NEW YORK: More than 7-in-10 global chief communications officers (CCOs) rank digital communications as their top priority over the next 18 months, although employee engagement is a higher priority for CCOs in North America.

Indeed, a full 90% of North American CCOs cite employee communications as a top tier responsibility compared to just 70% of their EMEA counterparts.

These are some of the headline findings in "The Rising CCO" report by Weber Shandwick, the global communications firm, and Spencer Stuart, the executive search consultants.

Now in its sixth year, the report questioned more than 150 top CCOs in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America about their expectations and priorities for the next 18 months.

According to the report, CCOs in every region reported that digital and social media would be their "closest working partners" in the future, which the report added, aligns with a related trend of using data analytics to evaluate corporate reputation, refine messaging, and identify company supporters.

Part of the digital challenge involves cyber security, and nearly half (47%) said they spend a great deal or a lot of time with the issue, followed by understanding shifts in consumer behaviour (45%) and managing financial crises (44%).

In terms of effective structures within their organisations, a full 80% of global CCOs said their marketing and communications departments are more collaborative than ever, while 54% said they expect the two functions to integrate fully in the next two years.

Human resources also has an important role to play and 83% of CCOs reported working closely with HR colleagues – almost as much as they do with marketing (86%).

And by a wide margin, North American CCOs (93%) said they are more likely to count HR as close partners compared to 75% of CCOs in EMEA.

Commenting on the findings, Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick, said: "Clearly, global CCOs take their jobs as reputation guardians seriously and are ever-vigilant about protecting their company reputations from harm, whether it be cyber threats, crises of any kind, or the growing importance of employee engagement."

Data sourced from Spencer Stuart, Weber Shandwick; additional content by Warc staff