A recent Korn Ferry survey of CCOs found that 41 percent report directly to the CEO, up from 37 percent in 2015. Marshall says the pandemic shined a spotlight on the importance of communications to areas such as business performance, talent recruiting and retention, and corporate reputation and branding, prompting leaders to seek a tighter and more direct link to their CCOs. “CEOs are under more pressure than ever,” says Marshall, “and they are relying more and more on CCOs to help with strategy, storytelling, and relationships.”
With the spotlight, however, also come some glaring challenges such as improving racial diversity and churn. More than 84 percent of CCOs responding to Korn Ferry’s survey identified as white, for instance, evidence of the need to recruit and train more communications professionals from marginalized groups for leadership roles. More than half of respondents also have been in their current positions for less than three years, and 65 percent have worked for five or more companies.
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CCOs moved from the fringes of the C-suite to its center gradually, then all at once. As the expectations of stakeholders increased over the last decade, so too did the importance of CCOs as trusted advisers to CEOs. But even as CCOs’ stature grew, leadership maintained its view of communications as a cost center rather than a driver of business value.
The pandemic and its aftermath finally put that antiquated notion to rest. The value of CCOs to driving business performance couldn’t be denied—whether it was aligning investors with a new business strategy, communicating health and safety measures to employees, advising leaders on social issues important to customers, or positioning the company’s culture and purpose to attract talent. “CEOs saw how communications could impact share-price movement,” says Peter McDermott, a senior client partner in the Global Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations practice at Korn Ferry.
IBM and Johnson & Johnson offer examples of C-suites in which CCOs are viewed as value creators. At IBM, instead of putting the communications function under marketing, as has historically been the practice, leadership did the opposite, expanding the remit of the company’s chief communications officer, Jonathan Adashek, to include marketing. Today, Adashek oversees the integrated communications, marketing, and corporate social responsibility team at IBM.
In fact, fewer CCOs are reporting to CMOs now than in 2015—8 percent last year versus 12 percent in 2015—according to Korn Ferry data. Johnson & Johnson went a step further in 2022 when it appointed Vanessa Broadhurst as its EVP & CCO, Global Corporate Affiars. Broadhurst had come up through the pharmaceutical side of the business, serving in high-ranking executive roles that included ownership and oversight of marketing functions. Tapping an executive from the business and operational side of the business to oversee the department underscored how much the function has changed, and how significant a role it now plays. “The business lens to how a company shows up, engages in, and speaks about things is so much more magnified now,” says Broadhurst.