The importance of communications to the CEO and C-Suite has come a long way in my 25 years in this profession. I remember a time when, for most of my clients, communications was relegated to a back seat or “also and” relative to other functions. 

Based on a recent APCO Worldwide survey done in partnership with research consultancy APCO Insight, I’m both heartened by how far we’ve come and scratching my head as to why some things haven’t progressed further. When we talked to more than 100 chief corporate communicators, access to the CEO and the perceived relevance of reputation and communications is relatively strong. But communications continues to lag within corporate culture and priorities.

Some of the good or better news from chief corporate communicators:

  • 89% say they readily have access to the CEO when they need it.
  • 75% indicate the CEO understands the value of their company’s reputation.
  • 62% say the increased importance of social media has made communications more relevant.

But there’s plenty of room for growth:

  • Only 52% indicate they report directly to the CEO.
  • Only 29% say they are a key business advisor to the CEO.
  • Only 26% indicate they always feel their opinion matters when business-critical decisions are being made.
  • Only 47% say the communications function is highly integrated or involved throughout the organization.

So where does communications go from here? For the companies who are “getting it” more than others, how is that made possible? 

From my observations, it’s part good fortune and a bigger part vigilance and persistence by the chief communicators and their teams. For some they have a CEO who not only gets the importance of communications but is an advocate for enhancing the role of communications in the company. But regardless of where the CEO falls on the “communications matters” spectrum, I’ve seen these best practices for the chief communicators who are able to elevate their role, whatever point they might be starting at with the C-Suite:

  • Relate to the business goals. If the CEO isn’t automatically sharing his or her priorities, make a point of identifying them. Ladder all communications up to those goals.
  • Let the numbers do the talking. Numbers matter to CEOs. It’s critical to establish key performance indicators and quantify how communications is working. Do it persistently.
  • The CEO marriage takes work. Any good relationship is one that is carefully tended to over time. Be the one who is respectfully direct but also the one who listens, and hears, the CEO.
  • Earn a seat at the business table. You don’t have to have come from operations or have an MBA. Learn the business as much or better than anyone else in the C-Suite.
  • Be a business leader first. First and foremost, the chief communicator is a business peer who speaks to the business. Then communications can be put in the context of the business.

Communications has been on a great run the last 25 years. As I tweet about @TinaMarie19 using #reputationcounts, reputation matters. How a company communicates matters to the bottom line. CEOs such as Warren Buffett have long gotten that. With continued care and attention given to directly relating communications to the business, hopefully it won’t be much longer before every CEO is on board.

Tina-Marie Adams

Tina-Marie Adams is managing director of APCO Worldwide’s Chicago office and is a more than 25 year communications veteran. Read More