Scott Wilson, Weber Shandwick: Learn to swim the channels

PR needs to embrace the full marketing spectrum if it is to survive in the age of integration

Scott Wilson, Weber Shandwick
Scott Wilson, Weber Shandwick

It is said recessions accelerate change. In public relations, for change read the hurtling, unstoppable train of integrated marketing. It is integrated by channel and by geography, driven by consolidation, by cost-efficiencies and by communications synergies. And anyone who wishes to lie down on the tracks in an attempt to stop the train faces having their legs chopped off.

Integration is happening by intention, by design and by agencies and clients increasingly recognising that by multi-layering their communications outputs, they are maximising the effectiveness of their own discipline, the wider campaign and the client's budget. In today's febrile times, that's great client service - and good business. Take, for example, the recent international launch of a Samsung mobile phone.

Weber Shandwick's consumer division and our sister events company were asked to pitch separately for the same project - one communications team to plan, execute and manage an event; the other to manage media and digital communications, internationally in and around the launch.

Working together, we delivered a compelling integrated brand experience, delivering a consistent and compelling story to consumers in multiple markets, across multiple channels and fully integrated on and offline.

The result? Synergies, efficiencies, and a recognition that the campaign needs to become global best practice. And, oh yes, it also resulted in a global company record in pre-launch sales ahead of the wider advertising launch.

If these are the foothills of integrated marcoms, the high peaks are the clients who are demanding a single agency team, and a media-neutral response to communications. But this imposes a new discipline on PR agencies and raises healthy questions about their capabilities in strategic planning, personneland understanding of other marketing disciplines. While sitting at the top table is a recognition that PR is coming of age and this is a generational opportunity for all PR practitioners, it is not without risk or challenges. Effective integrated marketing means effective integrated planning. And planning is not always the natural bedfellow of an industry that has traditionally recognised the virtues of agility and nimbleness and a capability to piggyback on the wider news agenda.

I recently enjoyed a truly wonderful opportunity to drive a multi-country, multi-agency, integrated EMEA marcoms team for a global oil major. Planning for the integrated marketing calendar began in March of the previous year and the programme had to be ‘a wrap' before the year was out. In the absence of a crystal ball, piggybacking on the news agenda is replaced by the importance of strategic planning.

Creativity, however, remains king - and this is where the PR practitioner and agency come into their own. PR has always understood the value of having a great story - and how to tell that story, effectively and seamlessly, so that others begin telling it as if it were their own. Not paying for it has kept the best PR agencies honest, and that will stand us in good stead.

If marketing integration presents its own challenges and opportunities, geographical integration is a different animal. In today's economic climate, geographical integration has little to do with comms synergies, and everything to do with agency consolidation, cost-efficiencies and savings.

In this brave new world, reach and organisational consolidation are the new watchwords. For those agencies that can adapt to the demands of international communications modelling, the future looks rosy indeed. For the others, I'm not so sure.

Views in brief

If your agency was a food or drink brand, which would it be?
Absolut vodka. Because it is a global market leader, premium quality,
and, when handled properly, can give vent to outpourings of truly mouldbreaking

Which brand has best caught the public mood in its communications
over the past six months?
The Co-Operative - by sticking to its principles
and living up to them at a time when many others are losing theirs.

Scott Wilson is managing director of consumer marketing at Weber Shandwick

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