It’s Time for PR to Take the Lead in Integrated Communications


PRNews, October 9, 2023


Have you heard this joke: An advertising exec, a PR director and a marketing officer walk into a bar, and…The idea that these three folks would even walk into a bar together may evoke laughter, given the constant drumbeat that the three disciplines are not exactly working well together. The truth is, marketing, advertising and PR have come a long way – but the three-legged stool is still a bit wobbly.T

his was borne out at the Integrated Communications Thought Leaders Roundtable held in late September in Minneapolis and hosted by PR News and VMS. The roundtable, the first of many nationwide, brought together for two hours about a dozen PR, marketing and advertising executives in the Minneapolis area to discuss the future of integrated communications and how companies can remove the lines in the sand for the greater good. The Roundtable was facilitated by PR News Vice President/Group Publisher Diane Schwartz and Angie Jeffrey, vice president of editorial research at VMS, and a member of the Institute for PR’s Commission on PR Measurement & Evaluation.

“There’s been an amazing transformation,” says Barb Iverson, vice president of the financial services practice at Weber Shandwick, which used direct mail, PR, inserts and advertising in 17 markets in its successful campaign recently for the U.S. Treasury to get word out about the conversion from paper checks to direct deposit. Iverson notes that the campaign was a proven success, but it’s still difficult to know which marketing/PR piece motivated the conversion to direct deposit. A key to the campaign, she said, was working with trusted media voices across various platforms.

While there are many ways that integrated communications is being used and viewed, in general, the Roundtable participants were nearly unanimous in their agreement that more integration is likely in the future.

“PR has been proven to drive outcomes, while advertising ROI has been harder to prove,” notes Gary Getto, executive vice president of media research at VMS. “Measuring the combined impact of advertising and editorial is the ultimate determinant of business outcomes.”

Any discussion of integrated communications begins with the understanding that the role of marketing and communications has changed dramatically in the past several years and has been revolutionary if you rewind 10 years or more. For one, the customers (or other stakeholders) are in charge now: marketers can go directly to customers and bypass advertising and forms of PR once tried and trusted. In addition, customers are creating content and opinions to the point that citizen journalism is common lexicon and the bane of many a PR exec’s existence. And there’s a near-constant influx of ways to reach stakeholders.

The now-fragmented communications channel means that it’s harder to reach and influence constituencies. Getto notes that in 1965, 80% of consumers age 18-49 could be reached with three 60-second TV ads; today the maximum is 15% of consumers.

David Kistle, senior vice president at Padilla Speer Beardsley, says the best examples of integrated communications are at the brand level. It’s at the organizational level where successful integration is often being fought. Dory Anderson, senior partner and chair of the brand marketing practice at Carmichael Lynch Spong, says it’s no longer about job titles: “Come up with the ideas first, and don’t worry about the discipline.”

Rose McKinney, president of Risdall McKinney, says one way of integrating communications effectively is to remove the labels that organizations place on what PR does, what marketing does, etc. The focus, as she and the Roundtable participants agreed, should be on the goal of the particular campaign or initiative. Sounds simple, but it’s a four-letter word in some organizations. Marketing, PR and advertising – whether they’re in-house or outsourced – need to be comfortable with a little ambiguity of roles and more fluidity in how internal departments and outside teams work and interact for the end goal.

Brad Allen, vice president of corporate communications at Imation, says it’s easier to have an integrated communications program if you’re starting with a blank piece of paper, as with a product or company launch. “The more critical integration is with the day-to-day stuff,” he says. “Where it’s most difficult is when it’s more important.”

Imation, the leading removable data storage manufacturer and supplier, purchased Memorex earlier this year primarily because of the value created by the great Memorex ad campaign (“Is it Live or Is It Memorex?”) from Leo Burnett four decades ago. So, does advertising still work?

“Advertising has collapsed as a customer relations model,” says Marlys Tamte, president of the creative agency Prosper Group. “The advertising industry is looking to figure out what the client wants; we no longer own the space and we don’t own access to the customer.”

Dana Norsten, marketing communications manager at NordicWare kitchenware manufacturer, relayed the PR success of the organization’s 60th anniversary campaign which included a contest, but the lack of paid media (i.e. advertising) kept the contest entry levels down. For her, a little more advertising would have worked.

Being able to measure the effectiveness of an integrated program is still a work in progress, as is being able to effectively measure any communications program, given the lack of industry standards. VMS, which has used its Share of Discussion analysis to show correlation between unpaid media and business outcomes based on its Media Prominence Index (MPI), is working on a similar metric for paid advertising, the Advertising Prominence Index (API) which, together with its MPI metric, will generate a combined Integrated Media Index measuring both paid and unpaid media campaigns.

Tim Wilson, president of TMW Marketing, harks back to a philosophy carried over from his days working with Chase Manhattan, where the goal was to “make news, not ads.”

The integrated communications approach can be rewarding, even if your stakeholder can’t quite place the source of the message. Take the Mayo Clinic, for example. In a recent survey asking customers where they heard about Mayo Clinic, a large percentage marked off Mayo Clinic’s advertising as the source. The problem, according to Lee Aase, national media relations manager at Mayo, is that at the time the Clinic had not done any advertising.

Apparently, the tactic of surrounding your stakeholders with integrated messaging works – even if they can’t put their finger on the source.