Changing With The Times: The Future Of The C-Suite

September 27, 2015, Arthur W. Page Society

As Page members gather in Chicago for the 32nd Page Annual Conference we find ourselves at a crossroads as communications leaders. The speed of business is accelerating, driven by new technologies and business models. Stakeholders are more empowered to take action and drive change, resulting in a 24/7 news cycle. And operating on a global scale demands international teams and competencies. As our chair Dave Samson of Chevron points out, these are inexorable global forces that are transforming the CCO role, and we are increasingly called upon rise to meet the challenges they present.

Perhaps no company better exemplifies this new reality than GE, which operates at the nexus of technology and commerce across borders. When CEO Jeff Immelt joined the company in the early 80s, 80% of GE's business was located in the U.S. Today that is virtually flipped, with 70% of the company operating outside of the States. There's inherently risk in that, says Immelt, but companies cannot be "lazy or afraid" to take those risks in order to be competitive in a global marketplace.

Joining Immelt onstage were GE's CCO Deirdre Latour and General Counsel Brackett Denniston, who expounded on the need to be agile and transparent despite these risks. Communications is a critical part of the enterprise's management arsenal, and wielding it in order to be open about the company's actions is a crucial aspect of earning support from stakeholders.

Turning to the Future of the CCO, Sean O'Neill of Heineken spoke of the "digital remastering" that is happening with the foundational role of the CCO – that of strategic business counselor and minder of corporate reputation. With everyone at the C-Suite table having a role to play in establishing and activating corporate character and safeguarding reputation, the CCO is now more than ever leading efforts across the C-Suite to communicate that character in a digital world in which reputation is increasingly shaped through online communications.

Jon Iwata of IBM added that 80% of people factor in user-generated comments when making purchase decisions, underscoring the need for CCOs to take a leadership role in developing enterprise-wide systems for delivering content and experiences that drive meaningful engagement around the brand. That engagement can now be informed by insights mined from data, allowing us to move from targeting audience segments to actually being able to tailor communications to the individual based on what data tell us about who they are, what they're doing and what they want. And companies don't have to devote huge resources to that, either; there are plenty of off-the-shelf "freemium" tools that deliver powerfully actionable intel for CCOs to use in managing engagement.

Discussing these latest findings from the Page Society's "Future of the CCO" report, the FT's Sujeet Indap moderated a panel featuring other C-Suite perspectives on the changing role of the CCO. Michelle Nettles, who heads HR for MillerCoors, agreed that the CCO is the vanguard of minding reputation and being the conscience of the enterprise. Reinforcing the point, Ellen Fitzsimmons, General Counsel at CSX, pointed out that the media environment today is totally transformed – with many journalists being incentivized to pursue clicks rather than objective reporting – which complicates the organization's ability to manage what is reported and tell its story, let alone gain and maintain support for critical projects. The "global forces transforming the role of the CCO" are surely affecting our C-Suite colleagues as well

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