Business Leaders in Communications have their say

This week VMA Group hosted its Business Leaders in Communications Study launch in London. I was hoping to go but unfortunately wasn’t able to make the launch, so I’ve been reading about it and thought I’d share what I’ve learnt as it makes fascinating reading.

The study surveyed 95 Directors of Communications in leading FTSE organisations about their corporate communications function and the results provide the most comprehensive overview of the function, structure and role of corporate communications today and in the future.

Top findings from the study were:

  1. Nearly two in three communications professionals see reputation management as their main function, while media relations and advising the board on business strategy were both equal second. However, only three per cent of respondents saw protecting or enhancing the reputation of the CEO as their main role.
  2. Forty-one per cent had a seat on the board or management executive and two thirds of respondents reported into the CEO; one in ten to the HR Director and just seven per cent to the Marketing Director.
  3. Eighty-one per cent of respondents said that their CEO and the board thought communication to be critically important. But that figure fell to 59% when applied across the business. A significant minority (18%) said communications was not critically important in the organisation.
  4. More than one in three (37%) CEOs spend at least one day a week on communications activity, and one in twenty spend more than two days. The proportion of CEO time devoted to communications is particularly high in the financial services sector (22%), possibly an indication of the continued fallout from the banking crisis.
  5. The statistics around the ownership of the digital space raise the possibility that we may be seeing the beginning of a decline in influence for marketing departments as we currently know them.

What happened at the launch?
At the event on Tuesday night, VMA hosted Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership, who urged the audience of senior communicators to think about their purpose and effectiveness, saying that he believes communication is the most powerful lever to gain competitive advantage.

Alongside Charlie Mayfield were John Smythe, Founding Partner of Engage for Change, David Bickerton, Director of Communications at BP, Leslie McGibbon, Vice President Global Communications at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare and Professor Tom Watson, Professor of Public Relations at Bournemouth University.

I was interested to see the Tweets under the hashtag #blcs2012 as it appears a lively debate took place about the role of corporate communications both now and in the future. It’s no surprise that one of the hot topics of the night was social media and its use.

Stephen Waddington of Speed Comms (@Wadds) blogged on the event and has published a Storify feed of the tweets, which you can see here.

He says: “My view, Speed’s view, is that social media is returning the public relations industry to its roots of engagement in a two-way dialogue rather than a means of broadcast via the proxy of media relations.”

Social media as a challenge?
What strikes me is that only 15 per cent of Comms Directors said social media skills were critical when recruiting to their teams. When this is contrasted against the fact that three quarters of comms professionals expect to see an increase in demand for websites, digital and social media, that’s a surprising stat. Apparently almost one in ten communicators do not see social media as a challenge.

So…. communicators expect to see a rise in demand yet won’t meet it through specific recruiting? Reports from the night show that one member of the audience asked whether this is the case “because social media is just a bubble or is it through ignorance or complacency.”

While some said it was ‘A flash in the pan’ and ‘Not used by the shop floor,’ others urged caution and said the starting point should be to question the objective of social media before acting on it. Yet, as agency bosses from Grayling, Hotwire PR and Speed Communications and senior communicators from the BBC, BP and GlaxoSmithKline responded, social media is here to stay and those who don’t embrace it fully will be left behind.

What about social media in action?
David Bickerton from BP admitted his organisation was left reeling from the social media impact of recent events and, he added, as a result the company now ensures all staff have a role to play in the reputation management of the company on social media. Even John Lewis’ Charlie Mayfield concluded that technology is changing the way people behave and businesses need to understand this and respond accordingly.

What about influence?
Results from the survey show that senior communicators expect their influence to increase over the next two years, yet they currently report only moderate influence at board level. It also reveals an expected increase in demand but decrease in budgets over the next two years. How we wish that wasn’t the case! Again, not a surprise, but I believe it’s a reflection on how the comms industry is changing and adapting to the external environment. We’d love to have huge budgets that increase year-on-year as awareness and demand for comms grows, but unfortunately the world doesn’t work like that! 

Julia Meighan, Executive Chairman of VMA Group who commissioned the research says: “The debate arising from the launch of the BLCS this week demonstrates what a truly significant and timely piece of research this is. The study will play a critical role in helping communicators and CEOs underpin their investment in corporate communications, and better demonstrate the link between reputation and profitability that Charlie Mayfield speaks of. Some of the world’s leading organisations have responded to this research and so its influence and relevance is far-reaching. I urge communications professionals to study the report and use it in their businesses.”

Where can you get the research and what happens next?
The Business Leaders in Communications Study 2012 is available to buy from the BLCS web page. VMA Group is hosting a series of breakfast events in February / March for those people who have purchased the study and wish to discuss and debate the findings in greater detail. For more information and to register your interest, contact: marketing@

Post author: Rachel Miller

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