6 Tips For Aspiring Chief Communication Officers

Perry Yeatman

Perry Yeatman, former Senior Vice President of Corporate and Government Affairs at Kraft Foods, recently spoke in New York at a Conference Board meeting where she shared her “Five Tips to the Top” for individuals aspiring to become chief communication officers.

While you can watch her remarks in their entirety by clicking this link, Perry took a moment this week to jot down her comments in the quick-to-read outline below:

CCOs: 6 Tips to the Top

1) Be a business person first.

a. You must understand public policy and be able to write an earnings press release or a CEO speech.  But, that is the price of admission.

b. Just being a great communicator will not necessarily get you the top job.  Just being a smart business person won’t either.  But being a great business person and a great communicator certainly sets you up for success.

c. Be sure you truly understand

  • i. your company strategy
  • ii. where and how the money is really made
  • iii. your customers, consumers, and competitors – not just in the US but in all of your company’s key markets around the world.

d. After all, you can’t give good global advice if you don’t really understand the world you’re playing in.

2) Know your CEO.

a. Can’t really help the CEO if you don’t understand them.

b. invest the time and effort to get to know them.  Read what they’ve written.  Study them in meetings.  Listen carefully to what they say and remember well.  And when in doubt, ask!  c. learn where their head is at; what keeps them up at night; what their personal passions are; what their preferred style of operating is and what strengths and weakness they possess.  (Every CEO has both so be sure you know what your CEO’s are).

d. And recognize that you have to earn influence.  So, start with what matters most to them.  Once you’ve delivered on that, you’ll have earned the respect and be able to push on other fronts as well.

3) Become a valued and trusted resource for the rest of the C-Suite, too.

a. While the CEO may be your ultimate boss, you will need the rest of the C-suite to really succeed.  And without them, you could be sunk even if the CEO is a fan.

b. Doubt this?  Just think about the challenges you may face:

  • increase employee engagement
  • re-vamp the corporate brand
  • integrate a new acquisition
  • manage social media
  • increase employee volunteerism
  • broaden the shareholder base, etc.

c. You name it, you’re going to need the help of HR or Marketing or the CFO or someone else at the top.  So, even before you need them, spend the time to build relationships so your support and influence go beyond the CEO.

4) Be fearless, honest and committed in your counsel.  But be tactful in your delivery and pick your battles.

a. CCO has a broad view of the company so you see more than others.  you look outside a lot too.  So, use that to help your leaders make the best decisions possible.

b. sometimes that means you have to disagree with the CEO or others.  Over time I’ve learned that it’s OK to disagree.  In fact, many CEOs really value an “independent” thinker…someone they know is smart and is going to tell them exactly what they think, even if it’s not necessarily what they want to hear.

c. As long as you truly have the best interests of your company and society in mind, do not back away from a difficult discussion.

d. Pick your battle and your timing but don’t think that being a “yes man” is the only or best way to the top.

e. Good corporate reputations are the outcome of doing the right things and communicating them well.  So if doing the right thing means you need to go to battle for your idea, so be it.

5) Make a difference.

a. The day of “caretaker leadership” is over (if it ever existed).  Change is a constant in corporate America so your goal must be to leave every job having made a demonstrable, sustainable, positive impact.

b. Part of how you do this is through focus. Our CEO always says “we can do anything but we can’t do everything.”  So we focus ruthlessly on what matters most.

c. At the CCO level, your job is less about doing things right and more about doing the right things.  So focus your team and your resources on what matters most and ensure you achieve something important that wouldn’t or couldn’t have happened without you.  That’ll leave a positive and lasting legacy for your company and build your career and your reputation at the same time.

6)  Never confuse your career with your life and be sure to have both!

Perry Yeatman has extensive agency and corporate experience, including plum international assignments, which led her to write “Get Ahead by Going Abroad,” that was covered in an earlier post here. Perry now operates her own consultancy, Perry Yeatman Global Partners. 

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