Communications Execs’ Role More Critical Than Ever as Nonstop Political and Societal Crises Increasingly Impact Brands

Share Article

New study from Peppercomm and the Institute for Public Relations reveals how CCOs and CMOs work with CEOs on divisive issues

Taking a Stand," a study released by Peppercomm and the Institute for Public Relations, uncovers six different types of executives.

Taking a Stand: How CMOs and CCOs are Redefining Their Roles in Today’s Highly Charged Social, Cultural and Political Climate.

  • New study from Peppercomm and the Institute for Public Relations reveals how CCOs and CMOs work with CEOs on divisive issues
  • Leading brands responding to stakeholders’ demands that they take a smart stand on societal concerns
  • Research uncovers six types of CCOs/CMOs based on their strategic response to volatile communications landscape

Brands of all sizes and in all industries are increasingly being impacted by America’s divisive political, social and cultural storms. This new reality makes the roles of the chief communications officer (CCO) and chief marketer officer (CMO) as strategic decision makers, planners and guardians of a brand’s goodwill more vital – and more challenging – than ever before.

This was the overwhelming response from CCOs and CMOs in a new research study just published by Peppercomm, an award-winning strategic communication and marketing agency, and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), titled Taking a Stand: How CMOs and CCOs are Redefining Their Roles in Today’s Highly Charged Social, Cultural and Political Climate. Peppercomm and IPR conducted in-depth interviews with more than two dozen executives from companies ranging from manufacturing and software to consumer goods about how their roles are shifting in this contentious environment.

“CCOs and CMOs recognize they’ve entered an unprecedented world marked by continual societal crises and fueled by the explosive political environment and 24-by-7 news cycle,” said Steve Cody, co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm. “Part of the challenge is for CCOs and CMOs to determine, with the CEO, which issues to take a smart stand on and which have no relevance to their business — while still being prepared for traditional crises that have always existed in relation to their core business.”

With crises breaking seemingly every day, from White House statements and #MeToo revelations to racist celebrity tweets and mass shootings, the research study reveals that two-thirds of CCOs and CMOs said they are not fully prepared to respond to such events. But those executives who are ready reveal in the study their best practices for working with their CEOs and other leaders to decide whether or not to take a stand on an issue, and if so, how.

“We definitely saw a shift in responses from our last study, with communication executives more comfortable with uncertainty and more prepared to deal with issues strategically and thoughtfully,” said Tina McCorkindale, President and CEO, Institute for Public Relations. “We also found that in many instances, CCOs who may not have had a seat at the C-Suite table in the past are now emerging front and center as the ethical and moral compass of their organizations.”

The study found that because crises erupt so often now, savvy executives realize they cannot respond to each one ad hoc. Instead, they are defining their company’s purpose that rises above merely building shareholder value and communicating where they stand based on it. CCOs and CMOs are aware that more consumers and employees today expect corporations to speak out on issues of the day. So they are working with the CEO and other leaders to take a smart stand. Communicating based on purpose – and only on issues that impact the business and its key stakeholders — helps keep them above the fray. "You have to have principles that scale across all issues,” said the CCO of a global technology company. “Our decision to create those principles was invaluable because the worst-case scenario has proven to be true.”

The research also identified six different types of executives based on how they have responded to this seismic shift in corporate communications. The study asks CCOs and CMOs to self-assess where they are on the spectrum. The six types are:

“These issues are not going away, which makes this research study incredibly relevant,” added Cody. “In the corporate communications world, every week there’s another educational webinar or quantitative survey aimed at CCOs or CMOs about the rise of societal crises. However, our Peppercomm/IPR research report is unique. It provides a qualitative examination of exactly how the roles and responsibilities of Fortune 500 CCOs and CMOs across multiple industries are evolving.”

This is the third in a series of in-depth studies on the changing roles of CCOs and CMOs by Peppercomm and IPR. The first one titled, “A Time of Change: How CCOs and CMOs are Handling a New Presidential Administration,” was released in April 2017. The second one titled, “Managing the Digital Age: A Dialogue with CCOs and CMOs,” was released in August 2017.

About Peppercomm
Peppercomm is an award-winning strategic, integrated communications and marketing agency headquartered in New York City with offices in San Francisco and London. The firm connects brands, messages and people through data-driven insights, cross-channel communications and brilliant customer experience. Employing an omni-channel approach, the company uses customer insights to determine the right mix of tools and platforms to help clients reach, engage and influence customers along their path to purchase. Founded in 1995, Peppercomm has received numerous accolades, including The Holmes Report’s North American Corporate/B2B Agency of the Year and Bulldog Reporter’s Midsized Agency of the Year. The agency has been listed as one of Fortune’s 10 Best Workplaces in Advertising and Marketing, 100 Best Workplaces for Women, 50 Best Small and Medium Workplaces and 50 Best Workplaces for New College Grads. For more information, visit

About The Institute for Public Relations
The Institute for Public Relations is an independent, nonprofit research foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations™. IPR focuses on research that matters to the profession, providing timely insights and applied intelligence that professionals can put to immediate use. All research is available free at and provides the basis for IPR’s professional conferences and events.

Media Contacts:

Paul Merchan

Sarah Jackson
Communications Manager
Institute for Public Relations

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Paul Merchan
+1 212-931-6172
Email >
Visit website