A few weeks ago, a college senior asked me a familiar question: “What’s the biggest challenge facing PR professionals today?” I started to give my usual answer – i.e., the blurring of boundaries between traditional marketing disciplines (PR, branding, advertising, digital, interactive, customer service). Mid-sentence, I realized I had it all wrong. Integration isn’t the challenge; it’s the opportunity – an opportunity to increase impact, save money and focus directly on the customer. The challenge is making integration work by staying on-message across channels, disciplines, audiences and media.
In some areas of communication (e.g., branding), organizations invest significant time and money on upfront strategy. They do research, agree on messaging and select an identity (name, logo, color, tagline) to reflect their brand promise. Since names and logos tell a “visual story,” communicators are careful to use them consistently, whether in ads, signage, collateral or digital content.
In public relations, consistency is equally important. But, too often, PR professionals prioritize tactics over campaign messages and calls-to-action. Tactics – e.g., videos, articles, events, microsites, infographics, games, QR codes – can be engaging. They play a critical role in bringing hard-to-understand messages to life. But without a clear story and call-to-action, they are distracting. A brand story is the glue that holds integrated programs together.
To deliver on the promise of integrated communication, all disciplines (PR, advertising, digital, interactive, customer service) need to work together, agree on a brand story and identify tactics to bring that story to life. The best way to achieve this goal varies by organization. But five basic steps include:
1. Host a cross-functional meeting of marketing, sales, communication and customer service professionals. Prioritize audiences and goalsfor the year ahead.
a. If basic market/sales data isn’t available, conduct research on: customer needs; customer behavior (keywords, online analytics, purchase patterns and criteria, switching patterns); sales influencers and intermediaries.
b. Conduct basic competitor research: marketing messages; share-of-voice; sales process.
2. Based on the above, identify an over-arching brand story as well as core messages for priority audiences. As a rule-of-thumb, narrow your list to no more than three messages.
3. For both the over-arching story and core messages, brainstorm ways to make your storyline sticky and memorable. Identify a broad mix of activities – i.e., visual and text; online and offline; paid and earned; interactive and controlled.
4. Identify calls to action and metrics for each tactic. How will we know if we’re successful?
5. Assign prices, priorities and timelines to each tactic. Roll up into an integrated campaign.
What is your organization doing to integrate communication? What tips do you have to make integrated programs meaningful and measurable?