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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Integrated Marketing and Communications AND the PR Industry: Five Questions with Beth Harte


This is part two of a two-part interview with Beth Harte focusing on Integrated Marketing Communications and the public relations industry.

In part one, Beth Harte discussed the philosophy of IMC and aspects PR pros should understand and embrace in order to be part of a customer-centric organization. In this post, we continue the discussion, talking about the role social media plays in IMC...


Q1. One point of contention/misunderstanding about IMC is with regard to how the model addresses only customers, but not multiple audiences such as stakeholders, and employees. How do you respond?

Sean Williams commented on Part One regarding this same concern. I’d like to share my response here because I think it’s really important to stop silo building with the “Us versus Them” (i.e. PR vs. Marketing) mentality. At the end of the day, customers just don’t care about the internal battles and silos and as professional communicators we need to start really focusing on the customer and their wants and needs (outside-in thinking). IMC helps in that regard. Two-way relationships and customer-centric understanding are key.

A great example I like to use is Apple. There is potential for one constituent to be an employee, a customer, a shareholder and a stakeholder (i.e. they live near the Apple Headquarters and are therefore part of the local community). Will you have four different departments address that constituent? If so, will it be cohesive, timely, and relevant communications or will everyone be arguing internally as to who is better suited to communicate? IMC puts the customer at the center of the equation, not departments. Just some food for thought...

Here’s what I shared with Sean:

IMC does not advocate speaking to all constituents in the same manner. In fact, IMC doesn't advocate talking to all customers/prospects in the same manner...and that's where both marketing and PR folks trip up (the spray and pray mentality). IMC is about segmenting. And just like PR, IMC is also very focused on targeted messaging and two-way relationships.

In reality, many PR professionals are pitching everyone in the exact same manner. They are not segmenting, listening, building two-way relationships or providing relevant, timely messaging... They could take a lesson from IMC there.

To your point about stakeholders. Yes, some stakeholders may never purchase a product or service, but they sure as heck can stop the sale of a product or service through word of mouth, picketing, etc. It's PR's job to make sure that there is a mutual relationship that allows for the "greasing of skids" so to speak in order for business to continue.

Q2. It seems that social media could be a valuable means for developing two-way relationships. How do you see social media helping (or adding to the challenges) of PR being able to move the needle on IMC?

Social media, and the data/insights that it provides, is the glue that binds all departments together. For the first time in history, we have unbiased data to get a truer sense of customers’ relationship with our brands (how they feel, what they like, etc.) and how they interact with others. Psychographics, sociographics and ethnographics are really important to better understand customers and constituents and their behaviors.

That said, I don’t believe that social media sits in marketing or PR - that’s a siloed approach. Everyone should have access to the data so that better business decisions can be made by all departments. If I am a customer or stakeholder and I complain or compliment on Twitter, I don’t care who responds, I only care that someone cares enough to respond and help or thank me. Organizations need to understand that people don’t silo their interactions with a brand (i.e. this direct mail piece must be from marketing and that article must be from PR...) so they shouldn’t silo their interactions.

Honestly, I don’t see PR pros moving the needle on IMC until they get back to their roots of people relations. I see many PR agencies, consultants and professionals using social media channels to push internally developed messaging and not engaging in relationship building.

Q3. What are ways that the public relations industry can use social media to become more customer-centric, within our own roles as well as across departments?

Let’s be clear that customer-centric isn’t a buzz word. Being customer-centric requires an organization to totally revamp how it operates from top to bottom. And that is a very arduous task that requires management commitment and time. If an organization is unwilling to put their customers at its core and reorganize how they do business, there isn’t much a PR professional or social media tools can do to help.

Q4. Changing the subject slightly, but, I’d be remiss if I didn’t drop the ROI card. I’m a big advocate for challenging the PR industry to prove ROI not just via impressions, ad equivalency, but in how it actually translates to making money for the company. How does this fit into the IMC equation?

Proving ROI and value is what IMC is all about. From short-term to long-term brand value to calculating ROI on expenditures; ROI can be proven each and every time when it’s based in IMC. The key is to have a database (or CRM) system that provides the ability to provide closed-loop data (i.e. We know a customer responded to these three tactics and purchased X amount in relations to them). Again, if you want to be able to prove ROI for PR, read “IMC: The Next Generation.” There is an excellent formula that will help to do just that.

Impressions and AVEs DO NOT equate to ROI. If anyone is out there selling ROI based on impressions they are doing a HUGE disservice to our industry. Impressions are the same as subscriber number (and sometimes plus one for pass along). There is absolutely no guarantee that any one person will read every single article in a magazine or newspaper.

Q5. To conclude, can you share any companies do you think are doing particularly well with true IMC?

By ‘true’ IMC, we are talking about a customer-centric business that relies on data-driven marketing and communications. There are only a handful of companies: Best Buy, Target, Starbucks, Jones Lang Lasalle, Lafarge, Southwest, Zappos, Cisco, FedEx.

A great book on understanding IMC is “IMC: The Next Generation” by Don & Heidi Schultz. Another great book on understanding the value of being customer-centric is “Reorganizing for Resilience” by Ranjay Gulati. [And yes, even PR pros should read these books!]


Beth Harte is a marketer, blogger, speaker, communicator, thinker, connector (people & dots) and Client Services Director at Serengeti Communications, where she helps clients with their social media strategies and markets the digital brain trust that is Serengeti. She is also an adjunct professor at Immaculata University where she teaches multiple classes in the graduate level public relations program. She is co-founder of #IMCchat which takes placeTwitter on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. CST. Follow her on Twitter or read her insights on becoming more customer-centric on her blog, The Harte of Marketing.

Kary Delaria is a digital PR strategist and social media monitoring and measurement specialist for Kane Consulting, a Minneapolis-based social media marketing and PR firm. You can contact her via email, kary@kaneconsulting.biz or @KaryD on Twitter.