James Warren, Weber Shandwick: Creating a chain reaction

Organisations should put PR at the heart of marketing and digital at the heart of PR.

Integration is the concept that never dies.

Many clients (reasonably) demand it, often expecting their ad agency to lead their multi-disciplinary campaigns. The truth is that digital's role in accelerating comms means organisations should put PR at the centre of their marketing efforts if they want to shift perceptions and drive new behaviours.

At a recent Weber Shandwick event, I moderated a panel discussion about the future of marketing. On the panel were senior marketing and comms personnel from 'household name' multinationals, together with heads of agencies from other marketing disciplines such as branding and advertising. What struck me was the consistency of their response. Whether client-side or agency, each professed to having to relearn: not their craft, but how they delivered this output.

Each cited speed as the driving factor behind their refreshed approach to marketing. The global uptake of social media, the transformative nature of a revitalised media and an engaged and connected global audience all contribute to an environment in which a brand world can be spun on its axis in minutes. This immediacy of mobilisation, intense focus on creative solutions and demonstrable brand affiliations are bringing the intended audience ever closer to the marketing function. One panellist described how many CMOs today find this systemic shift in marketing activity confusing at best and, at its worst, frightening.

Another panellist spoke about how we are moving from a deference to a reference society. Marketing departments are having to react to the world around them. The days of sitting down at the beginning of the year and planning what you'll be doing ten months later are clearly obsolete in a world where the cultural environment is so fast-moving. In alternative - or rather complementary - marketing disciplines such as branding and advertising, it is no longer possible to spend six months planning and conceiving a campaign. Cultural trends take root ever-faster, with networked communities providing a living and breathing feedback loop right into the heart of your business. One only needs to look at the Gap logo furore - in which the clothes retailer unveiled a new logo only to rapidly withdraw it and reinstate the original - as a classic example of inverse deference in action.

Advertising historically relied on intense and scientific repetition of a creative piece of content to get its message across. But in this digital age, clients have worked out that they do not need an enormous media spend to reach their audience with this creative content and that the audience itself expects to play its part in reacting to it. And reacting to trends, to the news agenda, to awkward occurrences or happy coincidences is what PR does best. PR is traditionally the barometer of the marketing set. It is agile. It responds immediately. It understands influence and how to create advocacy.

PR is skilled at managing the timeline of a story, sustaining interest and relevance, and syndicating the advocacy in real-time. Using a carefully crafted combination of direct social (digital) engagement and traditional influencer relations, PR can deliberately create programmes that have organic growth and evolution at their heart, that identify the roles of the brand and its audience in the campaign, and that set out to more richly alter and/or shape perceptions and opinions.

Build living and breathing campaigns that are designed to thrive in the places your audience is influenced, whether that's around the family dining or the boardroom table. Put PR at the heart of marketing and digital at the heart of PR.

Views in brief

What's the best brand PR campaign you've seen on Facebook?

The IKEA Facebook Showroom campaign promoting the launch of a store in Malmo was brilliant in its simple exploitation of Facebook's most popular elements: photo tagging, local interaction and social competition.

What's the key to managing a brand's Twitter feed?

Good manners, a sense of humour and no social life.

How can in-house PR people encourage people from all departments to get involved with a company's digital strategy?

If a company has a separate digital and 'traditional' comms strategy, then I'd argue it's missing the point - by a significant margin.

James Warren is chief digital strategist, Europe at Weber Shandwick

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