Communications directors are becoming more critical to the success of a business

A CEO perspective on reputation leadership

For a long time, communication directors struggled to get the ear of their CEO and CEOs were mostly immune to the idea of involving communications in the creation of the business strategy.

This was based on the perception of the function as a mouthpiece for the company or ‘finesse merchants’ – teams who were able to take a strategy(that, incidentally, they had no part in formulating) and sprinkle some magic dust to make it shine.

Many still cling to this operating model and there are still obstacles that need to be overcome; however, thankfully, perceptions are changing. VMA Group has undertaken research into the challenges facing the profession, in order to understand the areas senior business executives expect the communications profession to own and where they can add the most value.

The qualitative 52-page report includes 70 quotes from 40 chief executives based in Europe as well as input from leading academics.

A call for the organisation to reinvent itself

CEOs are looking for a strategic business adviser who sits at the inner core of the organisation and proactively connects, coordinates and facilitates the business to achieve its strategic objectives. They want their communications director to be more informed, provocative and business savvy and for them to move away from managing the company’s messages to focus more on the digital opportunity to actively grow their business – someone who can take the global conversation about the company and harness it towards the brightest commercial future, focussing on business progress and the creation of value.

Watch: Julia on what CEOs want from their chief communications officers, and what CCOs need to do to become business leaders. 

The reason that companies are having to reinvent themselves is due to the digital revolution. Not only has this changed the environment necessitating new products, new customer platforms, new operating models and new ways of interacting with the buying public, it has changed the very meaning of the company itself.


The new breed of communications directors that are most in demand will possess new competencies for a new age: individuals who are drivers of change, strategic thinkers and entrepreneurial leaders. Proactive endeavour is the critical element delivering new business growth, rooting out commercial opportunities and driving change internally.

The communications function has undergone radical changes in the past decade, which has resulted in a new culture. There are a number of reasons for this, with digital firmly at the top. The digital revolution has induced more changes than we could have foreseen – from the proliferation of digital channels to the ‘always-on’ culture.

In addition to this, the previous ‘message control’ model that was the mainstay of corporations in the past is well and truly over and communications professionals must somehow find a new way to create alignment among audiences without ever dictating to them. Authenticity and transparency have become the essential tonal cues today.

Chief executives believe there is a need for true leadership. Core technical skills are important but these must now be supplemented by a better business mind-set as businesses need their communications people to look out across a business horizon as a true leader does, rather than just offering support and counsel.

The new capabilities required by the modern CEO

There are still many challenges, expectations and demands being made of communications directors in today’s organisations – from the need to be more business focussed and executive minded to being more digitally aware and more productive.

CEOs are certainly challenging the profession more and more; however, that doesn’t mean they are dissatisfied, it simply means that they are sending a clear signal to the profession to say that they think the function has much more to deliver because they are forecasting a vital future for it at the heart of their business.

 “Be brave, understand your role as leader of the company’s brand and reputation. It’s about courage, development and exploiting business opportunities to create value.”

Quote from VMA Group’s CEO study ‘Beyond communications: A CEO perspective on reputation leadership’

Skills to drive value as a strategic business leader

As a communications director, these are the practical steps you can take to ensure you drive value for your organisation.

  1. Develop strategies that affirm your role as a leader of the company’s brand and reputation. A business’s reputation is more fragile now than ever before and safeguarding this is seen as a key value point that can be provided by communications directors.
  2. The role of the communications director has become much more technical, multi-faceted, proactive and intense than ever before. For this reason, it’s important to recognise that you no longer need to be an expert in all things communications-related. You should now see yourself as a business leader who can call on the expertise of others, sourcing it as and when it’s required.
  3. Step into the leadership role as it’s expected and demanded of you – don’t wait to be asked. If you don’t, your role will be undermined. I’ve seen many communications directors hold themselves back, whether it’s due to a lack of business skills or, for example, financial ability. The only way around this is to get closer to the business. In general, the more insights you have into the business, the more value you’ll be able to generate.

You can now download a copy of VMA Group’s report ‘Beyond communications: A CEO perspective on reputation leadership’ from For further information about any of the issues raised in this article please contact Julia Meighan directly: [email protected]. Main Image: Getty Images

Julia Meighan

Julia Meighan MBA is chief executive of VMA Group, a corporate communications and marketing executive search consultancies. She regularly comments on all aspects of leadership communications, employee engagement and managing corporate reputations. Julia is also an executive coach specialising in helping communications leaders increase their impact and influence at board level by helping them transition from trusted adviser and expert to transformational business leader. She also champions the progression of women into senior executive roles and chairs VMA Group’s advisory boards across Europe and Asia.