PR, advertising must be in sync to shape reputation

Not long ago, I watched a television commercial for a major insurance company with considerable interest. It was well produced - part of a campaign with multiple executions that have been running for some time.

Not long ago, I watched a television commercial for a major insurance company with considerable interest. It was well produced - part of a campaign with multiple executions that have been running for some time.

As I watched the spot, I wondered whether it was a good idea for the company to continue its aggressive investment in brand advertising - to push messages about its scope of services, strength, and solidity - when it is being buried under an avalanche of extremely negative publicity, including allegations of revenue misstatement, a multibillion-dollar reduction in its net worth, and a significant drop in stock price.

Perhaps there is some research that tells its CMO and other senior managers that continuing the aggressive advertising will help offset the negativity that's rampant in the market.

That said, I need to call attention to an essential need in the PR industry that I believe is not well or universally understood.

We are in the business of helping manage companies' and brands' reputations. In this extremely competitive global economy, understanding the perceptions held of your company by your core constituents has never been more important.

Yet PR alone does not shape reputation, any more than advertising alone does. PR, advertising, product performance, the regulatory environment, consumer-generated media, and many other sources collectively shape reputation.

And knowing how your competitors are positioning themselves in the marketplace, in which markets, and with what messaging is critical information as you manage your advertising and PR campaigns. Many believe that a strong and solid reputation will lead to customer loyalty and increased sales.

According to Angela Jeffrey, a member of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation, the quantity and quality of public discussion about a company compared with that of its competitors is directly related to business success. Put more simply, if people consistently say more good things about your company or product compared with that of your competitors, your sales will increase.

Good PR and good advertising arguably are the most important drivers of company and brand image. They play an even more important role when they are totally synchronized - so that PR and ad strategies are in sync, target audiences are in sync, tactical plans are in sync, messaging is in sync. It is surprising to me that true synchronization is a rarity and not the rule.

PR and advertising frequently live in different departments. Companies often have PR and advertising agencies from different companies. Efforts to track and demonstrate results are made in isolation. This disconnect makes no sense. Aligning the advertising, marketing, and PR functions is necessary to ensure a clear and consistent message is being delivered.

The good news is that there is a clear trend among CMOs and senior marketing leaders to integrate the two disciplines in order to gain additional leverage in the market and to move the needle with greater efficiency.

But measuring the success of PR and ad campaigns has never been easy or clear-cut. Many practitioners are gathering business, media, competitive, and marketing intelligence on a regular basis, but there's no uniform method and no easy way to compile the data. And there currently are no software tools available that support the changing demands of the cross-discipline marketing professional.

According to a recent Forrester survey, 50% of CMOs say ROI data is hard to obtain, more than 40% say it isn't granular enough, and more than a third say it isn't timely enough.
Increasingly, CMOs are being given responsibility for PR, marketing, and advertising without the integrated metrics they need to fully understand the impact on the company's top and bottom line.

Our industry needs to develop tools that give companies and their communicators 360-degree views of their businesses, brands, and competitors. These tools need to be easy to use and intuitive, providing an ultimate and single analytical source that can be compared and contrasted on a regular basis. We need to offer solutions that provide integrated media content, data, analytics, and applications to marketing, advertising, and PR pros. We need to design platforms that will enable marketers to easily gauge the impact of advertising and editorial activity on marketing and business performance.

These solutions will help to facilitate better decision-making and support the development of fact-based strategies and tactics. They will help communications pros plan and manage marketing activities more effectively and will provide them the data they need to better analyze marketing and business performance. These solutions will enable marketers, corporate communicators, and their agencies to assess the impact of editorial, consumer-generated media, and advertising activity across all media.

Finally, these integrated solutions will help better bridge the chasm between strategy, execution, and outcomes - a long sought after, but before unobtainable goal - in the integrated space of PR and advertising.

Peter Wengryn is CEO of VMS.

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