PR's message should take the lead in integrated campaigns

Brand campaigns are becoming more complex as we execute across many disciplines and adapt to the conversational requirements of social media. By John Bell

Brand campaigns are becoming more complex as we execute across many disciplines and adapt to the conversational requirements of social media. What holds a complex program together? Multidisciplinary campaigns previously looked to the advertising creative for the "big idea." This just won't work in a social world.

The power of social media is word of mouth. We engage folks online in the hopes that they will share - in their own words - thoughts about what matters to them and the brand. They won't pass along verbatim messages. They may never repeat ad copy or slogans. If we want to get the benefits of reinforcement between what people talk about online and the advertising they see on TV, then we had better make sure these communications are connected. The PR message platform can do that.

Communications pros design a clear message platform that identifies the ideas behind messages and expects that executives, creatives, and ordinary people will modify them to make them their own. Today's complex, integrated program should be built around the communications message platform - not the advertising slogan.

The best of PR and social media must earn people's attention. We do that by listening to people and connecting their true interests with those of our brands and organizations. Once we've made this connection, all sorts of relevant marketing is possible. A message platform can integrate paid and earned media, including social media, and have them all relate in a recognizable way. It won't fracture into separate ad, PR, and social programs. So why isn't everyone adopting the message platform?

There is a hidden culprit causing marcomms professionals to resist the embrace of this communications discipline. Call it Disproportionate Budget Disorder. Paid media budgets are big and grab executives' attention, but it is social media and PR that are succeeding to open the door with consumers.

The next time you're planning a complex marcomms initiative, ask yourself if you are better off letting the media spend drive decision-making or if aligning your social and PR program with that ad campaign via a core message platform makes more sense. If you want the compound effect of social media-based word of mouth, PR, and advertising, let PR message development take the lead.

John Bell is MD of Ogilvy's 360° Digital Influence practice.

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