There has never been a more exciting time to be a corporate communications professional—and yet, at the same time, today's communications directors face the most challenging, rapidly evolving environment their profession has ever seen.
Communications, external relations and corporate affairs functions today would be almost unrecognisable to people who held similar roles just a few decades ago. Starting in the early 1990s, we saw a shift from communications duties being handled mostly by external public and media relations agencies to bringing those responsibilities in-house. Whilst these in-house experts still had significant media relations expertise, the fact that they were now embedded in the business and in sync with its priorities was a significant change.
As the years went by, that shift became even more marked. Whilst still important, media relations skills became one of many traits a successful corporate affairs leader had to possess. The need to understand and work with a large group of stakeholders became even more important. Today, these leaders must have the intellectual chops, leadership credentials and strategic mindset necessary to recognise and proactively address myriad reputational risks and opportunities.
This ever-changing role is still being shaped. The converging forces of technology, globalisation and multiplying stakeholders demand a higher level of communication coordination, integration and strategic foresight than ever before. Reputation is king. The general public has grown increasingly suspicious of corporations, governments and public institutions, and, as a result, there has been an increase in demand for peer-to-peer recognition and communication, bottom-up communication, and transparency.
Communications is arguably one of the most disrupted professions—feeling the effects of seismic shifts in the media sector (with its increasing commercial challenges), the weight of reputational pressure in the age of activism and game-changing trends such as big data and employee empowerment online.
We've identified 12 key factors driving the changing profile of communications and corporate affairs. Any successful communicator should be on to these already, and any company hoping to succeed in today's fast-changing world should examine any potential employees through this lens.
Chantal Tregear is a leadership consultant in Russell Reynolds Associates’ Corporate Affairs and Communications Practice. Based in London, she advises local, European and global clients with a focus on all areas of corporate communications and corporate affairs, including media relations & PR, government affairs and internal & change communications across all sectors.
With more than 25 years of experience in the communications industry, Chantal regularly consults with clients on industry trends, team structures, talent pipelines and capability reviews, providing guidance around best practices and emerging trends.