Chief Communications Officer (CCO) – Story of ‘PILS’, ‘RISE’ and many ‘GAPS’

I know your first reaction might be that this headline does not make any sense… Or does it? Without further confusing you, let me request you to be a little patient and read the first section of the article to understand the context. I promise you that the headline will start making sense by the time you are halfway through the article and by the time you finish reading it, some of you may even thank me for giving you something so simple and easy to remember.

Let us analyse begin with analysing the changes in the reputation landscape in recent timesThere is change everywhere and reams and reams have been written about the changes. However, the top four changes in the landscape relevant to reputation management can be summarised as ‘RISE’.

  1. Rise of Activism: The exponential rise of digital and social media and the hyper connected world has given rise to an extreme form of stakeholder activism. These could be your customers/consumers, friends of your consumers, and so on. There is heightened scrutiny of, and expectations from, how companies should operate, what acceptable behaviour is and how they should communicate with online audiences.
  2. Internal Communications: The nature of the workplace is changing as is also the nature of the workforce. In the recent times, the demand from the Communications teams to ensure that business transformation is successful, and for supporting culture change and engagement has gone up tremendously.
  3. Speed of Change: New disruptive business models are emerging every day and every industry is undergoing through a lot of change and that too at a pace, unseen in the past. The media landscape including how news is gathered and reported is also changing rapidly and hence our need to be ahead of the change OR at least adapt to it.
  4. Ecosystem’s role has become even more criticalAs there are millions of publishers on the internet and no company can employ enough people to respond to each and every post or tweet; it becomes important that our ecosystem takes the role of ‘extended brand ambassadors’.

Now that I have explained what ‘RISE’ is, you can safely presume that ‘GAPS’ and ‘PILS’ are also acronyms and all three are connected to each other via the following narrative.

Thanks to the changes described above, the already complex life of the CCO is becoming even more interesting and challenging. As I seem to be obsessed with the number four today, let’s look at the top four challenges that the CCO faces today. They are a mix of internal and external. Let’s call them GAPS.

  1. Globalisation: Unlike in the past, today no development or crisis is local or can be restricted to just one city, state or nation. This is nothing new, however, the reason it becomes a challenge is the search for thumb rules or formulae to deal with these situations. Unfortunately there are none…. What may be acceptable or ‘the right thing to do’ for one geography’ may not be acceptable in another part of the world.
  2. Assessment of reputation risk: Every action of every employee, supplier, partner and associate of an organisations, has an impact on the reputation of the company. In these times of hyper scrutiny, how does the CCO keep track of each risk and arrive at an assessment of the reputational risk and mitigation plan is a key challenge that s/he faces.
  3. Proliferation of data: Not only data but Big Data. Traditionally, communicators are not known for their prowess to analyse data and insights. In the day and age of Big Data, the ability of communications professionals to acquire these skills and put them to good use is critical.
  4. Speed of response: I spoke about speed of change in the change lens. It is not news that organisations need, to respond to customer queries, crisis and allegations within hours, if not within minutes. The hierarchical structures within many large organisations are not supportive of fast response. In addition, sometimes the information required to rapidly revert with an acceptable response may not be immediately available in the system.

With having explained two of the three acronyms, a lot of load is off my chest. Let me quickly move to the last link in the puzzle.

PILS are the competencies that are required to deal with the changes and the challenges. When you need to cure an illness, the doctor prescribes PILLS. However since we have to stick to the magic number four, we will call them PILS and not PILLS.

  1. Proactive Counsellor: The CCO has to act as a “proactive counsellor” to ensure that the company’s actions match its public promise, that values are practiced and not merely preached, and that the company is behaving responsibly, transparently and with the interests of all stakeholders in mind. This role is the toughest and requires a strong willed professional, who can call a spade a spade! Not a thing that comes naturally to communicators.
  2. Integrator: Formal structure and ownership matter less than the CCO’s ability to drive cross-functional collaboration and integration around strategic priorities. Engagement by the CCO with other C-Suite members is growing in regularity and importance, especially with the CEO, CHRO, CMO, CLO and the CIO.
  3. Leadership and business management skills: CEOs expect Communications to identify, interpret and act upon changes in its external environment; stay ahead of events by monitoring traditional and social media; engage with regulators, policymakers, and NGOs; and build trusting and lasting relationships with stakeholders.
  4. Skills up gradation – Analytical, Brand Management: I briefly touched upon the topic of data and analytics and the fact that most communicators are either not familiar or comfortable with the use of analytics to create messages, content and campaigns to suit different stakeholders. This competency or skill will need to very quickly become part of the arsenal. Brand and marketing practitioners were ahead of the PR practitioners in this. The need to narrate relevant brand stories based on data driven insights cannot be overemphasised.

I hope that the linkages between RISE, GAPS and PILS are now clear and the headline makes sense. I can assure you that making sense of the complicated headline is much easier than the job of the CCO today. It is in our interest to consume these PILS, as soon as possible before there is a need for SURGERY. Ha! Don’t worry, I will not make you go through any more acronyms, especially if they are not four lettered!

Pradeep Wadhwa
Co-founder & Principal at Kritical Edge Consulting
Pradeep is a seasoned communications professional, having witnessed both the client side as well as the consultancy side of life (in equal measures) for close to two decades.

Fortunate to be part of building and protecting reputation of leading organisations and brands across a variety of industry verticals, he has recently founded his unique C-Suite Consulting firm, Kritical Edge.

Previously he has worked in leadership roles with ReNew Power and PepsiCo India among other roles.

1 Comment on "Chief Communications Officer (CCO) – Story of ‘PILS’, ‘RISE’ and many ‘GAPS’"

  1. Naveen kaushika | November 25, 2016 at 3:56 PM | Reply

    Business have to function with modern values .but when it’s b2g -Business 2 govt. Everything goes for a toss

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