This interview first appeared in CEO Today Magazine, November 2018 Edition.
Julia Meighan is Chair at VMA GROUP. Founded more than 40 years ago, VMA GROUP is an international interim and permanent recruitment and executive search specialist for communications, digital and marketing. With 35 consultants, they operate from hubs in the UK, continental Europe and Asia, and work with clients across all industry sectors from SMEs to multinational corporations, public sector and not-for-profit organisations. Julia is passionate about stakeholder communications and developing the vital role of communications as the custodian of an organisation’s corporate reputation. She champions the progression of women into Senior Executive roles, and chairs VMA GROUP’s Advisory Boards across Europe and Asia. We spoke with Julia about company reputations, managing stakeholders in a business, and the ins and outs at VMA GROUP.
What have been VMA GROUP’s biggest developments in the last 5-10 years and what role do your Advisory Boards play in helping you shape your business?
The growth of our business is based on the increasingly central role that communications now plays in organisations, transitioning from back-office support to a core strategic function. Our niche focus on communications means that the relationships we have developed with clients over years have grown internationally, in line with the international growth of their communications functions, and this has fueled our own international expansion.
Globally, our Advisory Boards comprise over 80 senior communications leaders across all industry sectors. The Boards allow us access to high quality advice which enables us to better serve our clients by test-driving ideas and acting as a sounding board. Through these Boards, we also aim to encourage greater involvement of senior communications leaders within the communications community, which enhances their position within their own organisation.
What are the biggest challenges to consider when managing and protecting a company reputation?
It is important to recognise that reputation is more than just a brand – it is an indicator of an organisation’s value and performance, and plays a significant role as relationship capital, impacting staff (existing and potential), customer expectations, supplier attitudes, investor confidence and so on. With an increase in activism, where an organisation’s stakeholders are able to freely commentate and expect a higher degree of transparency, there is much greater pressure to gain the trust of both internal and external stakeholders. Delivering meaningful, authentic messages is important to that, and it is crucial that a CEO’s personal brand is aligned with their organisation’s values – inconsistent and inauthentic messages are no longer tolerated by either internal or external audiences.
With stakeholder communication being crucial in today’s fast-paced, always ‘switched-on’ business environment, how can companies effectively manage their various stakeholder groups?
Globalisation, technology and fragmented stakeholder groups mean organisations must plan coordinate and integrate messages more effectively than ever before. While the communications and marketing functions have a strategic role to play in setting the roadmap for stakeholder management, CEOs must set the expectation that everyone on their senior leadership team has a role to play as a communicator. These same leadership teams need to recognise that this ethos should be replicated throughout their organisation, where employees become important advocates in support of the business.
What is your top advice for helping communications leaders increase their impact and influence at board level?
Our own research* with business leaders highlights that communications must be part of the leadership framework and company strategy must be informed by its communications leader. Communications leaders therefore need to have the confidence to lead rather than advise. Our research with CEOs identified several capabilities which they now look for in their communications leaders, which I would like to share here:
We are seeing a significant change in the way business is conducted and organisations are under pressure to deliver growth cost efficiently. This requires sustainable business transformation strategies, often involving restructuring or reorganisation around Digital, Finance, HR, IT and M&A activity. More than ever there is a central role for communications and marketing and the increasing convergence we are seeing between these functions, along with integration with HR, is resulting in more effective and consistent internal and external messaging during these periods of change.
*You can now download a copy of VMA GROUP’s report Beyond communications: A CEO perspective on reputation leadership. For further information about any of the issues raised in this article please contact us.