PR leads digital infusion

No longer confined to the marketing and communications functions of a company, digital is permeating all other business units - and PR is helping lead the way.

IBM is known for its innovative digital initiatives, such as its Jam events, where employees from around the world can interact to brainstorm business ideas.

These events, such as the Innovation Jam, have helped the tech company by showcasing the early stages of digital integration across departments within a corporation.
 
“The Innovation Jam that IBM ran identified, through a very structured online conversation, a number of opportunities for investment and development,” says Ben Edwards, VP of digital strategy and development in corporate marketing and communications for IBM.
 
But, he adds, the company is just starting to articulate “an enterprise-level strategy for the digital mission.”
 
“The way we think about digital is essentially as infrastructure, which, when embedded into the world, augments and transforms the world and the people who interact in it,” says Edwards. “Digital is important for all aspects of a corporation, from R&D through to product management, sales and marketing, customer care and support – the entire cycle.”
 
Indeed, digital and social media are no longer the bright, shiny objects catching consumers' and marketers' eyes. Now an integral part of a corporation's strategy, digital and social media have infiltrated not only marketing and communications, but also other departments within corporations, including HR, product development, and customer service.
 
A collaborative effort
“It's a terrifically collaborative environment,” Edwards explains. “I'm hoping our group can articulate a strategy that is exciting and engages our partners in thinking about how they can help us drive it and execute it.”
 
As corporations such as IBM stand on the cusp of integrating digital across all areas of their operations, PR and marketing can take the lead in organizing and orchestrating this collaboration. With a unique skill set, PR pros can make sure the messages and goals align and work to build relationships with various stakeholders – current and potential employees, customers, investors, and more – through digital means.
 
“This whole social thing is driving closer collaboration between different silos,” says Chris Perry, EVP of digital strategy at Weber Shandwick, which works with clients including General Motors and American Airlines on their digital integration. “A lot of clients are looking to better coordinate what they are doing digitally, not necessarily tie everything together into one package.”
 
The HR, customer service, traditional marketing, PR departments and others are “way out of sync if everybody is doing their own thing,” he adds.
 
Chad Latz, president of the global digital practice at Cohn & Wolfe, notes that clients want help with “consolidation or defragmentation of their brand in social media.”
 
“They haven't necessarily taken a holistic approach around how social media is activated in and supports each of the areas of businesses,” he explains. “So these clients have gone out and each functional area has built their own enclave and stake in the digital ecosystem. The result of that has been a very confusing experience for consumers.”
 
Latz adds each functional area within an organization has “a unique value proposition for how they can leverage social media to support their business objectives.”
 
He notes that R&D or product development can use social media to survey consumers and develop new ideas for products or services where customers could offer business ideas. Well-known examples of this include My Starbucks Idea or Dell's IdeaStorm. HR and employee communications use digital to attract and retain employees, while customer service adds value by resolving customer issues and impacting word of mouth online. Groups including IT and legal should also be involved in digital strategy and execution, as they add their own expertise to the plan.
 
Digital collaboration between different departments helps the customer experience become less confusing, but some companies are getting into digital and social media because they know all of their different audiences are already there. These include customers, current and potential employees, investors, product developers, and others who are doing research into the company and the industry using online tools.
 
“A lot of our customers were online, talking about us, talking about our brand, impacting our reputation,” says Ellen East, EVP and CCO for Time Warner Cable. “We started, like a lot of companies, with a listening effort, and gradually moved into being more proactive. A year ago, it became clear we were not going to be successful with a digital communications strategy unless we engaged in some partnerships across the company, particularly with marketing and customer care.”
 
Time Warner launched Untangled, its first corporate blog, in late March, bringing together its communications, marketing, customer care, and HR teams to discuss the company, employees, issues, and more (see below).
 
The site has only been up for a couple of months, but Time Warner has learned a lot about the news cycle and the “dynamics of the online space and influencers in this market and how and where they consume their news,” says Virginia Miracle, head of digital strategy for Ogilvy PR, which works with Time Warner. She notes that the blog posts with news must be posted as soon as possible in order to be relevant in this news cycle and that Twitter is a great communications tool, not only for information, but also for customer-care questions.
 
“We felt it was really important to have a forum where we could speak in an unfiltered way,” East says, adding that the company turned to Ogilvy for digital integration work because the marketing team had a relationship with sister creative agency Ogilvy & Mather.
 
Jackie Kolek, partner and senior director at Peppercom and director of PepperDigital, says companies are really being forced into integrating digital across disciplines and departments because “it's very hard to differentiate between your audiences.”
 
“You've got employees, who are also customers, who also live in communities where you have facilities,” she adds. “You've got many audiences across purposes, so you really can't be looking at any one initiative in a silo.”
 
The agency has experienced an increase in digital work particularly in the HR space, where companies in the recession “have to make sure they are keeping employee morale up,” she says. “You're seeing a lot more interest, enthusiasm, and activity around employee engagement through social media.”
 
An integrated message
But while all these different business departments may have a social media presence, it is important to bring them all together as a collaborative and integrated effort. This doesn't necessarily mean pushing out the same exact content to different audiences, but making sure each department's digital activities have similar themes and messages and align with overall business goals, Perry explains.
 
Waggener Edstrom recently introduced its Social Influence System, which helps companies integrate social media across all channels and departments, supporting marketing and digital media initiatives. Jennifer Houston, SVP and global lead of WE Studio D, explains the purpose of the new offering is to avoid “zombie media,” or social media elements that don't have a brain behind them.
 
John Bell, global MD at Ogilvy's 360 Digital Influence team, says the agency also has its own program for clients looking for an enterprise-level social media or digital strategy.
 
“Within the Digital Influence team, we do four things for our clients: enterprise social media strategy, organizational modeling, training, and developing guidelines for staff across disciplines,” Bell explains. “Those things essentially are the cornerstone of how to help an organization, Time Warner in this case, apply social media across the organization, not just in marketing and communications.”
 
As it gets more and more complex, “this intersection happens where HR gets tied to CRM, internal communications, external communications, and sales,” Houston says. Microsoft is one Waggener Edstrom client using this new system.
 
These agencies' specific programs lead corporations through this integration, one example of how PR and marketing can take the lead in organizing and orchestrating this collaboration and integration across departments. With its experience in messaging and storytelling, as well as insights into relationship
building, PR can leverage this opportunity to demonstrate its importance and relevance as digital takes hold.
 
Houston says one challenge of digital integration is making sure content resonates across departments, disciplines, and channels. She cites Twitter feeds and Facebook pages that are not connected to others within the corporation as an example of that.
 
“They don't have a tie; they are not telling a unified narrative or a story,” she says. “For PR agencies, it's that narrative where we can help.”
 
Time Warner's digital integration began in the PR department, and East says experience in overseeing two-way dialogue and interacting with a variety of stakeholders are two ways PR is ready to orchestrate and lead this collaboration.
 
“Communications is a profession that needs to understand all the constituencies to a particular issue, be it shareholders, management, the board, regulators, employees, government,” says IBM's Edwards. “All of those things are important and, therefore, it's a good place to launch this sort of [integrated digital] thinking.”
 
There has been much discussion about the role PR can play in leading social media strategy overall, and the reasons for that are similar to why PR is capable and ready to lead digital integration across departments.
 
Kolek explains: “A lot of the same principles that we use in traditional media relations are applicable in social media,” including listening to what is already being said by reporters, bloggers, and customers in the digital space.
 
Peppercom emphasizes the importance of listening to clients when discussing how to include more digital across disciplines, Kolek says.
 
“We advise our clients to make sure they create social media guidelines that are shared with employees across the organization, not just with the communications professionals,” she says. “You're encouraging them to use it in the right way, but also protecting the organization against leaking confidential information or unauthorized people speaking on its behalf.”
 
Peppercom, she says, is working with a handful of clients on these beginning phases of digital integration. One client, Puget Sound Energy, worked with the firm on a campaign leading up to its winter storm season after realizing its clients increasingly wanted to get information and have dialogues through digital platforms.
 
The agency and client began monitoring what was being said about the company online, and then Peppercom offered recommendations for ways to respond. The company launched a blog and Twitter presence, revamped its online newsroom, and introduced social media rules and guidelines for employees. The communications and customer service teams took the lead and are collaborating for the work.
 
Specific strategies
At IBM, Edwards says having a specific method for its digital integration is “extremely important to the success of the work.”
 
“We have touch points on the web, via virtual venues, and run 8,000 physical events a year,” he says of the places where IBM interacts with various stakeholders. “We have client briefing centers, innovation centers, the sales meetings [are all] touch points that can be augmented and transformed through the provision of a digital system.”
 
Edwards adds that the questions then revolve around what IBM needs to improve upon, where the strategy fits in, and the goals of the digital integration system.
 
“What is the design point of this digital system we want to go and build?” he asks. “What is the value we want to drive and how will we drive that value?”
 
Part of the strategy is aligning the company's overall business goals with the individual goals for each department, including PR and communications. “You have to start with the business goals, whether it be driving revenue or customer satisfaction or going to the basics of what you as a company or brand stand for,” WE's Houston says. The overall business goals, others agree, should influence and inform other departments and digital objectives.
 
C&W's Latz notes that one goal every company should have is to improve and encourage the customer experience, which leads to increased interest and sales for the brand.
 
Billy Sanez, director of advertising and corporate communications for American Airlines, agrees. “Our goals are to sell our product for the best margin possible, and that's the way we look at this,” he says. “As far as aligning with our marketing goals, it gives us a direct touch to the customer, which we've always found the best way to create the best relationship, that unfiltered communication that we know our customers want.”
 
Once a strategy and goals are in place, incorporating the goals of the digital integration, the touch points for stakeholders, and a social media policy, companies can begin to implement this collaboration and train staff.
 
American Airlines has been using digital for various elements of its business, Sanez says, ranging from its reservations system to a recent press conference on Ustream to setting up a training program for employees.
 
“First, we set up a core group of advocates from each department that meet regularly,” Sanez says of the airline's training. “Then we're setting up individuals with mentoring programs, partnership programs, that we'll set up for a region or a certain country. We'll help them build the infrastructure, but we'll also train the people who are actively working in the space.”
 
Companies can organize their digital integration teams in several ways, including starting a cross-functional social media council, Latz adds. “That's a way for every function in the organization to help drive consistent strategy to help build a brand,” he notes.
 
Or, he says, a corporation can go to a “deeper organizational design” with a separate social media function, either inside marketing and communications or as its own team inside the enterprise.
 
Cohn & Wolfe also puts much effort into training clients and their staff, including reorganizing the communications or marketing functions, offering immersive training on the principles of social media technology, and hands-on scenario-based interactions with the social media tools.
 
“You have to fundamentally change the organization from within,” explains Latz.

Weber's Perry explains that every client is different and has different needs for training and implementation of a digital strategy at the enterprise level.
 
“Training can be everything from here is where the market is going, here is where the media is going, and here is how consumer behavior is changing,” he says. “And here are some things you're going to need to do to change the way you do business.”
 
With clients that are farther along in the process, says Perry, the training focuses on how they can take better advantage of the work that has already been done and how the various teams can coordinate better.
 
East says employees at Time Warner are very eager to learn more about how to incorporate digital into their work, beyond just PR and communications, which bodes well for the future of digital integration across departments and corporations.
 
“We're hiring people specifically to do digital, but we think in a very short time frame, it will be everybody's job and completely integrated into the way we all work,” she notes. “We all need to learn about it, know about it, and engage in it.”
 
And Time Warner is just one of Ogilvy's clients that realizes the potential for digital across all business units. “It's actually a pretty robust phenomenon,” says Bell. “This whole social business phenomenon is really starting to grow some legs. It's good for us."

Time Warner Cable: Debut of corporate blog
At the end of March, Time Warner Cable launched Untangled, the company's first corporate blog. Bringing together elements of PR and communications, marketing, human resources, and customer service, the blog is an example of how the company is collaborating across several departments to incorporate digital.
 
Managed and edited by Jeff Simmermon, director of digital communications, the site has a “wide-open approach,” says Ellen East, EVP and CCO of Time Warner. The PR department houses and manages Untangled, while HR is involved, providing profiles of employees to feature on the site. Other areas, such as R&D and IT, have commentary from subject-matter experts about issues and news affecting Time
Warner's business, customers, and the cable industry overall.
 
The company had been very active on other blogs and websites, East explains, but wanted to have its own vehicle to comment on the issues of the day “where we could put out our point of view on issues affecting our company, our business, and our industry.” Untangled also brings together the social media elements of Time Warner, linking to its Twitter and Flickr accounts, as well as videos.
 
In 2008, the cable company unveiled a similar effort internally, where staff could blog, comment, take surveys, watch videos, and read articles about the company.

“It now has become our primary internal communications channel for the company,” East adds. Untangled came out of that success.
 
Consumers can interact with Time Warner through Untangled as well, giving customer care a place to respond, answer questions, and “put a human face on the company for people,” East says. In addition to its Twitter presence, Time Warner also plans to expand more into Facebook and YouTube.

American Airlines: Wi-Fi takes off
When American Airlines started rolling out wireless internet on some of its flights, the new service piqued customers' interest.
 
As soon as American announced the Wi-Fi options, customers began to reach out to the airline and ask, via traditional customer service and social media, how they could ascertain whether Wi-Fi would be available on their flights. Customers sought an easy way to get the information.
 
Billy Sanez, the airline's director of advertising and corporate communications, saw this as an opportunity to bring together various disciplines and find a solution.
 
The airline and its PR agency, Weber Shandwick, sat down with a variety of groups – from the publishing team to IT – and developed the Wi-Fi Finder widget that lives on AA.com, Facebook, and blogs, Sanez says. The widget launched in November 2009 and allows customers to quickly see, within 24 hours of a flight, if internet service is available.
 
American then brought together its various teams to boost outreach. IT, for example, created a way to provide that information to customers, while PR and customer service then promoted it to customers and media.
 
“Especially on the listening side, there is so much great insight that we have gotten from [digital],” Sanez says. “Because of that feedback, we were able to develop something that didn't take a lot of resources to create, but has made people so happy.”
 
The PR team got to work, promoting the widget itself, posting a YouTube video demonstrating how to use the service, and promoting Doug Backelin, manager of in-flight communications and technology, to talk about the service and Wi-Fi on flights.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.