.”
Communications practice unprepared for digital transformation
Digital transformation is ushering in a new focus on big data, the survey finds. However, corporate communications departments are not yet equipping themselves to maximize its potential. When looking at the skills that are most sought-after by communications teams, the top ten, led by writing ability, did not include mention of skills that relate to data expertise. In fact, the one skill that is particularly relevant for big data—mathematical and statistical competence—ranked among the lowest levels across all industry and size categories, coming dead last overall.
“The traditional skills, roles, and responsibilities of communicators appear to be in high demand from companies,” Parkinson added. “But our findings suggest that although the practice is modernizing in terms of its responsibilities, it needs to better prepare itself with the type of modern data expertise that is beginning to define companies through digital transformation.”
Other key findings:
- Formally integrating corporate communications and marketing remains challenging: However, financial services companies showed the highest tendency to unite under the same leader, with 54 percent of companies reporting such an arrangement.
- Despite growing teams, budgetary restraints remain: Most companies reported unchanged or decreased budgets in the past financial year
- The corporate communications function shows a strong affinity for storytelling and content creation: As many as 86 percent of high-revenue communications functions reporting responsibility for this area.
- Women dominate the practice, but this gender diversity is not being translated into leadership opportunities at the largest companies, doing little to counter the gender pay gap.
- Communicators are developing their own performance metrics as they align their measurement with business objectives.
- Social media is settling into a broader role at companies than just corporate communications, while video-rich platforms such as YouTube and Instagram are enjoying growth.
More than 100 publicly traded companies were surveyed for the report.