The new breed of corporate affairs officer

How to cope with increased and everchanging expectations of the CEO



Among executive roles today, the corporate affairs officer may be one of the most influential, yet least predictable in terms of career track, skill set and responsibilities.

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Today's business environment has become increasingly complex due to political and regulatory changes, a non-stop news cycle, greater proliferation of social channels and activist shareholders.

As a result, there is a growing demand for elite candidates who can successfully navigate this business environment—while also leveraging and aligning the responsibilities of corporate communications, government relations, public affairs, stakeholder engagement and community relations—and guide companies and their leaders through today’s unchartered waters.  

For forward-leaning organizations, corporate affairs is being tasked with this role. As a trusted advisor and strategic counselor to the CEO, and members of the senior leadership team, the corporate affairs officer has the required skills, knowledge base, and savvy to lead the charge.

However, in today's business environment, the ones who truly thrive are the corporate affairs officers who understand that the role is not just safeguarding the corporate reputation, but also about being strategists and architects of a “proactive” corporate narrative and its dissemination across all platforms and audiences.

It's more than communications

Savvy corporate affairs officers have both a deep understanding of the business, and how it is perceived from a social context. Using this 360-degree perspective, corporate affairs officers are uniquely capable of contributing analyses of both macro and micro trends. This, in turn, enables them to devise strategies that connect their companies’ actions and messages with a diverse, ever-expanding and increasingly vocal set of stakeholders.

Today, there is no longer a wall between internal and external audiences. As business strategy is developed, corporate affairs leaders must ensure the organization’s direction and actions are clear, consistent and accurately represent the organization's ethos.

"The corporate affairs officer has the required skills, knowledge base, and savvy to lead the charge."

Whether testifying before regulators or speaking directly with employees, the corporate affairs officer is responsible for ensuring the leadership team and the entire organization is aligned with its messages and actions across all stakeholders.

Corporate affairs officers understand that in a 24/7 news and digital backdrop, they effectively sit at a command center and oversee teams that span media relations, internal communications, government affairs, and community relations. Organizations in which corporate affairs officers control "all the levers" allow them to have greater control and consistency over brand, reputation and voice.

What separates best-in-class corporate affairs leaders

With such a dynamic business environment and the evolving influence of this role, it is no surprise that elite candidates possess more business acumen and better financial literacy. They also have a global perspective, are politically savvy, and are highly attuned to the nuances and impact of global legislative, regulatory and policy issues.

Beyond their experience, these leaders are also “learning agile,” meaning they are comfortable adjusting to a fluid business environment where rapid change is the norm. They also are resilient, and have the courage to take risks, push back against prevailing opinion, and actively engage in debate and dialog.

Finally, these leaders are collaborative and understand their greatest impact can be in helping to interpret and influence decisions and strategy. As a result, they are skilled at not only building strong internal relationships, but team-building and deploying talent in a way that broadens key skill sets and builds organizational capability.

The future has never been more promising for corporate affairs officers.  This executive role continues to elevate and evolve, and with it, so too, do the expectations of the C-Suite and Board.  

More insights for Korn Ferry's "Trusted Counsel: CEOs expand C-suite mandate for best-in-class corporate affairs officers".

Image: Pixabay

Richard S. Marshall

Richard S. Marshall is the global managing director of the Corporate Affairs Center of Expertise at Korn Ferry based out of the New York and San Francisco offices. He leads the Firm’s specialty practice which focuses on corporate communications, investor relations and government affairs. His recent client work includes placing the chief communications officers at Alibaba, PepsiCo, L’Oreal USA, the National Football League, among other Fortune 100 organisations.