What does it take to be a Chief Communication Officer?

The role of the Chief Communication Officer (CCO) is evolving rapidly in this era of digital disruption. Communication leaders and their teams are uniquely positioned to help nurture the kind of high-velocity cultures that will help organizations thrive, according to research by McKinsey & Company.  Not surprisingly, this also means that communication leaders are increasingly expected to actively participate in the formulation and implementation of business strategy.

What, then, are the skills, competencies, and attributes that organizations are looking for in their communication leaders? Continue reading “What does it take to be a Chief Communication Officer?”

How a capstone project turned into a book

During my studies in the Corporate and Organizational Communication master’s program, I had the pleasure to meet Kathleen Anderson. A young, inspiring woman from Edinburgh who came to the States to pursue her graduate degree. In 2016, she returned to Edinburgh not only with her degree, but also with a book. A book she wrote herself. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask her all about it and was more than excited when she agreed to have a spontaneous chat with me about her journey.

First of all, congratulations on your book launch! This is awesome. Tell us, how did it all start?

Thank you, it’s been a crazy few months. This whole project started when I submitted my capstone project for my Masters in Corporate and Organizational communications in April 2016. Never did I think it would take me on this adventure.

I chose to research a fitness organization called November Project which I had been a part of during my time in Boston. The morning before I found out my course grade, I was at a November Project workout; other members had remembered I was submitting it on the Friday and spent the morning congratulating me and giving me big hugs. Many of them, of course, had remembered as they had been involved in my research through interviews and surveys. I was incredibly passionate about the organization which I think showed in my work. I spoke to my professor, Carl Zangerl, and we both thought I could do something with this, and it could be so much more than just a thesis.

At what point did you decide that you want to make a book out of your capstone thesis? 

Carl put me in touch with Patty Goodman, another faculty member, who was extremely passionate about the idea of turning my capstone project into a short book. We discussed everything from academic publication to an e-book. We even looked into how I could incorporate my blog about living in the United States. Patty and Carl’s excitement and encouragement made me realize that this could be a possibility. I could write a book!

I know from past experience that a professor in the UK would never encourage a masters student to write a book, but in the United States I believe they all have a little more positivity. I left the meeting with Patty almost in a state of shock, as I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I called my dad and said “I think I’m going to write a book.”

How did you ultimately turn your thesis into a book?

At the point I decided I was going to go for it and try to write a book, I only had five weeks left living in the States. Those five weeks were full of traveling, but the good thing about traveling is you have a lot of time on planes and in airports, which for me is a great opportunity to write.

The first step was to edit my capstone project to give it a more conversational tone. Then I decided to add in a few blog pieces I had written to give my personal story of how free fitness changed my life. Through this process, a chapter structure organically appeared. It evolved into what I now call ‘Sweaty Hugs’, an amalgamation of my thesis, further interviews, and my personal story of living in the United States as a Brit. It tackles everything from mental health to community building, homesickness to achieving your goals, using the November Project fitness movement as a case study. Once I had the first draft I had to find an editor who was willing to take me on, which was a lot easier than I expected. From there it was editing, editing, and more editing. One of the best things I did was research. Taking time to speak to other authors gave me a realistic viewpoint of how this project could go and how much time I would have to dedicate. Then in February 2017, exactly ten months after my meeting with Carl and Patty, my book was published.

Is it true that you gave up your job recently to promote your book full-time?

I did! It was a scary leap to take, but a necessary one. Promoting a book takes a lot of time, effort, and most importantly passion to be a success. Therefore, I made the decision to take a leap of faith and dedicate the next six months to this project. Before I left my job, I had already started scheduling, networking and spreading the word of Sweaty Hugs. But I knew that was only the beginning.

I didn’t know if it was going to be the right thing to do, and I knew that if I didn’t give it a go I would always regret it. But so far it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

How are you promoting your book and in which countries is the a book available?

I do not have a publishing agent; therefore, I am doing everything myself – social media, events, website, promotional materials, networking, everything!

Currently Sweaty Hugs is only available in the UK, but over the next month we should be available in Europe, US and Canada. I hope to be over in the United States promoting the book in autumn 2017.

In the meantime, I have a great six month schedule of events across the UK, everything from fitness expos to book festivals, TEDx speaker appearances to bootcamp events.

One of the best partnerships that has happened is between Sweaty Hugs and Lululemon. They are hosting our events across the UK and the United States later this year. Having the support of a prestigious brand like Lululemon has been unbelievable as it has given Sweaty Hugs credibility in the fitness world and a much larger online reach. I couldn’t be more grateful for their support.

What’s your best advice for somebody who wants to write a book?

Stop! – Deciding the time to stop editing and finalize your manuscript is very difficult. You have to be strict with yourself, when you say stop, really stop. I learned this the hard way and it set the whole project back by a month. So step away from the manuscript when you are finished because there will come a point where you can do more and shouldn’t do anymore.

Don’t be too harsh on yourself – it is so easy when you are writing on your own to be hard on yourself. You need to keep momentum up and be positive. At times I would forget why I was doing this and think of giving up but luckily I didn’t. Taking time away from the manuscript helped, particularly as my book has a lot of humor in it. I started to think it wasn’t funny anymore but actually I had just read it too many times.

Kathleen Anderson

And remember you’re never going to be able to please everyone with what your writing. I was listening to the Tim Ferris podcast the other day when he said “I don’t know the sure path to success, but the sure path to failure is trying to please everyone.” Keep that in mind when you are having one of those days.

To find out more about Sweaty Hugs, check out the website: https://www.sweatyhugsthebook.com/

Posted by Bianca Gasser CPS ’16

Strengthening our program — underscoring the value of your degree

We’re kicking off 2017 with several initiatives. The first involves adding more concentrations to our master’s program to meet the needs of our students – we’ll soon have eight concentrations! And the second is designed to create additional pathways to a graduate education by offering transfer credit for demonstrated competencies.

New Concentrations
We are introducing two new concentrations. The first is essentially a ‘management track’ for communication professionals who have at least 5 years of experience and are managing a communication team or aspire to. The concentration has a rather long-winded title – Leading Communication Strategy and Talent Development. It will be an interdisciplinary program with three new courses that will be based on research that Zorana Mihic, a current student in our program, and I are conducting. We plan to share our research findings with you in the coming weeks.

The second new concentration, Cross-Cultural Communication, is being designed by my colleague Patty Goodman. It too is interdisciplinary and drills much deeper into the skills and knowledge required to communicate effectively to diverse audiences. A unique feature with this concentration is an option of selecting an international path or social justice path. Both paths include two new courses focused on cultural awareness employing a Cultural Intelligence (CQ) assessment and developing strategic action plans.

Multiple Pathways to a Graduate Education at Northeastern
Northeastern is actively promoting ways to recognize the competencies potential students have demonstrated by granting advanced standing transfer credit where these competencies map to specific course learning outcomes in our program. The accreditation examinations of several professional associations have met that standard of academic rigor. We therefore will grant transfer credit (representing a tuition discount of from 7% to 20%) for the following certifications: PRSA’s Accreditation in Public Relations, the Society of Human Resource Management’s SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certifications, and IABC’s Communication Management Professional certification. If you have colleagues or friends with these certifications, please encourage them to consider an accelerated graduate degree in our program!

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

Making a Mark in 2017






January is often a time to develop resolutions for the New Year. Prior to thinking ahead, I like to reflect on the past. It can be fruitful to consider the communication trends at the societal level, which often influence the corporate strategies.  Based on evaluating my social networks, I noticed communication processes in 2016 were unique. Although I tried to avoid American political discussions, the communication strategies both formal and informal were fascinating.  When teaching abroad, I was a bit surprised how much of the world was turned into American politics. By the time Fall came around and the American political debates were in full swing, it was difficult to avoid some form of political commentary. Additionally, the communication strategies employed in the political campaigns incorporated intriguing communication techniques both on large scale and storytelling, which seemed to make connections across generations and cultures. I have no doubt research and editorials will be written analyzing the impact of mass media on our social networks, like Facebook and Twitter. In the following, I will highlight some communication anomalies from 2016 and propose a challenge for 2017.

First, let’s take into consideration that as communication professionals, we might evaluate content as having value or interest, then share it within our network. I too take part in this sharing of articles and videos. In 2016, it appeared the political divides forged unprecedented open forums in social media to voice political “propaganda.” Even with the vast amounts of information available, our interpretation of the content can be subjective based on our own reality.  Did you notice a greater number of informational silos being developed? I did within my social networks and truly struggled with the level of political communication and miscommunication.

From an ethical communication perspective, these pieces of political “propaganda” and persuasive techniques might influence others. What does it mean to accept diversity and be inclusive? I find there is value in trying to understand multiple perspectives, even when there might be fundamental differences. Can we listen without being personally obligated to agree? I found myself acknowledging other’s voices are important, but avoided engaging in personal views. My thoughts has been that it might be just as important to be aware and avoid getting caught up in a frenzy of negativity.  

In an effort to maintain a positive attitude, I took control over what I would view. I will admit that I was one of those, who unfriended relatives and longtime friends with passionate political views at either end of the spectrum. On the political front, I really tried to gather information from multiple perspectives prior to formulating my judgment. This is not an easy process and I was not always successful.

So, at what point do we unplug, make a stand, or take a pause? Do we have sufficient understanding of how this information era and open-forum social media environment are influencing our society? I posed these questions as points to ponder because I certainly do not have a definitive answer.

Hence, it is time to make our mark in 2017.  There is a common adage, Attitude is everything!  “Attitude is a powerful determinant of evaluative responses to the source and content of influence attempts (Pratkanis, A., Breckler, S., & Greenwald, A., 2014, p.438).”  One interpretation is that if you look for the positive, you will see the positive. As communications professionals we value understanding the full picture, how do we apply information from diverse perspectives?

I plan to focus on optimism in 2017. Not in a vacuum; but convinced that with a good attitude, seeking to understand, and being collaborative, great opportunities are ahead of us. How about you?


Pratkanis, A. R., Breckler, S. J., & Greenwald, A. G. (2014). Attitude structure and function. Psychology Press.

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty

Have you been to a professional conference lately?

Why were professional conferences developed? My guess is as a means of efficiently delivering professional development to a large group of people at once. It was a one-stop shop for confirming regulations, gathering new knowledge, gaining motivation, and meeting like-minded people. In our information-rich society, we can click a button to gather data, learn tidbits, and communicate with people across the globe. Has this surge of information and social media changed the image of conferences? Is attending conferences a thing of the past?

If I was asked last year, do you plan on attending a conference this year? I would likely have said, I don’t have time. However, I ended up attending five. Yes, five conferences within six months! I do not share this to boast, but am truly shocked myself. Why would I attend so many and was there value? I should provide a bit of explanation. One was associated to a presentation and another was a result of being part of the planning committee. This still leaves three, which does seem like a high number of conferences to attend. Yet, I will tell you that I would do it all again! Below are some visual takeaways.


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All of the conferences that I invested my time and resources were associated with different parts of my personal and career development. Although so much information is available at the touch of a button, I don’t make the time or space to focus on it. Do you?

In particular, I was enriched by attending a professional conference with engaging topics. I was stretched by participating in the planning of our college faculty development conference. Moreover, I was fulfilled from attending an empowerment conference and an alumni conference.

Personally, I found there is a difference in sharing a space with others, engaging in conversation, and being outside of my comfort zone. Honestly, I did not gain new knowledge, but I gathered many amazing stories and developed new connections.  Considering the importance of a strong network, I would say I have been able to develop a deeper network. This in turn offers opportunities to build deeper relationships with people having shared interests.

Below are some links to communication related conferences in order of career focus:

So I ask you, have you been to a professional conference lately? If you have found a good conference, please share the conference name in the comments.  If your answer is no, consider finding one that connects with your personal or career goals. You might be surprised how a conference colleague might become part of your inner-circle.

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty

Whats’s on your must-read org comm list?

I find that staying abreast of trends in a dynamic field like organizational communication seems, at times, hopeless. The first challenge is that there are so many moving parts!

Consider, for instance, digital media. It seems like every week a new digital medium emerges, taking the communication world by storm. I’m still coming to grips with Facebook and Twitter as organizational communication tools!

Add to this a plethora of information sources: online newsletters, blogs, consulting reports, white papers, vendors pushing their best and brightest ideas. In this kind of environment, how do you separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff?

Where to begin? I’ve found that registering for a few information sources that I can rely upon for substantive and timely content is the key.

At the top of my list is the online McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm serving businesses, NGOs, and nonprofits.


The Quarterly combines insights from McKinsey with ideas from other world-leading experts and practitioners. Content is organized in broad categories such as industries, business functions, and global themes.

The target audience is also broad, including executives at major corporations, professionals representing a wide range of functional responsibilities — and, yes, graduate students! McKinsey’s research on the consumer decision journey, for instance, has fundamentally changed the way I — and many of my students — look at marketing communication.

As communicators, we face the challenge of keeping up not only with trends in the communication field, but also with what’s happening in the business and nonprofit world. Business models, for example, are changing rapidly with the advent of digital technologies, and that has implications for the way we communicate with both internal and external stakeholders.

All the Quarterly’s articles and multimedia content are available free of charge at the site and you can sign-up for email alerts.

What’s at the top of your organizational communication reading list!

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

The Vision ‘thing’ – Northeastern 2025

As John Kotter (2002) argues in The Heart of Change, visioning “involves trying to see possible futures. It inevitably has both a creative and emotional component” (p. 68). As communicators, one of our jobs is often to help craft visions, and, more often, to talk about them in a way that will inspire our audiences.

Northeastern’s president, Joseph Aoun, recently announced that the Board of Trustees had approved Northeastern 2025, the university’s vision for the next decade.

Take a look. Personally, I find this vision inspirational; it motivates me to think about how the vision translates into enhancements in our curriculum and how we can enrich the educational experience of our students.

Alumni also figure prominently in the Northeastern 2025 vision document, which states the following:

“As students graduate and continue to participate as alumni, they will plug into a multigenerational ecosystem of lifelong learning and career support—critical to personal and professional resilience.

Northeastern 2025 will integrate employer and alumni networks as sources of lifelong learning, teaching, mentoring, and innovation. Our campuses around the world will serve as amplifiers for integration—pathways to richly diverse networked relationships, including employer and alumni partnerships, affinity groups, and topical communities. Employers and alumni will also take on more formal and informal mentoring and learning assessment responsibilities.”

What could this all mean for you, our alumni?

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

Get out and vote! Need a ride?

In the last six months, we’ve been doing a lot to embed experiential learning opportunities into our master’s curriculum, from traditional co-ops to international field study courses to experiential capstones.

For me, experiential learning means, quite simply, learning in action. This happens when we apply a skill, a concept, an insight, a new way of looking at things in order to communicate more effectively. This is what we hope to motivate and enable our students (and our alumni!) to do.

An example. Nicole Wild Merle, a recent alumna who is based in Charlotte, applied what she learned in her social media and assessment courses in a co-op project, WomenVotes. You can read about this creative initiative here.

Some of our students and alumni in Charlotte: Martha Alexander, Corinne Guidi, Pamela Darcy-Demski, Kimberly Powers
Some of our students and alumni in Charlotte: Martha Alexander, Corinne Guidi, Pamela Darcy-Demski, Kimberly Powers

But this was just the first step. Along with many other volunteers and nonprofits, Nicole has harnessed digital media to help people get to the polls. As Brian Rashid writes in Forbes, “Carpool2Vote is the first ever volunteer based app that provides free rides to the polls for people all across America. Even the major ridesharing platforms are not offering such a service. Yes, they offer vouchers and gift certificates, but only one-way, and only to new users. Carpool2Vote, on the other hand, offers free rides to anyone who signs up. No credit redemptions. No stress about whether or not you are a first time user. Free for everyone.”

We’d like to hear your stories of ‘learning in action’ — share your stories by commenting or drop me a line at c.zangerl@northeastern.edu. to tell your full story in your own blog post”.

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

So what do you really think? Results of first-ever CPS Alumni Survey

Last spring, CPS sent out a survey to all alumni to determine how graduates felt about their educational experience. The response rate for graduate students was 12.9% — a decent rate of return with higher percentages of 2014 and 2015 graduates. Overall, the results were positive. 83% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their CPS degree was a worthwhile investment.

The net promoter score (NPS) results were especially interesting. Here’s the methodology. The basic NPS question is: On a scale of 1 (not likely at all) to 10 (extremely likely), how likely are you to refer “X” to a family member, friend, orcolleague? Survey respondents with a 9 or 10 are categorized as PROMOTERS, and are most likely to demonstrate “value‐creating” behaviors, such as making more positive referrals. Those responding with a 7 or 8 are categorized as PASSIVES, and are somewhat likely to demonstrate value‐creating behaviors. Those responding with a 1‐6 are categorized as DETRACTORS, and are least likely to demonstrate value‐creating behaviors.

The classic NPS score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of of promoters.

So how did Corporate and Organizational Communication do?

Our program had an NPS of 51%, compared with 29% for the average CPS program, and ranked in the top two master’s programs overall. By way of benchmarking, Harvard Business School’s NPS was 41% (Source: NPS Benchmarks).

So this is definitely a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for the program – a concept you all remember from CMN 6910, Organizational Communication Assessment. Based on this data, we hope you’ll refer friends and colleagues to the program.

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

Intercultural communication – upfront and personal

I’ve had the good fortune to travel this year to Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand relating to my research and teaching roles. In the process, I gained some insights that I would like to share in the following anecdotes. These musings are meant to be opportunities for pause and reflection. Have you had similar experiences? Comments and open discussion are welcome.

It all began when I let go

After the closing ceremony of the International Communication Association Conference in Fukuoka, Japan, I decided to venture out of the city to find the Nanzoin Temple, famous for its 41 meter long reclining Buddha statue.

I was a bit apprehensive about taking the subway to the regional train station since few of the locals spoke English. Once I showed the picture of my destination from my phone to the woman behind the ticket window, I had my round-trip ticket to Kidonanzoin-Mae. Excited to figure out the right train track and which station to get off, I had my confidence back.

As I stepped off the train with no one in sight, the little voice in my head said, “what now!” I turned to my left and noticed a woman looking at a map on her phone. “Would you happen to be heading to the Nanzoin Temple?,” I asked. Her response in English was, “Yes, want to find it together?” Esther was on holiday from her work in Australia and knew a bit more Japanese than I did.

Even so, we ended up getting lost, coming across many cultural treasures along the way. Eventually, we found the Nanzoin Temple despite missing signs.


The entire episode was a great learning moment: Just ask and go with it! Could the essence of intercultural communication be accepting your current circumstances and being agile with your surroundings?


Tokyo Efficiency

There were boundless opportunities to test my ability to employ intercultural communication techniques in Tokyo. Through discussions with Japanese friends, I was prepared for the basic cultural customs of an indirect communication style, distance in personal space, and emphasis on punctuality.

The Japanese also value efficiency, as I realized when scanning a map of the Tokyo train system. Transit map of Tokyo

As the photo shows, the public transportation authorities created one map showing all the routes. From the perspective of an international traveler, I admit to being completely intimidated by this map. I recall wise words offered to me, “Being efficient might not always be the best.” Those words rang true for me in this situation. As a visitor to the city, I would have been better served with a different map displaying options for traveling in specific directions. Thank goodness people were helpful when I asked questions, and asked questions, and asked questions. Get the picture. From a communication perspective, one size (of map) did not fit all!


Recognizing the big picture

During an early morning in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, I observed several vignettes, snapshots of daily life, that seemed so familiar. A woman held a small bicycle while a little girl climbed onto the seat. With one push, the little girl pedaled and was off. With a smile, the woman jogged beside the bike and redirected the handle bars as needed. Another woman was cradling a baby in her arms and balancing a bottle. There are some security guards resting on a bench; their long night patrolling the park, I imagined,  is coming to a close. Further along, a group of mature women were exercising to music with a special percussion instruments.

Ho Chi Minh City

I could have been at Danehy Park in Cambridge, the English Garden in Munich, Herastrau Park in Bucharest, or Parque Centro America Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, seeing very similar vignettes.
A realization hit me that we all belong to one culture — the culture of humanity. When I look for differences in cultures, I can certainly find them. There is value in seeking to understand these differences. Yet, when I seek similarities, I can find those too.  Could the best means of mastering intercultural communication be finding a balance between the two?


Maintaining cultural history

I often wonder, as we become more global, how cultures will maintain their heritage. Will stories start to blend or histories become blurred?

In Ho Chi Minh City, I witnessed just the opposite. Here, the Vietnamese authorities storyboards in Vietnamhave enshrined the legacy of Ho Chi Minh in very visual ways. In Ho Chi Minh Square, there are permanent storyboards to commemorate his life and his relationship with city.

While walking around the square, which is the hub of the city and crowded with people, one can see pictures of the revolutionary struggle and read about Ho Chi Minh’s rise as a leader, as well as the government’s role in providing services to the people and in nurturing cultural customs.

When heading to the main center of the town, more storyboards are found along the side of government buildings. This series shares more recent events and celebrations hosted by the government and the community. There is a clear sense that the emphasis is on the collective unity and shared success of the Vietnamese culture.

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Is this the kind of very public symbolism that will counteract the blurring of cultural heritages? Has anyone seen similar displays? Been to Havana?



The Power of a Sign

While in Bangkok, Thailand, I experienced a real eye opener. I had spent the day with a local guide learning about Thai history and religious practices. It had been a fascinating day, one with many moments of awe and wonder. Honestly, it wasn’t until I saw this sign that I realized I had been disrespecting what I thought was a beautiful symbol of peace.

Buddha poster

I am not a practicing Buddhist and mean no disrespect to those worshiping Buddha. I appreciated what this sign communicated. I had a learning moment that intercultural communication is not always seeking to understand, but recognizing when you have misunderstood. Have you experienced such an eye opener?



Intercultural Communication vs Crisis Communication

In our internet-driven society, cyber hacking is a common occurrence.  From an intercultural communication perspective, should corporations take into account different communication styles when communicating a case of cyber hacking? One example might be using Hofstede’s National Cultural Dimensions to guide wording and emphasis to tailor messages to specific audiences. Or is one message conveying clear and timely information about the hacking incident, along with sincere regret effective for all audiences?

Taking a realistic business perspective, sensitive customer data is vulnerable when exposed. A crisis management plan that takes into account clear and direct information, in a timely manner with sincere regret might be the most effective from a customer’s perspective. I received this message from Vietnam Airlines within 24 hours of the identified incident.

Hacking message

I would have liked to also know what the airline is doing to prevent future hacking. I did appreciate the quick notification. How would you rate this communication?

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty