2018: A Year in Review

Popularity down

2018 is not a year that would go gently into the good night. From corporate scandals to political dramas and a growing public trust deficit – the annual Edelman Trust Barometer showed no general recovery of trust in institutions globally – this is a year marked by reputational gaffes that would challenge even the most seasoned corporate affairs professional.

In an era of fake news, social activism and headline-grabbing exposés, exits and even arrests, the value of corporate reputation is higher than ever. How has this been reflected in the hiring trends for senior corporate affairs practitioners? We take a look back at 2018 and pulled out the key statistics underpinning trends that are likely to continue in 2019.

Technical competencies will get you through the door – but soft skills will get you the role. In defining the skills and attributes required for an executive level head of function role, technical competencies only make up 20% of the total criteria. Increasingly, soft skills such as leadership, ability to navigate complex environments, judgement, high emotional and culture intelligence, flexibility and resilience dominate the hiring criteria. This reflects the increasing stature of the corporate affairs function, and highlights the expectations C-suite leaders have on the person charged with protecting and enhancing a company’s reputation and its license to operate.

No longer ‘just PR’ – remit and responsibilities are increasingly more diverse as the function evolves. Only 7% of the roles we placed in 2018 had the word “Communications” in them. We saw more senior roles with additional responsibilities in sustainability and community advocacy, as well as roles skewed to public policy, regulatory and government affairs. The majority of the roles we placed were executive head of function roles, once again reflecting the growing trend of corporate affairs as a function with a true seat on the table.

The future is female – a great step forward for gender diversity at a leadership level. We saw a 32% increase in female candidates in our corporate affairs shortlist, a significant growth from 44% in 2017 to 76% this year. This is noteworthy progress in a function that has traditionally been overwhelmingly female at a junior- and middle-management level, but with a distinct thinning out of female practitioners at the top end.

More roles are opening up in heavily-regulated industries.  63% of our senior and executive placements were in the financial services, infrastructure and resources sectors. We are also seeing growing talent needs in the pharmaceuticals and insurance sectors. These are all heavily-regulated industries prone to government and media scrutiny, which is directly reflected in the type of corporate affairs talent these companies are looking to secure. We expect roles to open up in new sectors with similar regulatory and media pressures next year – including FinTech and e-Commerce companies as they continue to grow and expand into new markets.

Many of the external trends that shaped this year are likely to carry forward in 2019, with the additional gloomy prediction of a global economic slowdown. However, forward-looking organisations and astute CEOs know that this is the time to strengthen and enhance their approach to reputation management and therefore corporate affairs teams. We are optimistic that one of the key developments of 2019 will be the continued evolution of the function – and with it – new and exciting opportunities for corporate affairs leaders.

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