Leadership Lessons with... Elaine McCrimmon, Founder, Corporate Affairs International

From the influential rise of Artificial Intelligence and the evolving role of Chief Communications Officers to the dynamic shifts in communication channels and the imperative for empathetic leadership, Elaine McCrimmon, Founder of Corporate Affairs International, shares her insights on the transformative trends shaping the industry in 2024. 

Elaine McCrimmonWhat significant trends do you foresee in your industry in 2024?

The adoption of Artificial Intelligence is certainly one of the biggest trends we are seeing across the board, particularly in marketing and communications. I’ve been an early adopter of AI, actively encouraging teams to understand and leverage AI insight and tools. There is so much potential for AI to increase productivity, increase effectiveness, help optimize, and generate greater impact. It’s like gaining a few more team members! However, the rise of AI demands leaders to be vigilant against misinformation and brings ethical considerations. Communicators need to help guide organizations on the responsible, ethical use of AI.

How do you see the role of the Chief Communications Officer evolve?

 We will continue to see the elevation of communications into the C-suite, and the broadening of the Chief Communications Officer role. The CCO is no longer just about messaging; we're strategic advisors. We're moving beyond "what to say, where, and how to say it" to "what’s the right thing to do". Communications and Corporate Affairs have never operated in a silo but now they need to lead beyond the function, providing strategic guidance and moral compass. Bringing marketing skills into the function and working seamlessly with the entire marketing function is increasingly important for Corporate Brands. The internal lines between functions are blurring and there is a need to build agile teams from across the organization with diverse backgrounds and skills. 

Looking ahead to 2024, what significant changes do you anticipate within our industry? Elaborate on the driving forces behind these changes and their potential implications for businesses in our sector.

2024 will continue to be a crowded media landscape with the potential risk of being drawn into political debates. This is a big election year, at least 50 countries will have elections, according to The Center for American Progress. Be aware of potential economic and political uncertainties, but remain proactive in addressing them, pivoting plans, when necessary, as the landscape evolves. 

I also think there is a shifting landscape in communication channels. I’m a fan of corporate podcasts to help bring the passion that exists inside organizations to external audiences. In general, people will scroll or read an article for 2-3 minutes online but will listen to a podcast for 20 minutes on average. For this reason, I believe we will continue to see growth in corporate podcasts.  

How should a leader evolve their style to navigate and embrace the volatility of the last few years?

I think there is a real need for empathetic leadership. I encourage teams to lead with transparency, open communication, and a genuine commitment to people to help foster trust and understanding. 

I also personally like to embrace continuous learning and encourage my teams to do the same.  

How do you think AI will impact the comms industry? What benefits do you see, and what concerns or challenges do you have?

As developers and coders need to become AI developers, Communicators need to become AI communicators - armed with the tools, knowledge, and know-how. AI is a game changer, providing predictive analytics, and an opportunity to shape the narrative. The opportunities to leverage AI are endless. 

The proliferation of AI will bring increased skepticism and the search for truth. The World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2024 shows that misinformation and disinformation have risen to the top of the risks over the next 2 years. Therefore, authentic and verifiable information will rise above the noise. According to the State of the Media Report 2023, the biggest priority for journalists is ensuring content is accurate. Communicators can help journalists by providing accurate, timely, and relevant information that will resonate with their audience.

How do you anticipate AI influencing your hiring practices and the specific skills or qualities you seek in potential hires?

There is a phrase that comes to mind - AI won’t take your job but someone that knows how to use AI will. People must update their skillset and ensure AI becomes part of their toolset. A recent report by Teneo indicates almost 80% of CEOs will be investing in AI this year but only 1 in 4 believe they have the right talent in place to adopt it. This leaves a capability gap to close. We need to encourage teams to move beyond experimentation, bringing AI into everyday processes and new ways of working. 

Equip your team with AI literacy and the ability to leverage AI tools effectively. Challenge your team to adopt an AI mindset, a mindset that challenges the status quo.

It’s important to upskill your team while seeking AI-savvy talent. Look for individuals who understand AI's potential and can apply it.

What are the top ESG trends for 2024 and what are their implications for PR professionals?

ESG has become toxic in many parts of the world. Focus on storytelling that showcases real impact on people and the planet. Focusing on practical, scalable solutions will help build trust. Engaging stakeholders on progress will help bring them along. 

Are you optimistic about 2024? If not, what challenges are you monitoring, and what measures are in place to address them? Conversely, if optimistic, what factors contribute to this outlook?

I’m always optimistic, albeit sometimes cautiously optimistic. I think we can embrace the challenges and opportunities of the evolving landscape. I’m optimistic because we’ve access to more data than ever before. Teams can utilize data and analytics to inform communication strategies and measure success at a much faster pace. Use the data to get even closer to your stakeholders, your customers, investors, and employees. Only by knowing your audience will you be able to exceed expectations, drive growth, and build reputation. 

What’s your recommendation to Communications leaders this year?

Here’s my four for 2024:

  1. AI as a mindset shift 

Challenge your team to adopt an AI mindset, not by using one tool but by changing current approaches and building AI into their day-to-day.

  2. Humanize 

In the era of AI, companies need to humanize.

  3. Data-Driven Reputation Building

Build reputation systematically through actionable insights and predictive analytics. Ensure you have the right blend of internal and external data that can help enhance reputation and drive growth.

  4. 360 Communications and engagement

We all need to listen more this year, to ensure we cut through the noise and are ready to pivot.

Posted on 12.01.2024

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