Why You Should Care About Communications Integration

There's a great deal of chatter in the PR field these days about "integration." meaning the coordination of communications and procedures across all disciplines to gain maximum leverage with the media. "Alignment," meanwhile, means adhering to a core set of messages throughout an organization so there is consistency in all communications. Alignment and integration are two simple principles to make sure everybody within the organization is in sync. But shall ever the twain meet? Osgood O'Donnell & Walsh, a New York-based marketing communications firm, recently completed a study of these two concepts within leading companies to determine how they are dealing with them, including communications executives at Daimler-Chrysler, Gillette, Honeywell, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, PepsiCo and Union Pacific. "None of the organizations that we talked to didn't think there were significant opportunities to improve on coordination and integration," says Joe O'Donnell, a partner in Osgood O'Donnell & Walsh and former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of two major advertising agencies, J. Walter Thompson Company Worldwide and Campbell-Mithun-Esty Advertising Inc. PR execs are often so busy with the task at hand that integrated communications often gets short shift. Following is a breakdown of the problems associated with coordinating integration and alignment and how to wed the two. The Hurdles: A few of them pointed to substantial hurdles within their own organizations. Among the reasons stated were: The communications functions report into different areas within the company. Some practitioners don't perceive any direct payback from integrated communications. While the value of integration may be appreciated, it is not a high priority given the other demands on time. Better Communications: Each of the companies in the study that reported successes in communications integration had the direct and active involvement of the CEO in developing corporate messages. What can we do to improve communications integration in our organizations? Information sharing is first. Companies in the study shared program plans, upcoming events, emerging issues, new initiatives and communications successes and failures through: Regular meetings - from well-organized affairs to informal gatherings. Intranet sites to post events calendars, best practices and case studies. Off-site gatherings to set direction. Best Practices: Why does the head of investor relations need to know about the latest advertising campaign? Well, for one thing, to avoid the kind of embarrassing problems mentioned above. But, more important than avoiding mistakes, there are opportunities to leverage programs to create greater impact. Among the other "best practices" identified in the study were: Make sure the business plan is the primary driver of communications planning. Align your resources and activities with the priorities of the company. Share your plan with other disciplines. Develop a core set of messages that articulate your company's strategy. The message platform should be sent to all communications professionals as the basis for program development. Find ways to measure what you do. Beyond clip analysis, you can test messages and refine programs - using formal surveys, online questionnaires and even feedback cards at meetings. Make optimal use of your outside agencies. The most successful of our respondent companies viewed their agencies as true partners, not just suppliers. Osgood O'Donnell & Walsh, which is an affiliate of Fleishman-Hillard (http://www.oow.com), is a strategic consulting firm.

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