The phrase ‘integrated comms’ has been bandied around for years, decades even, but it rarely inspired enough confidence in companies to do the one thing that unifies their messaging: combine their comms and marketing departments.
However circumstances are now forcing the union of the two disciplines as it becomes increasingly apparent that in today’s multi-channel media and fragmented consumer society it is almost impossible to separate the two.
In 2012 PRWeek reported that Procter & Gamble had put its comms function under the watch of Marc Pritchard, the global marketing and brand-building officer, to keep up with the expectation and scrutiny of big corporates.
Fast-forward two years and a global tracking study by Weber Shandwick and global executive search consultancy Spencer Stuart reveals a 35 per cent increase in the number of global executives with both comms and marketing responsibilities since P&G’s shuffle.
Now, Weber Shandwick has published a major report based on interviews with what they term ten chief comms and marketing officers (CCMOs) working for companies ranging from a vehicle manufacturer to a multinational bank, exploring the drivers of convergence, the positives and negatives, how integrated organisations are structured and social media’s role in forcing through change.
Convergence Ahead: The Integration of Communications & Marketing finds the catalyst for change for some companies was a radical shift to their business portfolios, or they had entered more complex markets requiring new corporate positioning. In other cases senior management realised that to more effectively reach their stakeholders through the ever-more fragmented media channels, they needed a cohesive and disciplined approach. Just two cases pointed to streamlining and cost-saving as factors in the convergence, but even then the interviewees said they had taken advantage of the opportunity to align the departments.
Jim Donaldson, Weber Shandwick’s executive vice-president, corporate, argues the increasing alignment of comms and marketing highlights the growing recognition and importance of corporate reputation, but also the coming of age of the comms and marketing industries and the realisation that companies need to speak to all stakeholders as if they are consumers too. "People really want to understand more about the company behind the brand," he says. His consumer marketing practice counterpart at Weber Shandwick is Rachel Friend, who stresses there is now the realisation that there is little point behind an amazing consumer marketing campaign if other areas of the business are not up to scratch. And both point to Tesco’s recent fall from grace on the back of issues with its financial reporting. At one time this story would not have made it out of the business pages of the broadsheets, but the story has now been shared across social media channels, as well as mainstream media.
One CCMO interviewee in the report sums it up thus: "This is how corporate identities get built today… The thinking is that all stakeholders want to understand product brands and the company that stands behind them (this is true of consumers, regulators, prospective talent…). So, the way to engage them is not pure marketing or pure communications or pure citizenship, but a hybrid of all those things."
Many of those questioned in the study cited the rise of digital media as the compelling force behind integrating around multi-channel comms, saying marcoms had become ‘digitally centric’, forcing fundamental changes to how marketing and comms departments operate and the kind of people they need. "Our interactive team thinks about the user experience across our entire digital portfolio," said another CCMO, adding: "What is it like to listen to a podcast, what is it like to look at our site on your cell phone? This team has to reach out and work closely with the PR folks, since they create the content, and with the marketing team – where our creative sources live."
Certainly creating interesting and insightful content, and understanding where best to place it to drive the bottom line, cannot be fulfilled by one discipline or the other working in isolation. One CCMO said the best practitioners were those bringing a journalistic sense to comms in terms of what resonates with stakeholders, while also understanding how, from a marketing perspective, culture can relate to aspects of a product, corporation or the business.
Lawrence Christensen is marketing director for York-based mutual healthcare company Benenden Health. He has worked both in-house and at agencies and now has charge of both the marketing and comms functions at Benenden.
He says for an organisation like Benenden, with a unique history and customer proposition, it is vital for marketing and comms to work together to distil the brand ‘story’ into the best possible crystallised message that will strike a chord with stakeholders: "People want to purchase from brands they have an emotional engagement with… I often say that at Benenden we don’t have an elevator pitch – we have a taxi-ride pitch. What we do and how we do it needs explaining… and for us that story is what helps people make that decision to buy."
Marrying of functions
Myf Ryan is UK and Europe marketing director for shopping centre group Westfield. Comms was put under her remit a couple of years ago on the back of an understanding that it was no longer just about corporate affairs but the brand as a whole. The change was implemented when one corporate affairs manager left and the role was changed to corporate affairs and PR – reporting to Ryan. "They are included in all meetings and are a core part of the team that develops our marketing campaigns," she says. And this marrying of the two functions is not reserved for head office. When Ryan recruited two new centre marketing managers, they were not only appointed for their commercial acumen, but also their understanding of comms’ role as part of the broader messaging.
She stresses it has enabled consistency of message and voice across every channel. "We’re now a lot more single minded in how we communicate and it’s given us an unbelievable ability to maximise coverage and content."
Despite the obvious benefits, the path to integration is a notoriously bumpy one. The CCMOs questioned by Weber Shandwick said the process was "often challenging", taking much longer to achieve than they had originally anticipated and managing different perspectives and agendas needing plenty of internal engagement.
Some said cultural issues between the two disciplines created issues where comms people and marketers were simply "not speaking the same language", while others said integration meant changes in how people were managed: "Some people lost power and some gained power."
In other cases CCMOs inherited legacies of limited marketing or comms experience, where companies had done little in one or both spaces meaning an education programme about the benefits of the less familiar discipline. Stated one CCMO: "When a company has known for years that it can grow sales by hiring more sales people, demonstrating a dollar invested in marketing versus sales can be very hard… Educating that we have lots of touch points, influence points… that close rates are higher and faster because of what we do – those metrics take time to develop…"
Other issues raised included greater budget scrutiny of larger, combined marketing and comms departments and difficulties that arose when the CCMO had a propensity toward one discipline, meaning the other element of the integrated function became weakened. This tied in with the observation by another that the number of senior-level executives with experience and appreciation of both marketing and comms was limited.
The answer perhaps lies in the suggestion that better education in both areas at university level would create a talent pool of people who understand marketing and comms, who can also run large budgets and complex organisations.
Through the pain barrier
So is the pain of convergence worth it? Weber Shandwick’s report interviewees certainly seemed to think so.
At the top of the list of benefits was the fact that bringing comms and marketing together creates and maintains a consistent message and voice across all channels to all stakeholders, whether they are customers, clients, investors or employees – both current and potential.
One CCMO describes his role as managing a "seamless continuum" or "eco-system" of comms channels: "If you didn’t have an integrated marcoms function, you would have a bifurcation of those activities and therefore would be under-optimising or exploiting the opportunity and risk inconsistent messaging."
This is certainly something that Louise Grew, fundraising and comms director of charity the Mayor’s Fund for London, would agree with: "I believe it’s a 360 approach to marketing and comms and one has to feed off the other. As a charity we have to get as much impact as we can out of everything we do because we have budget restrictions. But also because our messages need to be clear and concise to communicate who we are and what we do, as well as meeting the needs of our funders, delivery partners, schools and young Londoners."
The report also highlighted that converged departments were more nimble in dealing with crises and in a better position to leverage resources to create more efficient programmes and tactics. One participant noted how an integrated structure enabled his team to manage initiatives such as a global sponsorship and brand campaign – larger programmes they had not attempted when working in separate departments.
And well-established PR agencies such as Golin and Edelman are also seeing the benefit of understanding and incorporating other marketing disciplines as part of their offer.
Octopus Group completed its morph from PR agency to a fully integrated set-up earlier this year when it announced it was replacing the traditional PR model with a ‘brand to sales’ promise incorporating the best of comms, marketing and technology.
MD Jon Lonsdale says while traditional PR still has relevance in today’s climate it must adapt or it will at best become purely functional. His view is that PR has a vital role to play in the new world order, using its storytelling power and content creation to allow marketers to tailor compelling brand messages across all forms of media: "PR has all the tools in its kit bag to drive marketing forward. Conventional PR does not like to talk about the sales bit, but actually brand to sale… PR is brilliant at that. This is a call to action for PR. Do not hide your light under a bushel. Be more proactive with sales and marketing."
Weber Shandwick’s six-step guide to convergence
Consider convergence for strategic advantage
CCMOs have found integration invaluable to initiatives involving marketplace repositioning as well as reputation recovery.
Start with a shared vision and mission
Establish a definition of your brand identity and what your company stands for. To create a consistent voice, a set of common visions and values is critical. The integrated department should be organised around that mission.
Evangelise wide and deep
Share with internal stakeholders what can be achieved and how the hybrid function works. Explore the aspirations and needs of key internal partners as well as external clients to understand how value can be added.
Govern the integration
Regardless of whether a CCMO has oversight over brand, or regional marcoms, convening a leadership group across these disparate parts of a company helps manage important priorities.
Move quickly but plan fully
In hindsight, a number of Weber Shandwick interviewees said they would have moved faster on personnel decisions, either downsizing in areas of redundancy or staffing up where resources were lacking.
Celebrate successes early and often
Find ways to internally promote the benefits of integration by showcasing results as soon as possible. Contrasting content engagement with competitors, or benchmarking brand strength in third-party research, were other ways in which interviewees gained internal support for their integrated departments.
Convergence seems inevitable but difficult
Mark Lund, chief executive, McCann Worldgroup UK and former COI chief
This is an excellent and timely report. As the title implies it’s the start of an important debate. It’s important because convergence seems inevitable. Increasingly a great campaign has the same elements whether it comes from ad agency or PR agency. At its heart is brilliant content, with hooks that can be snagged by media channels, whether they’re social or broadcast. It makes stakeholders feel as though they’re at the epicentre of something just for them. There’s an event (real, virtual or advertising created) that drives attention to the content and a commercial strategy to harvest the rise in interest and engagement.
2014 Cannes winners from both sides of the divide like Newcastle Brown (Droga5) and Honey Maid (Weber Shandwick) fit the bill. The conclusion is that clients and agencies are going to create convergence because it’s what great and effective is starting to look like.
I first saw convergence working within government. The currency of politics is power but its federal reserve is reputation and as a result comms directors reign supreme. In the most active and able departments like health this created a formidable link between reputation and marketing and some ground-breaking work like Change4Life and Stoptober.
It doesn’t mean the process is easy. In many companies reputation and marketing still meet only in the CEO’s office, which has made converged services so hard to sell – unless your client is the CEO, the structure is often predisposed against it.
Craft skills, too, have been very different though the growing importance of content to feed the social web in real time is changing this. As more marketing moves into the social sphere, creating enough of the right content needs both the journalist’s and the advertiser’s skills. Thus ultimately convergence may happen from the bottom up as much as the top down. The trick will be to not be caught in the middle.