NEW YORK — As the CCO role continues to expand, a rising number of in-house comms leaders have added serving as strategic advisors to their responsibilities, according to new research from Edelman.

In Edelman’s 2023 Future of Corporate Communications survey, half of respondents said they view themselves as strategic advisors or partners to their company’s top management — up from just one-third two years ago.

The findings are based on a survey of 218 communications leaders in June and in-depth interviews with more than 20 of them in July and August. All respondents were CCOs (or held comparable positions) from US Fortune 500 organizations.

The study also found, though, that expansion of the CCO job comes with challenges, as comms leaders are being asked to do more with less. Respondents said roughly 18% of their current workload involves advising CEOs on matters unrelated to communications. That largely stems from demands from boards of directors or other senior leaders; pressure to engage on social issues; and anticipated changes in the regulatory environment.

That employees have reshaped the stakeholder landscape, particularly around social issues, is also having an impact on CCOs, 60% of who said they will be held accountable for driving employee engagement in the coming two years.

Internal comms and organizational culture/employee experience are the most rapidly escalating priorities for both CCOs and CEOs, the study found. The communications function is expected to drive that through clear communications and transparency, maintaining a positive work environment, providing opportunities for feedback and fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.

The study also looked at where communications goes from here, concluding that future-proofing the function requires communicators to align with the new reality of stakeholders expecting companies to take stands — and action — on societal issues. But for comms to drive business and impact outcomes related to ESG, the function needs better data & analytics for measurement; increased budget for communications activities; and increased enterprise action related to ESG, respondents said.

In addition, 44% said that they are investing more heavily in communications technology than they did last year. though 54% say that the value of commstech is only as powerful as the interpretation and application of the data.

In light of the findings, Edelman encouraged CCOs to assess where they and their teams are at as a means of advancing the function. Researchers recommended comms leaders assess whether it is time to update their stakeholder map, given that key stakeholders and what influences is them is evolving; whether it’s time to revisit how they track ROI, given the importance of measurement in making a business case for communications; whether they and their teams are testing new ways to use data; and whether they have mechanisms in place to track employee sentiment.