Marcomms integrations put spotlight on PR

The increasingly popular move to combine marketing and communications departments into one unit at major corporations will benefit the PR industry as a whole, say experts.

The increasingly popular move to combine marketing and communications departments into one unit at major corporations will benefit the PR industry as a whole, say experts on both the agency and client sides.

In recent months, both Visa and FedEx merged the two functions into one group. A number of other blue-chip corporations, such as IBM and Procter & Gamble, have set up their marketing and communications departments to report to one executive.

Last summer, Sharp Electronics reorganized its internal structure, discontinuing its marketing and communications departments and moving PR, advertising, social media, and Web development to individual product groups but reporting to marketing.

“It's much easier to speak with one voice, and we feel like that strengthens overall communications, whether it's Web communications, PR, social, or even retail integration. [We're also] making sure our singular message comes across through all those channels and all of our retailer channels,” explains Chris Loncto, director of marketing communications at Sharp.

Loncto, who reports to Mark Viken, VP of brand marketing for consumer electronics at Sharp, adds that having a “seamless group” is advantageous because it allows assets created internally, such as video content, to be leveraged across multiple channels. That practice is ultimately cost-effective, as well. 

However, one challenge of maintaining an integrated marcomms division is making sure the overarching company-wide message is not lost by individual product groups, he adds. 

Despite that issue, Loncto says having marketing and communications in one channel has helped put more of a spotlight on PR.

“Before, it was ‘let's get everything done, and then we'll think about PR.' Now we think about PR in the planning process,” he notes.

Edelman global president and CEO Richard Edelman also believes the trend is beneficial to the communications industry because it gives PR a better and more lucrative seat at the table.

“This is the biggest home run ever,” he says. “First of all, it means that PR is now [working] across both [marketing and communications], therefore the budgets are available. And, you can get programs that suit both.”

In addition to Sharp, IBM and Virgin America are two other companies that have integrated their marketing and communications units.

CPG giant Procter & Gamble merged its communications under one platform last May, putting brand PR, corporate communications, and consumer relations in the core communications department. Government relations was consolidated with legal and regulatory, and technical organizations were integrated with the company's R&D function. P&G global brand building officer Marc Pritchard is leading the revamped communications function since the retirement of global external relations officer Chris Hassall last June.

Patrick Fitzgerald, who was promoted earlier this month to SVP of integrated marketing and communications at FedEx as part of a restructuring, said in an emailed statement that integration is a reflection of the company's focus on coordinated campaigns.

“By formalizing the structure, it will help further strengthen and amplify the power of our brand and reputation in the marketplace,” he adds. 

Brand reputation is another key reason why marketing and communications groups should work closely together, says Fleishman-Hillard president and CEO Dave Senay. He adds that research and analytics show reputational issues are important drivers of consumers' intent to purchase.

“One can argue that having corporate communications and marketing reporting to the same person is smart because no one in their right mind would do anything to hurt the reputation of a company if it has such a great bearing on the consumer's brand considerations,” he explains.

A combined unit is also effective because executives with multiple stakeholder groups can help the company advance in various areas, especially corporate reputation, Senay adds.

Cisco merged its global corporate communications, marketing, and government affairs units under SVP and CMO Blair Christie in January 2011. The move helps her recognize how communications plays an integral role in “demand, lead generation, and sales enablement,” and it also includes thought leadership, crisis, mergers and acquisitions, and reputation management, says David McCulloch, director of corporate communications at the company.

However, for integration to work, PR can't be consumed by marketing, adds McCulloch. PR and marketing should be their own separate entities within the group with a “common leader and common goals.”

Companies that decide to combine their marketing and communications also need to ensure they implement the changes by culture as well as structure, says Tom Dowling, interim US chair of the brand marketing practice at Burson-Marsteller.

He notes that PR agencies replicating an integrated agency model internally will also benefit because it'll help them better work with companies that are merging the disciplines themselves.

“We have gotten to a point in 2013 where we really are living in a world of integrated communications,” explains Dowling. “We really are living in a world where consistent delivery of messages across many channels is much more important than it ever has been.”

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