Communications executives are gaining importance in corporate America, according to a study by Conference Board, a business-funded research group in New York.

"During past economic downturns, communications was often viewed by top management as a function that was nice to have but expendable," says study author Kathryn Troy. "In the current period of rapid change, communications is being harnessed" to convey company strategy to both internal and external audiences, such as shareholders, she says.

The survey found that 40 percent of communications departments have cut their staffs over the last three years, but another 40 percent have expanded staffs.

Communications executives anticipate a rise in journalistic sensationalism, and that companies will come under increasing pressure from special interest groups to prove they are good corporate citizens, the survey found.

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