The debate flourishes: Is PR part of marketing or management? Should PR have a seat at the table? Does PR participate fully in setting strategy? Why can't PR initiate the big idea and advertising follow suit? Who is winning this turf war?
Thanks to integrated marketing communications (IMC), today's turf war should not concern PR pros. IMC is not contending for the spotlight with PR. Indeed, IMC helps PR pros establish their importance now more than ever. If anything, IMC might prove a bigger concern for advertising and mass media executives than for those in PR.
IMC focuses on brand building. It recognizes, however, that communicating a brand's positioning to consumers represents only one small part of the job. Smart IMC pros know many factors influence the consumer.
Consider: Many of us may vow never to buy from a certain company again because a receptionist was rude, a customer-service rep was inept, or our community viewed the firm unfavorably. Such situations far outweigh the positive effects generated by millions of dollars on otherwise effective ads. And vice versa. The simplest good deed from an employee or company can transform an occasional patron into a customer for life.
Similarly, harsh media treatment of a brand or firm can far outweigh the effects of a $100 million ad budget. How long did it take Dow Chemical, for example, to recover from its negative image as a napalm producer during the 1960s Vietnam conflict? While nightly news broadcasts illuminated the harmful effects of the product in use, Dow emphasized that napalm represented only a tiny percentage of its revenues and profits. It didn't really deal with the issue, and, consequently, its response didn't cut it with the public.
More recently, after 9/11, it was disclosed that the Red Cross had only distributed 20% of the $1 billion collected to the victims' families. The rest, revealed Red Cross president Bernadine Healy, had been put away for "future needs." The organization's massive PR effort after this disclosure helped defuse the situation, stem the damage, and re-establish the Red Cross' credibility more than any amount of ad dollars could have.
IMC goes beyond the customer to recognize the potential influence of all of an organization's stakeholders, including the media, stockholders, suppliers, government, Wall Street, and staff. It strives to forge a relationship between the stakeholder and the brand, which mirrors the objectives of PR pros more than those of ad execs. IMC's growth won't threaten PR. It will elevate it. Why? Because PR pros are better conditioned to identify key stakeholders who influence brand growth and to seek the best communications vehicles to reach them. That defines IMC.
During 2004, IMC program leaders at several universities, including Northwestern, West Virginia University, the University of Denver, and the University of Kansas, worked with industry leaders at IBM and McCann-Erickson Worldwide, as well as with former executives from Procter & Gamble and Saatchi & Saatchi, to develop a white paper on the status, scope, and future of IMC. The paper, funded by McGraw-Hill Publishing, concluded:
"The ultimate benefit of using IMC is making a brand stronger and, therefore, increasing brand equity. Operationally, this means:
Many PR firms and pros share this outlook. As such, few are in a better position to play a leadership role in the world of IMC than those of us trained in these practices and beliefs.
The bottom line: PR pros should embrace IMC. It's a winning relationship.