Closing the Gap: Unmixed messages

Aligning the PR, marketing, and advertising functions is crucial to ensure audiences hear consistent campaigns

Aligning the PR, marketing, and advertising functions is crucial to ensure audiences hear consistent campaigns

Generating awareness of a company and its products and services is the key aim of an organization's corporate communications, advertising, and marketing departments. But too often that is where the commonality ends. Instead of coordinating activities for maximum exposure and consistency in messaging, units often operate independently and can waste valuable time and resources on internal squabbles and defense of their territories. "Some companies do a phenomenal job ensuring that advertising and marketing openly communicate with PR, and leveraging publicity results in their campaigns," says Steve Cody, managing partner of Peppercom, a New York-based strategic communications firm. "But others keep the groups in silos. They still see PR as purely tactical and event- and publicity-driven - not as the strategic brand and positioning champion." Matt Gonring, VP of global marketing and communications for Rockwell Automation, a Milwaukee-based producer of automation components and systems, notes that the parties' campaigns are more influential when the groups collaborate and synchronize their activities. Ideally, the various functional areas should report to the same executive - but only if that individual is versed on the reputation components of corporate communications and has an understanding of the relationships between various audiences, he notes. "It is essential for corporate communications, marketing, and advertising to work together," adds Dave Monfried, SVP, corporate communications, for New York-based MetLife. "A company has problems if it is not saying the same thing on the PR side as on the advertising side to optimize its message." Monfried, who manages MetLife's PR, advertising, and branding initiatives, notes that "not a day goes by" when his staffers aren't conversing with marketing personnel in an effort to leverage each other's strengths. For Life Insurance Awareness Month in September, for instance, MetLife closely coordinated its messages so that the company's advertisements in business magazines and executives' quotes in the media all focused on the importance of life insurance and the need for individuals to reassess their current coverage. "Saying the same thing out of both sides of our mouth makes the PR and advertising messages most effective," Monfried says. And with the line separating PR and marketing consistently getting fuzzier, Gonring says integration between the units is likely to become commonplace. The movement is being partially fueled by recent business school graduates who have been taught to be problem solvers instead of functional specialists, he notes. Aligning the departments Such integration involves having individuals from each group jointly plan campaigns and collaborate on strategies, objectives, spending allocations, and sequencing of messaging. This cross-utilization of personnel builds stronger teams and creates an environment for greater job satisfaction, Gonring notes. And because PR, marketing, and advertising professionals often are all skilled in writing, media relations, and messaging techniques, it often is easy for them to interact, he adds. "There are greater efficiencies when a company cross-utilizes its people and has the entire arsenal of marketing and communication tools at its disposal to influence perceptions," Gonring says. "Having the groups working collectively toward a greater impact creates a crescendo effect, and causes the customers who are likely to buy the organization's products and services or invest in the firm to have greater confidence in the company." Aligning the corporate communications and advertising functions within the same operating group enables Honeywell to provide consistent messaging across all of its products and businesses, says Tom Buckmaster, VP of corporate communications at the Morristown, NJ-based technology developer. "The elements of the Honeywell brand is the unifying force across all our marketing communications, including advertising and internal messaging," says Buckmaster. While Honeywell supports an integrated marketing strategy, Buckmaster says gaps still occur among the different areas. Communications and marketing personnel, for instance, sometimes need to better understand the types of strategies or the best practices that should be utilized in the launch of a product or execution of a trade show. To help remedy such issues, he notes, communications leaders from all Honeywell businesses "start and end their day" by focusing on the overall marketing plan for a product and how their units can support the strategy. PR staffers are then able to generate more credibility within the company by acting as business people first and communications people second, he adds. The attitudes of executives The level of integration between marketing and PR can vary significantly among organizations, and often is dependent on the attitudes of senior executives and a company's operating structure. Gonring says PR personnel more often approach their marketing counterparts to drive collaboration, but that will become less necessary as more companies make a single individual responsible for both groups. Yet running an efficient operation still can be challenging if the leader is not versed on all aspects of marketing and communications. "Some executives only have a marketing background with a functional focus exclusively oriented to customers, and that could limit what they may accomplish with corporate communications," Gonring says. "But it also can be gratifying because there are generally deeper pockets in marketing and an established recognition within a company of its contribution." The optimal arrangement, he adds, is for both marketing and corporate comms to report to an executive who is experienced in different areas of reputation management, and has the skills to drive integration across the functional areas within PR and marketing. Some companies - including West Caldwell, NJ-based Ricoh US, part of Ricoh Group, a worldwide supplier of digital office equipment - are spurring even greater integration among the PR and marketing group by including their outside agencies in the collaborations. Ricoh invites Peppercom and its ad agencies to corporate branding meetings and other functions. Their presence enables staffers to become comfortable with one another, and it demonstrates to senior management that the units are working on behalf of Ricoh and not following their own agendas, says Robert Ingoglia, Ricoh US VP of promotion and communications. Ricoh has a small PR group within the company, but relies heavily on outside agencies for its messaging, he notes. The agencies collaborate on company newsletters, and also were active in Ricoh promotions involving the World Environmental Center, a nonprofit organization that fosters environmental leadership, improved health and safety practices, and the efficient use of natural resources. Ricoh in 2003 was awarded the WEC Gold Medal for its contribution to environmental quality. "We always invite both our advertising and PR agency to any of our events so they are able to listen to conversations and circulate among salespeople and other personnel," Ingoglia says. "Bringing the agencies together so the staffers get to know each other on a first-name basis breaks down barriers and allows us to more easily involve them in our internal activities." Working with...marketing While the case for collaboration between the corporate communications and marketing and advertising functions of a company is compelling, accomplishing that task can be arduous. Finding ways to overcome the turf battles for budget and attention is crucial. Tips for bridging the divide include: 1. PR managers must be vocal on the benefits of integration, and take the lead in changing attitudes. Organizations with a history of budgeting separately for the units and having personnel report to different managers live in an environment in which individuals are intent on protecting the status quo, says Matt Gonring, VP of global marketing and communications for Rockwell Automation. "It requires a strong leader who can communicate the benefits of integration and has a competence across the spectrum of activities to bring together the areas." 2. Identify an opportunity to bring individuals from different marketing disciplines together on a specific project or announcement - such as a product launch or acquisition. Such opportunities often reveal the effectiveness of integration. 3. A company's outside partners, including its PR and advertising agencies, also could be influential in driving integration. Viewing situations from the outside, they can be effective in informing management that a particular audience is getting mixed messages from the company. Agencies can also report on circumstances where a lack of coordination is diluting the effectiveness of campaigns. 4. PR professionals frequently complain that other marketing disciplines do not understand communications strategy. But how well do PR pros understand direct marketing, advertising, branding, or internet marketing? Communicators need to lead by example, and actively seek out opportunities to build multi-disciplinary skills and knowledge, across the marketing mix. Such knowledge will also help build trust internally. If a PR leader is in a position to suggest that a non-PR approach to a campaign might actually be better in some instances, that person is positioning him or herself to lead integration. 5. Create opportunities for all levels within the marketing disciplines to meet and brainstorm regularly. True collaboration is not something that can be mandated, but rather comes from understanding each other's perspectives, as well as from habit.

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