HR meets corporate communications: Rise of a new C-suite role for life sciences companies.

Kim Kraemer
May 06, 2024

In today’s rapidly evolving life science industry, the role of Chief Communications Officer and Chief Human Resources Officer are becoming increasingly intertwined as employees become one of the most influential stakeholders and drivers of corporate success. As a result, more companies are uniting these functions into a modern-day C-Suite role with a reputation-centric remit. The task: prioritize the employee experience while communicating a cohesive narrative that effectively engages all audiences.

To gain insights into this emerging hybrid position, I sat down with Corcept’s Amy Flood, a biotech industry leader and trail blazer who is successfully navigating the dynamic intersection of communications and HR. Amy joined Corcept from Gilead in 2021 to become the company’s first Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer.

In my conversation with Amy, she shares her journey and perspectives on what goes into building a strong employee experience as part of her charter to manage corporate reputation. (This conversation has been edited and condensed.)

By integrating HR and Communications functions into one group, team members can work together seamlessly and tackle projects collaboratively.
Amy Flood
Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer

Q: Can you tell us about your experience transitioning from a traditional public affairs role to a combined HR and communications role?

Amy: I had been at Gilead for 20 years, and I was leading Public Affairs at the time. I never thought about leaving but COVID changed my perspective on work and family.  I was being pulled to do something different and do it differently.  My exploratory conversations led me to an insight that much of my richest, most enjoyable experiences had been gained collaborating with HR on significant organizational initiatives.  When I was approached by Corcept, the timing and opportunity aligned perfectly. The role of Chief of Human Resources and Communications Officer was newly created, and I saw the potential to shape both functions.

Q: How have your experiences as a communications and HR professional shaped your philosophy about company reputation as something to be centrally managed?

Amy: First, you must be clear on the role of reputation. The success of a company is about the people it hires, motivates, and retains to advance its goals.  It’s also about knowing who should care and why we try to influence them more broadly – whether it’s speaking to investors, educating patients and advocacy groups, or engaging physicians to enroll the right people in a clinical trial.  If you accept this, the philosophy and synergy is easy to see.  It is about the story you tell and it’s where companies often see a gap.

Q: How do you divide your time between HR and communications?

Amy: While the division of my time varies from day to day, most of my focus is on HR. As a growing company, it was crucial to build a strong HR foundation and we’ve done that integrating benefits, performance management, learning & development, and internship programming, among other things. We have also built a small but stellar communications team, and I am excited to begin more proactively telling our story.

Q: How do you approach building Corcept’s reputation in the industry?

Amy: Building Corcept’s reputation is not just about name recognition or being liked; it’s about attracting the best talent and fostering trust among everyone with whom we interact. We focus on clarity of purpose to ensure that our external messaging aligns with the reality of our company culture and values. Employees want companies and leaders that stand for something, and it must be authentic.

Q: What is your vision for building Corcept’s employee experience?

Amy: Our vision is centered around authenticity and co-designing programs with our employees. We want to ensure that the experience we promise during the hiring process is consistent with the reality of working here. By partnering with employees from various functions, we gather valuable input and continuously refine our programs to meet their needs.

Q: How do you gather feedback from employees and incorporate it into your programs?

Amy: Gathering feedback has to happen all day, every day, and it starts with listening to what people are saying and what they aren’t saying. We encourage open dialogue to understand different perspectives and expectations, whether someone has worked for the company for 10 years or 10 days. When we receive feedback, we make it a priority to report back to employees and explain how their input has influenced our decisions. This transparency builds trust and reinforces our commitment to creating an employee-centric environment.

Q: How are you attracting people to the company and building brand awareness?

Amy: We have taken a multi-faceted approach to attracting top talent. Our talent acquisition team actively participates in conferences and meetings relevant to our industry. Word of mouth referrals have also increased, providing an authentic perspective on working at Corcept. Additionally, we utilize targeted posting and advertising, casting our net wider to reach a diverse pool of potential candidates.

Q: What drives the trend of combining HR and Communications?

Amy: Employees and their instrumental role in the success of any business, as well as the hybrid work environment and the need for effective internal communication are key drivers. With remote work becoming more prevalent, it is essential to ensure employees are well-informed and engaged. Additionally, attracting and retaining top talent in a competitive market requires a strong employer brand and a positive company culture. Combining HR and Communications makes it easier to address these challenges.

Q: What advice would you give to CEOs on structuring HR and Comms teams in a hybrid way?

Amy: It is crucial to find individuals who are clear on the CEO’s vision for where he or she wants to take the company, rather than focusing solely on specific experience. By integrating HR and Communications functions into one group, team members can work together seamlessly and tackle projects collaboratively with less friction. Breaking away from rigid job descriptions and considering different backgrounds can also foster diversity and innovation within the organization.

Q. What advice would you give to a communications professional wanting to take the leap to a hybrid HR and communications role?

Amy: Recognize this isn’t just about HR and Corporate Communications – the amazing thing is you get insight into the innerworkings of a company.  As a communicator, I was brought in on many corporate issues and served as part of integration teams post acquisition. That’s what gave me more awareness and exposure to the work of integrating roles, title, benefits, and HR systems.  It also gave me confidence to tackle this role. Communications people are natural problem solvers and tend to be good listeners, especially the internal communications folks who are skilled at capturing the voice of different leaders.  That’s a big piece of what we are doing: not just listening but really hearing what people are asking for and why!

Amy’s experience as an HR and communications leader illustrates a new potential career pathway for corporate communications and HR professionals who thrive on building brands from the inside out.  As life science companies continue to emerge and evolve, the integration of HR and Communications could create a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent and becoming recognized as an employer, investment, and partner of choice.