As a communications professional, I have spent the better part of my career Touching the Right Integrated Communications Building Blocksdefining and clarifying the term “public relations.” Whether a person or company, it really boils down to building, maintaining, and protecting reputations and relationships. The specifics of a situation, program or campaign dictate how that is achieved in terms of priority and tactics. Pretty straight forward—and yes, if you are in a company, there is usually a department to handle “that.” But which department?

Sorting Through Communications Roles

Today, that might not be an easy question to answer, as marketing and communications professionals work to take ownership of responsibility in the technical realm. Traditionally, marketing departments have been primarily concerned with “short-term quantitative” tactics that drive immediate purchase of products or services, and corporate communications are concerned with more “long-term quantitative” issues—such as informing and persuading the public as well as the reputation of the company.

Both are critical components for business sustainability, yet the rise of new communication platforms calls for a more integrated communications approach. Lee Odden of Top Rank Online Marketing explained in HeidiCohen.com, “Today’s PR professional understands the intersection of content, social technologies, and marketing in ways that achieve common PR objectives: credibility, thought leadership, and influence.”

The territorial issues associated with “what” and “how” a company communicates can be a political minefield—yet companies with effective communication strategies have closely aligned communications and marketing departments, creating integrated communications. Product messages reinforce corporate messages. Certainly, messages will take on different intonations for different audiences, yet the underlying message must always be consistent. Add to the mix the importance of staying true to the company culture when you convey those messages, and you now have multiple company departments involved in the process.

The Three Fundamental Steps to Integrated Communications

The foundation of integrated communications lies in the company structure.

  1. Include Corporate Communications participation in the Marketing planning mix. Corp Com’s input includes a broader knowledge of company stakeholders, which can (and should) strengthen a program/launch/campaign as well as detect any possible land mines.
  2. Ensure that reporting relationships support an integrated process. Whatever your company structure, ensuring that communication sub-functions have a “dotted line” reporting relationship and also have active, consistent communications with each other will strengthen the messaging and overall efficiency.
  3. Leverage technology. Teams can thrive virtually through the cloud, meeting software, voice-over-IP services, instant messaging, Skype, and so on. Aligning the company culture with the right technologies can increase efficiency and cross team collaboration.

“Public relations” was a relatively new term as little as fifty years ago. It probably will remain a profession that many people use “air quotes” to describe—due mostly to their own lack of knowledge—for years to come. And it is, and shall likely and necessarily remain, a nuanced and broad umbrella for a variety of different roles, purposes, and functions. But embracing new technologies and ensuring that the Marketing arm on the left speaks to, and shakes hands with, the Corporate Communications and Public Relations arm on the right, is what will sustain corporations and reputations well into the future.