Helen Dunne, Editor of CorpComms magazine, has spent the past two months talking to the heads of comms and marketing at leading UK and global businesses. In this first overview of her research, Helen reveals that the reality of integrated marcomms is perhaps rather closer than many have suspected.
“The trouble with marketing and communications is that it is a little like Americans and the British,” comments one director of communications at a FTSE 100 organization. “They are separated by a common language.”
It is a view shared by many communications professionals. They see the role of a marketer as nebulous, worrying about branding, taglines, and ‘fluffy stuff,’ while their work is more hard-hitting, defending corporate reputations against a 24/7 barrage of media, stakeholder, and government scrutiny.
Marketers, on the other hand, often find it hard to grasp the necessity for corporate communicators and PR teams. After all, their objectives are clearly defined; they are there to lift sales, boost bookings, or drive traffic to websites, generating a real return on their investments. To them, PR represents a huge cost – often carved from their budgets – with a seemingly impossible-to-calculate return.
“We are realists,” says one comms director. “Marketers have a cheerleading mentality. Everything they say is amazing and they have this huge belief in what they do. Their world is black and white. Our world is a bit grey.”
“We think they don’t know what we do,” admits another. “Too often marketing sees comms as a sub-set, who just sit there and bang out press releases.” Or spin, as some marketers still describe it.
But the tide is turning. “I absolutely think that we have to work together,” says Nicola Green, Director of Communications at O2. “Nothing is more powerful than a campaign that is joined up. We shouldn’t be afraid of marketing. We have a role to play around the table.”
Nigel Prideaux, Director of Communications at insurance group Aviva, agrees. “This is my first in-house role and one of the reasons for me coming here was because communications is part of a strong marketing department.
“We are one team. We work hand-in-hand with marketing. We are a customer-facing brand with 31 million customers; the customer is front and center of everything we do. The customer is the source of our success. We need to build a strong, consistent, and coordinated reputation, and marketing and communications must talk as one to achieve that.”
Some of the wariness between the two disciplines is historic. Some relates to structural issues within organizations, such as when divisions set up dedicated marketing teams who fail to liaise outside their realm – even with other marketers to check they are not duplicating efforts – or to invite opinions from their counterparts in communications.
“Silos are and can be dangerous,” says Jeremy Beadles, Corporate Relations Director at Heineken. “I don’t see how unaligned working can be beneficial. We have similar business objectives; they are not exactly the same, and nor should they be. But overall I have got to ensure that we hit our numbers just as much as the marketing director does. And if our targets aren’t in conflict, then we should be aligned and cascaded.”
“Comms is valued,” says one marketer. “But it is not seen as powerful.”
“Marketing wants everybody to work to the same brief,” says Green, “but we always have to do the reputational piece to bring balance. We have to work collaboratively. Comms can be the forgotten piece. They come to us when all the messages are done. That just doesn’t work. We need to be brought in right at the start. They want to sell stuff but we have a role in helping them do that.”
“The big difference is that, with marketing, nobody really challenges what you say. You can buy a billboard and say what you like, but the same is not true for communications people,” explains Alistair Smith, Managing Director, Corporate Communications – Group, at Barclays. “Comms people have a responsibility for corporate reputation, and everything we do and say is mediated through other people. It is an intensely competitive field.”
Social media is starting to change the dynamics of the relationship. In many organizations, it is the communications team that manages the Twitter and Facebook accounts. As one PR executive says: “If we didn’t control these, we would have marketing trying to push any product that isn’t selling in the stores to our followers. We effectively operate as a quality control system. We control the message.”
But these channels also offer another opportunity for PR to prove their value by demonstrating the power of the networks they have created and nurtured. When Nick Sharples ran communications at Sony Europe, the company once sold one million euros’ worth of refurbished computers over Twitter. “It was the communications team who did that,” he explains.
“It was not sales or marketing. It was because we had set up a Twitter page and engaged with followers over time. We were able to sell more to them. If we had just set up a Twitter account, without gaining followers, then this would not have been possible. For us, it provided a clear return on investment.”
Comms and marketing may be separated by a common language. But what many in both disciplines have discovered – and often in real-time – is that our 24/7, social world has forced the two to work together toward a common goal of more effective, more impactful, more measurable communication.
This article is taken from a complete supplement researched and written by Helen Dunne for Ebiquity’s Reputation practice, to be published in July 2014. The supplement features interviews and case histories with companies including: 3, Aviva, Barclays, Debenhams, Heineken, Home Retail Group, Hotels4U (Thomas Cook), O2, Regus, and TSB.
To register your interest in receiving a soft or printed copy of the supplement, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Helen Dunne is Editor of CorpComms magazine
10 rules for better integration between corporate communications and marketing
Social media is increasingly blurring the lines of accountability and responsibility for brand communication between corporate communications and marketing. It is our experience at Ebiquity that, for these two functions to work in a successfully integrated and aligned fashion, it is essential that leadership and team members of both commit to a clear and consistent set of principles for collaboration. These should cover ways of working, measurement, culture, mutual respect, and a continuous process of test and refine.
Based on this experience, our observation and interrogation of client best practice, and the realities of theory in practice identified by CorpComms magazine’s Helen Dunne in her research project for Ebiquity, we have identified the following, ten-point framework for successful integrated communications.
- Work together right from the start – don’t bring in the other discipline at the point of launch.
- Agree and align KPIs, using simple, understandable, and meaningful performance metrics, such as effective delivery of aligned messages through paid as well as earned and owned media.
- Understand, accept, and appreciate the different – and complementary – impacts that the different roles have on the business and the business of communication.
- Create a common lexicon. Understand, for instance, what each means by media, media auditing, media analysis, channels, and coverage. They are not always the same.
- Don’t work in silos and ensure corporate communications and marketing teams are physically co-located, working together on projects in multidisciplinary teams. Use physical geography to foster collaboration.
- Demonstrate the value of your function to the business in a way that has meaning to the C-suite. C-suite endorsement of the integrated approach goes a long way toward making this way of working the new normal.
- Ensure lines of communication between corporate communications and marketing are kept open at all times. It may sound basic, but instituting a regular meeting between both groups is a critical starting point.
- Agree who controls which parts of social – work out what social can and should do for your organization, and plan social outreach with precision.
- Be prepared to be always ‘on’ – always available for proactive and reactive commentary – particularly because of social. The social revolution has made comms and marketing truly 24/7.
- Don’t try to control everything that happens, particularly in social. Be prepared to be the start of a branded communication, but let it take on its own life as your customers and consumers turn an owned media channel into a shared one.
By adopting these simple, tried-and-tested principles, corporate communications and marketing should not just lead a respectful coexistence; they will have joined together the strengths of their respective disciplines and made the integrated whole considerably more impactful and effective than the two functions working independently.
Social media is often accused of making life more complicated. In the case of genuinely integrated comms, it has truly been the catalyst for enhanced performance across all dimensions of communication.
Karen Prichard is Head of In-depth Earned Media Analysis at Ebiquity