Sandra Macleod, Echo Research and James S. O'Rourke, University of Notre Dame

The latest research report from Page, “Beyond Communication: CCO Leadership in Navigating New Complexity,” highlights the transformative role of the Chief Communication Officer (CCO) in today’s business landscape. Global disruptions and changing societal expectations are reshaping the corporate world, and with it, the role of the CCO. A collaborative effort between Sandra Macleod of Echo Research and Prof. James O’Rourke of the University of Notre Dame delved into this evolving landscape, in support of Page’s thought leadership study, engaging with more than 85 leaders in seven markets, the research uncovers the challenges and opportunities shaping the profession.

We found that the CCO’s responsibilities have broadened significantly, and so too have the challenges of saying “no.” Often, this means working with reducing budgets and resources. Beyond traditional communication tasks, CCOs now often oversee media management, strategic initiatives, and stakeholder engagement. Informal expectations have also grown, with many CCOs serving as advisors to senior leadership and fostering industry-wide collaboration. This expanded remit underscores the critical role CCOs play in navigating complex corporate environments. We sum our feedback into five brief M’s:

1: Mission: Challenges on the Horizon

Despite the opportunity of an expanded role, CCOs face significant challenges. One pressing issue is “mission creep,” in which additional responsibilities are added without a corresponding increase in resources. This trend highlights the need for organizations to recognize the value of the CCO function and provide adequate support. Without proper resources, and the ability to say “no,” or “here’s a better idea,” CCOs struggle to meet their growing mandates effectively. We found extensively, across industries and regions of the world, more responsibilities, no increase in budget, and no additional headcount for the communication function. Needless to say, CCOs with whom we spoke found these developments to be “very stressful.”

2: Multiplicity of Stakeholders

The complexity of the communications landscape is further compounded by a growing and diverse array of stakeholders with whom CCOs must engage. From employees and investors to regulatory bodies and the public, managing these relationships requires – more than ever – a strategic approach and clear focus on organizational objectives. The rise of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) considerations – and concomitant pushback from conservative state governments – adds another layer of complexity, as CCOs must address broader societal expectations.

3: Mindset and Resilience

Building resilience is essential for organizational success in an era marked by uncertainty and disruption. CCOs play a pivotal role in fostering resilience through clear strategic direction, robust relationships, and a culture of networking, collaboration and adaptability. By focusing on these areas, CCOs tell us they can help their organizations navigate crises and emerge stronger.

4: Measuring Impact

Effective measurement is crucial for assessing communication efforts. Increasingly, CCOs must not only gather data but also interpret it to drive informed decision-making. Simplifying key performance indicators and focusing on core metrics can help ensure that communication strategies align with organizational goals. By presenting clear, concise data to senior leadership, CCOs can demonstrate the value of their initiatives.

5: Meaning: Embracing Change

Global business history over the past 75 years has a clear lesson for 21st century managers: change or perish. The list of vibrant 20th century companies that no longer exist is substantial. The unsurprising result is that strategic planning and change communication are now clear responsibilities of the CCO. As that role continues to evolve, a focus on collaboration, adaptability, and continuous learning continues to grow, as well. CCOs must cultivate skills such as quantitative analysis, emotional intelligence, and active listening to meet the profession's evolving demands. 

Embracing these skills will enable CCOs to address complex challenges and seize new opportunities directly. A thoughtful examination of our findings leads us to six action priorities for the pathway ahead:

  • Challenge expectations
  • Clarify your focus
  • Crystallize the narrative
  • Champion a holistic view
  • Collaborate and change
  • Commit with evidence

The evidence clearly tells us that the future of the CCO role lies in its ability to navigate complexity, drive strategic alignment, and demonstrate tangible value to the organization. By embracing change, fostering collaboration, and investing in professional development, CCOs can position themselves as trusted advisors in the rapidly changing landscape of corporate communication. The insights from the Page Society’s latest research report underscore the importance of these evolving roles and the need for ongoing adaptation in the face of new complexities.

Our work at Echo Research and the University of Notre Dame continues as we explore what the global economy and changing stakeholder expectations hold in store for the CCO and for those aspiring and competing to be “trusted advisers” of the early 21st century.