New Edelman Study Reveals How Global Pandemic, Evolving Social Issues Landscape Has Made Corporate Communications More Important to CEOs, Boards of Directors

Geopolitical tensions, technological disruption, continuous transformation and other factors also creating more complexity, increasing C-suite reliance on communications

Edelman announced the release of a comprehensive global study 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. The “Future of Corporate Communications” research finds that the role of Corporate Communications has forever changed – shifting away from what has traditionally been viewed as a support function towards one increasingly recognized as an enabler of enterprise value.

“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. “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.”

“The Future of Corporate Communications,” among the most comprehensive studies of its kind ever conducted, is gathered from a quantitative analysis and in-depth interviews with nearly 250 senior-level global communicators. The report 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.

“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. “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.”

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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% 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.

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.

Stakeholders are holding companies more accountable
Expectations around social issues have shifted, and 73% 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% matrixed and 31% decentralized.  In any model, it is important to focus on governance, process, and accountability.

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

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.

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% anticipate a budget increase of 15% or more this year.

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