As we kick off the new year, we asked our practice group leaders to reflect on the trends they have seen in their industry in 2023 and what may lie ahead in 2024. Jessica Bayer, Managing Partner, Corporate Affairs and Communications, discusses enthusiastic hiring, evolving communication functions, AI, and what business leaders should be thinking about to stay ahead in 2024.
Trends in 2023
Thoughtful Hiring: After a period of overhiring, or as some refer to it, “enthusiastic hiring,” in corporate affairs across 2021 and 2022 (Deloitte reported that there was a 40% increase in the organization’s headcount in the corporate affairs function in 2022), companies were cautious about replacing communications talent or creating new roles in 2023. Combined with a pending recession, that created a slow first ¾ of the year. As conversations started to slow down about a recession and companies began to feel more stable, we saw thoughtful hiring pick up in September.
Since then, companies have remained thoughtful about creating new roles and replacing talent. The searches we’ve worked on across the past six months have all been well thought through, critical to the business, and approved at the highest level. So, while there have been fewer roles in corporate affairs across the last year, we have seen the value of the function rise.
The Impact of the Communications Function: We continue to see companies evolving their communications functions into corporate affairs functions. In fact, another Fortune 50 company named its first-ever Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. We are noticing the impact and a shift in what it means to be a communications leader. This study states that the communications function is trending toward centralization, which means communication leaders are now part of strategic discussions and navigating complexities.
AI Through A Communications Lens: In 2023, AI was integrated into various aspects of the communication function. Because of Generative AI’s capabilities, there was a fear of losing roles, but instead, AI has helped streamline processes. It has been suggested that AI can assist in brainstorming, content creation, and optimizing search engine content. GenAI should not be feared in the communications industry but should be incorporated into toolkits.
Predictions for 2024
- Higher Turnover in 2024: We typically see people change jobs in the February to May time frame as a result of the new year and bonus payouts. Because we didn’t see that movement at the end of 2022/early 2023, we predict a higher turnover in the corporate affairs function in early 2024.
- More Roles, Niche Skillset: There will be more roles available in communications in 2024 compared to 2023, but companies are combining several communications positions into one, so communications leaders are often asked to be responsible for multiple lines of business that were previously separate. These positions will require a niche skillset to be successful. A corporate affairs leader will need to adapt to a variety of leadership personas to deliver.
In a recent study, Deloitte found that these skills are desirable for a corporate affairs leader, which includes being an agent of change, embracing company complexity, being data first and a strategic collaborator between internal stakeholders, and being a social momentum builder who inspires and engages employees and attracts new talent.
- Corporate Affairs Continues to Evolve: The future of the corporate affairs leader is a reputation defender, a growth driver, and a strategist and storyteller. In 2024, companies need to look for leaders who are resilient, inspiring, and technically skilled to help organizations build and maintain strategic partnerships internally and externally, drive growth, and continue to thrive.
The corporate affairs and communications role is ever-evolving and challenging, and these factors will affect how organizations build their workforces and leadership teams. By staying up to date on the latest trends and developments, business leaders will be prepared to address these opportunities for continued success in 2024 and beyond.