Marketing’s Role in CEO Success – Do You Play a Part?


June 29, 2017

by Carla Johnson

Successful CEOs understand that the ability to communicate and drive ideas forward is one of the most important skillsets of a modern-day executive. It’s not a nice-to-have, but a requirement of leadership. And even in a digitally driven world, the best know that offline and in-person communication matter equally.

In their report, The CEO Communications Audit, The Gandalf Group surveyed CEOs and what they expect from their marketing and communications leaders. Developed for the Luc Beauregard Centre of Excellence in Communications Research at Concordia University, it digs into how CEOs look at corporate communication, the value they place on it, and the challenges and opportunities.

What stood out most for me was marketing’s ability to have a bigger role by driving a strategic narrative. CEOs want this guidance, but not all CMOs are taking advantage of the opportunity.

The confidential interviews with 33 CEOs went deep into four areas. Here’s how CEOs saw the role of communications in each of them.

1. The importance of communications to their business plans.

Most CEOs see corporate communications as a critical, strategic function within their business. Meaning it’s a can’t-do-without when it comes to implementing business plans, heading off risk and promoting the overall brand. In fact, most said their chance of success would be low for business initiatives unless they invested time and resources on internal communications. They even pointed out that internal communications was key to effective external communications and brand positioning.


“Internal communications is no longer seen along the lines of the traditional model of communications that has been the purview of human resources departments. CEOs believe internal communications is tightly linked with core business objectives.”

2. The role of the CEO

Most CEOs said the ability to communicate and help drive communications is among the most important requirement of the modern-day CEO’s skillset. While digital media is becoming more and more important, face-to-face meetings with employees are still important. These are the interactions that CEOs believe have the most value. In fact, when comes to times of change (and aren’t we constantly dealing with change?), these top execs said management needs a higher-profile approach. Being more involved and participatory is crucial to making change happen and stick.

One of the biggest communications challenges CEOs deal with is how hard it is to work with complex issues and being able to craft a clear, concise narrative around them. A narrative that connects with, and makes sense to, different audiences. Not only do CEOs want to connect through storytelling, they also want their vision to inspire people to become a part of it.


“My view is that my role is to give meaning to the work lives of employees.”

3. Social media

This areas is top of mind for CEOs. Some said that this, alone, is why they’ve elevated the importance of communications in business planning and implementation. While many understand the need to embrace social media as a brand, fewer were willing to use social media themselves. They worry about the potential damage a quick response could bring, and feel that CEOs are better when they reflect, rather than react.


“I’m on social media because no one wants to be ‘the old dog’ that can’t learn new tricks.”

4. CEO advocacy relating to public and social policy

The degree to which companies want to get involved in public policy advocacy is a factor of regulation in their industry. Most said there’s a need to put a lens on public policy and social responsibility. This is because people have more access to information in our digital age. They demand accountability for corporate and regulatory issues. In these areas, CEOs saw direct involvement. When it comes to on-going public policy engagement, most saw their role as limited.


“We are losing social cohesion in part because business people are absent from the debate They need to be out and show how they are creating growth for all.”

Take aways

What does this report mean to marketing and communications executives? Plenty.

First, there has to be an integrated approach across the organization for everything that’s communicated. I work with marketers who don’t believe that internal communications is ‘real’ work. If this is you, marketer, let me tell you this: Even if you work in B2B and you’re used to dealing with 18-24 month sales cycles and keeping the attention span of your audience, that’s nothing compared to keeping the attention span of an employee. This is your toughest, most critical audience because they know everything that’s under the hood.

Communicators, stop acting like elitists about your skills and point of view. There’s a tremendous amount that you can learn from marketers – such as fresh and creative ways to build communities – that can have a huge impact on your work. It’s time to come to the table and work together to create a cohesive voice on behalf of the organization, both inside and out.

For CMOs, it means that it’s more important than ever to lead from the business platform, not the marketing agenda. This is the only way that you’ll be able to lead the impact that you can on business, and redefine the role of marketing. In other words, it’s how you’ll make you and your team indispensable.

If you don’t have a 360-degree approach internally to how you communicate the vision of your company, you’ll never be able to deliver a 360-experience for your external customers that sets you apart from the masses.

Download the full report.

Photo credit: Flickr user Lucky Lynda

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.