A day late and a dollar short

A_businessman_out_in_the_colbbbd_1776351I'll bet my reaction to the just-released survey of 142 chief communications officers by Spencer Stuart and Weber Shandwick will surprise both organizations.

According to the results, crisis management is the number one success factor listed by global CCOs, a finding that has more than doubled since the co-branded survey was first fielded in 2007. And, the CCOs say they spend an inordinate amount of time resolving a reputational crisis: an average of 15 months!

Spencer Stuart and Weber Shandwick believe the survey shows how critical crisis management skills are to today's CCO. They also believe CCOs are doing a much better job of embracing social media as a means to manage a crisis.

I see the results differently. I think they reveal two fundamental flaws in the mindset of the global CCO:

– Not enough insist on simulating the various threats to their organization BEFORE a crisis occurs (and, those who do, rarely involve senior business, financial and legal executives in the planning). If they did, they'd be far better prepared to manage one, spend less time resolving it and, critically, begin focusing on an area I believe is just as critical as reputation management: the customer experience.
– Because the CCOs surveyed said crisis management was so important, they naturally listed corporate social responsibility as their second most important success factor (since they see it as critical to safeguarding reputation). Measuring the effectiveness of their corporate reputation management was ranked third.

All of which begs the question: with all the focus on crisis mitigation, who's trying to better understand the customer and when, where, why and how she wants to engage with the organization? Who is paying attention to the customer's needs and concerns and building relationships internally and externally that prevent crises in the first place?

The survey tells me CCOs are missing the opportunity to be pro-active, to listen to, and better understand, their myriad audiences. Instead of leaving their corporate bubble and finding out what it is like to be one of their customers, they're stuck in their corner office fighting reputational crises or trying to build goodwill through CSR programs. That's classic top down, inside-out, reactionary thinking.

I recently authored a blog in which I posited the view that one day soon the average Fortune 500 CEO will wake up, look at the compensation packages being paid to his CCO and CMO, realize the functions are becoming increasingly blurred, and eliminate one.

While three-quarters of the CMOs Peppercom recently surveyed told us they'd never experienced their brand from an audience's standpoint, they're nonetheless far better positioned than most CCOs to be the eventual winner in what I see as an upcoming communications version of The Civil War. Why? Because they focus on finding out about how their customers are receiving their messages. Whether it's through traditional (and some say antiquated) methods, such as market research and focus groups, or by going further with other more individualized and ethnographic methods, CMOs are poised to have a better understanding how customers buy and use their products and services than CCOs. And CMOs are then armed with more of the up-to-date knowledge of what drives the customer, and therefore, the bottom line than CCOs. And, the bottom line drives the CEOs decisions.

It's high time CCOs spread their wings, took a more preventive view to crisis and began getting closer to the individuals and institutions who buy and use their organization's products and services. Otherwise they'll find themselves a day late and a dollar short when the next mega downsizing occurs.

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