PR Week Comms Director Survey 2016

Comms Directors: transforming business impact

Brands2Life this week launches its 11th annual Communications Director Survey in conjunction with PR Week. Over 100 of the leading Comms Directors in the UK have shared their views on the industry, their role, and fundamentally how comms is delivering real business impact.

The standout findings of this year’s study include the growing influence of the Comms Director as a strategic business advisor; the trends shaping the in-house/ agency relationship; creativity and digital disruption; converting integrated campaigns into sales; and raising the bar on employee communications.

This year, the results poured in just before the EU referendum, showing an industry confident that budgets were growing, with in-house and agency teams undertaking more creative work than ever before. Now, as the country forges a new path, business agility has never been so important.

Here are some highlights of our key findings:

C-Suite Comms

In-house communications professionals are increasingly being consulted on corporate, as well as communications, strategy and indeed 48% of the top communications heads we spoke to agreed that helping shape the overall corporate strategy was one of the most important aspects of their remit.

Measuring impact

Mirroring the growing role of communications in strategic planning, effective measurement against business metrics has also increased over the past 12 months. While measurement for communications and PR in particular once lent heavily on AVE and opportunities to see, its impact is now being more widely recognised as a business, not just reputation, driver. Over half of the Comms Directors interviewed believe they are now demonstrating the tangible difference their work makes to the business, up from 38% in 2015. As budgets are having to work harder than ever, this means that the ability to demonstrate a clear focus on business impact over campaign evaluation is critical.

However, there’s still an industry gap in this area, with almost a quarter of those we spoke to admitting that they’re struggling to properly evaluate the contribution of their work to the success of the business, and AVE still inexplicably accounting for almost a third of measurement. As external advisers, agencies must demonstrate the ways in which they can support in-house teams in delivering results recognised as going beyond simply awareness-raising. Just over half said that the value of communications is being measured in their organisation by the number of enquiries and sales leads generated, a significant uplift from 24% in 2014.

A meaningful relationship

The research also highlights shifts in the ways in which in-house and agency teams are working. Comms Directors reported a move towards project-based relationships with agencies, with 39% saying that their organisation is sourcing services from a wider range of agencies or specialists than previously. Agencies are also being asked to do more visual production work, social media strategy and execution, media relations and event support than this time last year.

Briefs are also evolving from single-discipline focus (e.g. PR/ design/ marketing) to multi-channel integrated communications. The creative work is increasingly varied too, with agencies now charged with shaping everything from the corporate brand narrative to digital asset creation.

As agencies are experiencing a broader range of demands, so too are in-house professionals. Communications Directors are increasingly integrating their work with functions across the business from marketing (73%); to sales (48%); customer service (44%); and IT and web (40%). And the importance of customer engagement across multi-channel touchpoints, combined with the ever expanding role of employee communications, means that the Comms Director role is now spread more and more thinly across the marketing remit. As those tasked with developing and managing the corporate reputation, their role as integrator, mediator, decision-maker, and trusted business advisor is all-encompassing. This increase in responsibility should be welcomed, and embraced by an industry long located at the wrong end of the funnel.

Accelerating disruption

Pushing the boundaries in social and digital continues to be a core focus for in-house communications professionals as only a small minority (17%) believes their organisation has been completely effective at meeting the challenge of social media. The amount of time spent on digital continues to increase steadily year on year and now occupies over a third of Comms Directors’ time (35%), and budget (31%). And this demand for social engagement goes as high as the CEO, with two thirds of in-house professionals believing their CEO could use social platforms to a more impactful degree.

Quest for creativity

Our study shows that Comms Directors recognise that now, perhaps more than ever, communications need to be brave to stand out. This means being bold with choices from strategic planning, to agency partners, and creative content generation. In a period of uncertainty, creativity can help overcome risk, as standing still and playing it safe is no longer an option.

What’s next?

The role of Communications Director has risen in Board-level prominence over recent years and this year’s results indicate that this course will continue. A combination of the ongoing expansion of the comms remit, together with a heightening focus on business results, will ensure that the Comms Director’s contribution will continue to grow both in terms of respect and recognition.

We’ll be sharing more on each of our central themes over the coming weeks and continuing the conversation with Comms Directors to capture further insights into the ever-expanding role of communications.

Click here to read the PR Week Comms Director Survey 2016.

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