New insights on how communications teams can deliver higher value by leveraging talent.

What is high performance for a communications team?

A decade ago, the answer might have included statements about “extensive publicity,” “stunning graphic design” or other communications-based outcomes.

But the nature and practice of communications has changed dramatically in recent years. And, at the same time, CEOs have come to expect more tangible business value from all corporate functions, including communications.

Recently, I partnered with upper 90 consulting, a talent and performance management firm, to identify the functional roles, emerging skills, and talent management/development practices that communications leaders are using as they strive to drive higher individual and team performance.

The survey sent to 358 senior leaders in communications gathered responses from 83 (23%) respondents. A majority (80%) of the participants have been working in communications for 20+ years and 84% hold the titles of VP, SVP, EVP or CCO, indicating the high quality of the participant pool. Most (63%) of the participants represent publicly owned companies and a comparable number (60%) work at a global organization.

Among other interesting findings, the survey revealed:


  • CCOs and their team members think their work has high importance for their organization’s overall success – but do not think that their board directors and peers fully share that view.
  • CCOs are constantly looking for more effective ways to prove the success and value of their function.
  • One in 10 CCOs wants to dramatically redesign their team, adding new/different types of talent operating in different roles than one might traditionally see in a communications function. A third want to add several new/different people in new/different roles.
  • However, CCOs admit there’s little money left in their budgets for training/development and they don’t like the training options that are out there, so most (72%) don’t plan to spend more on it in the current year.
  • Communicators want greater clarity around what behaviors they need to demonstrate to succeed in their roles. Therefore, to drive higher team performance, CCOs must articulate department strategy, goals and priorities and explain how their teams will be evaluated against those goals and priorities.
  • For future communication professionals, CCOs recommend that they not only gain competence in technical skills but also master management/leadership and interpersonal skills.

The results raise a paradox with a potential to undermine perceptions of value and performance in the function. CCOs say they want new skills and talent – yet most are not prepared (or in a position) to invest in transforming their existing team members. Very few CCOs can make changes to their talent roster, so just how will they drive higher performance without some more meaningful investment in the growth of their existing team members?

These findings underscore several opportunities for CCOs to elevate the performance and importance of their function. Here is what the study recommends:

  1. Define value – then deliver, measure, and prove it.
  2. Find concrete ways to accelerate the talent/skills transformation.
  3. Make talent and performance a top priority.
  4. Develop business leaders, not just communicators.

If you would like to know more about what your industry peers and leaders consider important for high performing communication teams, please request a copy of the report from Rajul Jain ( or Mark Bain (

Rajul Jain, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at DePaul University and a senior manager at Ketchum Global Research and Analytics. Follow her on Twitter @talktorajul.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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