Chief Conversation Officer and the marketing function

An interesting discussion about the Chief Conversation Officer concept at minute 13:50 of Across the Sound Podcast #10.

My colleague David Jones weighed into the discussion about whether the Chief Conversation Officer should be separated from the marketing function. David suggests that the Chief Marketing Officer should be the Chief Conversation Officer if he’s on his game.

David argues that the goal of corporations should be to create conversations with every tool they have at their disposal. However, they have not yet let go of an old marketing model that needlessly promotes a functional barrier between marketing departments and PR departments.

David believes that this reluctance to adopt a new model is grounded in a fear of losing control. The new media – blogs, wikis and, to a lesser extent podcasts – give control of brands to consumers. Smart companies are embracing this. David points to the example of the iPod as a consumer-owned brand. And he praises Apple for interacting with consumers to evolve the product.

Steve Rubel reflects on his own experience of senior marketers in large corporations. He finds that they all want to push for dialogue with consumers. However, their companies cannot adapt to the dialogue. He sees them as being “trapped in a monologue world.” He likens them to the leaders of the Soviet Union before it fell – dominated by the truths of earlier great leaders and unable to embrace to the realities of the world around them.

An interesting exchange worth listening to.

  • Dave makes a very good case for confronting the swiftly changing realities of our market. Before the emergence of the Internet, and more recently the blog/podcast explosion, marketers and communicators had considerable control over the positioning and therefore the perceptions of their brands. We controlled the news releases, the advertising, the promotions, the events, and even those guerilla PR tactics that looked spontaneous but weren’t. When the situation demanded it, we even created advocacy groups to give voice to legitimate but often unheard or unorganized stakeholders. We had considerable influence, not total control, over messages and perceptions. Courtesy of the Internet, the blogosphere, and podcasting, marketers and communicators are now sharing the levers of influence with anyone with gumption and a computer. Discerning audiences blessed with judgment will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. But what of the others? This new paradigm, this democratization of marketing and communications, demands that we as PR professionals lift our heads above the turbulence for a clearer view, and not bury them in the sand.

    This is now our new world. If we don’t embrace it, learn it, and master it for our clients’ benefit, we risk devloving into irrelevance at a speed Darwin would never have foreseen. So let’s think about what David has said. Let’s think about the power of conversations and the channels we now have to trigger them and influence their course.

    By definition, ad agencies are sentenced to offer their clients creative commercials in a limited sphere of diminishing influence. As communicators, we have the opportunity and the obligation to step outside of our comfortable world of special events, media relations, speaking opps, and even websites, and explore the new universe that is expanding before our eyes. We may not yet know as much as we should about this new world (after all, it’s changing every day) but standing still is not an option.

    Standing still means moving backwards, and that object we see looming ever larger in our side mirrors is irrelevance. Intrepid means “without trepidation or fear.” Time for us all to join Dave and as intrepid explorers of the new world. We owe it to ourselves and to our clients… and the competitive reality demands it…

  • Paul Zanettos

    I agree with both Dave and Terry. Unfortunately, the ones in charge are still pretty set in their ways. The best we can do as PR pros is to read up and prepare for the new PR world order. In other words, when clients finally ask for it, we have something to offer.