Today, a company’s communication plan doesn’t look anything like it might have five years ago. Digital advancements and social media have shifted the balance of power from traditional channels (the company and news outlets) to the reader (customer, potential customers, employees, potential employees). If you aren’t thinking of the reader and their needs, you aren’t reaching them and you aren’t positioning your company for long-term success.
But, that’s not the only change brought on by the digital age. No longer does the responsibility of effective communication fall solely on the communications department. Companies cannot look at communications as being linear anymore. Rather, effective communication has become a tapestry of threads woven by each individual and each department, creating the ultimate image of the organization. In short, communicating is now everyone’s responsibility.
Combine this shift with the fact that the economy has forced companies to consolidate positions, departments and responsibilities, and it is abundantly clear that we are on the verge of a new frontier called Business Integration.
In one way, Business Integration is changing everything we know about strategic communication. But, in another way, it’s bringing us back to basics by highlighting one of the founding principles of marketing: knowing your audience.
‘More voices at the table’
Whether we like it (or not) or agree with it (or not), companies are empowering more departments to communicate with their key audiences. Note: ‘or nots’ were added because there is still a belief that, as marketing departments and agencies, we are smarter than our audiences. (Another note: we are not.)
The Forbes article ‘The Transformation Of PR Is All About Respect’ details that macrotrend a little further, citing examples from a speech given by renowned author and media theorist, Douglas Rushkoff, who said “…we continue to apply industrial age thinking to an information age operating system.”
Indeed, many companies have been slow to respond, still believing that if we tell our audiences what’s best for them, they will blindly accept it. As communicators and agencies, we are in a service business – whether we realize it or not – and it is our job to serve our clients. And today, our ‘clients’ extend far beyond our actual clients.
Because of this, companies as a whole are depending on communications experts and agencies in a new and vitally important way. As we step away from ‘traditional’ marketing and into the new world of Business Integration, they are looking to us to demonstrate how to communicate, knowing that every group and every department can benefit from a strong communications strategy. This can play out a few different ways:
1. The department creates a communications program, distributes to those key audiences—all without approvals or sign-off from the company’s communications team (read: brand violation!).
2. The department goes to the communications team and asks for help targeting/talking to a much different audience than they are accustomed to (oftentimes in more technical terms than they are accustomed to).
3. Nothing happens, resulting in an opportunity lost.
So how can companies shift from a linear point of view to the new decentralized world of communications?
Before answering that, let’s step back a moment and think about the word integration.
We love that word, don’t we? Who doesn’t want to integrate something? (Unless it’s math. I always hated integrated math in high school.) For years, we have all focused on integrated marketing – and it worked. It’s helped companies drive a stronger brand and maintain a more consistent message. But, we must challenge ourselves to reapply the word integration and think bigger.
Enter: Business Integration.
To be good marketers in today’s world, we have to think beyond marketing to be truly effective, adding a fourth option to the above scenario:
4. The communications team annually meets with every department, identifying objectives that marketing programs can help drive, collaborating with key stakeholders to deliver a consistent communications strategy.
Think about it. Basic principles that we all know and possess, applied across a whole organization, turning a traditionally reactive approach into a proactive opportunity and establishing communications as the lead.
As marketing communications professionals, and more specifically, a marketing communications agency, this is an exciting time and opportunity for us. But it’s based on something we should be asking ourselves every day anyway:
• What value are we bringing to the communications process?
• What value are we bringing to our clients?
• What do our audiences really care about?
By introducing these old principles into the new world, together (companies, departments, agencies and individuals) we can add value by doing what we do best – serving our clients, whomever they may be.