Thought Leadership

Beyond Integrated Marcomms: The Next Frontier for Digital PR

Editor’s note: This is the third post in a series of guest commentary pieces from PRSA 2011 Leadership Assembly Delegates focusing on five key strategic areas within the public relations profession.

Examining integrated marketing communications and how public relations professionals are integrated into the mix within their organization, several issues emerge that defy simple answers.

The move toward integrated communication is being driven by a combination of factors, of which social media is simply the most recent.

An informal poll among our discussion group found a consensus that small nonprofits are already utilizing integrated marketing communications due to their size and budget constraints, a conclusion some public relations researchers have also reached. Public relations agencies are moving toward integration as well because that’s what clients need and are demanding. However, most corporations still maintain the silo structure between public relations and marketing.

One of the opportunities for PR is the need to clearly define what the marketing/communications mix is. Although some studies suggest otherwise, there is a hidden danger in the term “integrated marketing communication.” When the word “marketing” is included, the inference is that marketing takes precedence in the relationship, whether intended or not. Is it time to move beyond integrated marketing communications to integrated strategic communications? It’s possible.

PR is ‘Tradigital’

One reason public relations is perfectly placed to lead the evolution to strategic integrated communications is that traditionally, we have a broader perspective than other disciplines. By nature and training, PR professionals engage in a form of 360-degree awareness of our organization and external factors that impact business goals that is missing in marcomm’s tunnel-vision focus on product sales. As PRSA Chair-elect Mickey Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA, dubbed it, public relations professionals are “tradigital” — we merge traditional communication skills with our affinity for the newest communication methods to engage people.

A problem exists in the educational background of most PR professionals. You generally find advertising and marketing in the business programs, and public relations in the communications program. For public relations to be truly relevant, we have to be able to provide employers, clients and young professionals with the skill sets needed to adapt and lead this new integration.

Five Takeaways for Integrating PR into Strategic Communications

  1. Since integration is already happening, PR needs to start driving this change.
  2. PR needs to instill and reinforce not just the perception, but the recognition that we hold the broad skills needed to drive strategic communications.
  3. We must advocate to and for students to balance business and communications courses for an integrated approach — it just can’t just be PR.
  4. Professionals need to stay informed of the evolving skill sets required for various career options.
  5. PR professionals must “stay curious” in focusing on the strategic approach to communicating.

Beyond ‘Pure PR?’

As a profession we need to own ethics — we need to be the conscience of our companies. We also need to own the analytics of social media.

We must educate PR professionals in areas beyond “pure PR.” Students and young professionals need opportunities beyond traditional internships to shadow veterans across disciplines, creating experiences that they can harness on behalf of their clients and organizations.

Finally, educational institutions need ownership of the integration of strategic communications as well, by offering business classes within the public relations department, and offering public relations classes within business schools.

So what comes next? As PR professionals, we may “know” that public relations is more than product publicity in the marketing mix, but how do we position our profession within strategic integrated communications?

Debra Bethard-Caplick, MBA, APR, is a founding partner of Quicksilver Edge Communciations and adjunct faculty at DePaul University’s College of Communication. She is also president of PRSA Suburban Chicago, and blogs on the foibles of the PR profession at APRwriter.com.

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