What’s In A Name? The ‘Integration’ Concept Outgrows Its Moniker


If you tune in to industry reports and research, Arthur W. Page Society meeting agendas, and business analyses, the drone of a "trend-in-the-making" is likely to hit you in the face. Apparently, it's all about integration now - integrating structures, integrating functions, integrating people. But if you listen to the people driving the business - the top communications and PR executives - you'll quickly realize that, while it is all about integration, it's really not. Confused? Keep reading and we'll explain. On March 29th, 20 communications executives gathered in New York City at the 5th PR News/VMS Thought Leaders Roundtable, and the topic du jour was integration: what it means, what it should mean, what's driving it and how to make it happen. Attendees unanimously agreed that integration as we know it - and as it's been discussed for decades - is still a relevant concept, but perhaps the word no longer represents the industry's needs. In fact, the buzzword "integration" is clearly a fad on the wane. "It's a horrible term," said Jill Davison, VP of corporate communications of American Express Publishing, "but it's also an opportunity for the PR office to make sure everyone is in the loop." But to do so effectively, PR execs need to know what integration means to their organization - and its goals - in order to generate buy-in and achieve tangible business results. According to Ken Kerrigan, deputy director of PR, Americas, Ernst & Young, "Integration is what communicators say when they don't know what else to call it. It all comes down to the nomenclature integration implies - 'one.' What is this magical 'one?'" While the collective brainpower in the room was impressive, the attendees could not answer that question, suggesting that, perhaps, no answer exists. But that's not to say that integration's implications were dismissed; on the contrary, attendees were quick to offer alternatives that would more effectively encompass what the concept should mean to business practices. But whatever the terminology is that will replace "integration," establishing essential contacts is still the goal. ""Integrated communications minimizes everyone at the table. Better than 'integration' is how everything links together," said Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO. "The word that's always missing in the current conversations is 'customer.'" Marianne Eisenmann, head of Chandler Chicco's research division, elaborated by pointing to a trend that has made the customer all the more important to the integration discussion: "A lot of the work we are doing deals with disintermediation. Now it's going straight to the consumers." Kerrigan offered a means of bringing the consumer to the center of the equation - and dealing with disintermediation - by saying, "Integration should be where channels and disciplines meet." This idea opened up the discussion for a new term that seemed palatable to most: connectivity. By connecting with each stakeholder group, and with each internal function, communications has far more leverage in delivering bottom-line business results. Currently, it was argued, "integrated communications" internalizes the entire concept and relegates it to the boundaries of the communications function, when it should be an initiative that is projected outward across the entire organization. So, starting now, consider integration to have undergone a re-branding; "connectivity" is the working term (subject to revision, of course). Kerrigan offered an example of how E&Y is connecting with one audience - potential employees - via a culprit in the disintermediation phenomenon: social networks. The company funnels former ad dollars into a Facebook.com page, which serves as a recruitment tool and connects directly with the target audience. But besides disintermediation, what drives the need to sell the C-suite on "connectivity"? "There has to be a synergy," said Joe Russo, EVP, global director of research, Porter Novelli. "What is driving this is the desire to get more impact out of the stakeholders around the table. It must be dealt with from a business-driver point of view." Then there is the issue of consumer empowerment. "Our objective is to help clients achieve a goal that is actionable and attainable," said Jeff Hinz, SVP, director of client services, ID Media. "How do you motivate a consumer to take action? Then you can work backwards from there to develop a communications strategy. Thanks to new media, it's about information exchange." Speaking of actionable goals, the conversation did take a look at how "connectivity" can be driven by communications and achieved throughout the organization. Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates, offered this as an impetus for action: "It needs to be incentive-driven through accountability, transparency and hitting corporate leaders' pocketbooks. But there's a big difference between corporate dollars and personal dollars. If you aren't personally getting a reward for understanding integrated communications, you aren't going to want to do it." "In terms of incentives, everyone should be looking at the race to the end: the stakeholders," said Alayna Tagariello, media relations manager of Swiss Re. However, it was quickly pointed out that the problem with incentive-based drivers is how to measure results. "Personal incentives are the Holy Grail, because there's no way to go to the CEO and quantify it," Russo said. "How do you quantify employee communications?" Steve Cody, managing partner and co-founder of Peppercom, added to the pool of challenges, saying: "How do you evaluate not getting publicity for your client who is in a crisis?" According to Sabrina Horn, president of the Horn Group, "You can't measure the whole ball of wax with one tool. It's about bringing it all together." (Hence, "connectivity" becomes all the more sturdy a definition.) So incentives are an idealistic way to spur on connectivity, but another suggestion made immediate action more plausible: Make it a structural. If you are a corporate person, reporting relationships are a good first step in aligning, connecting and, well, integrating your business functions. A good example: Until a few weeks ago, Kerrigan fell under the purview of communications, but he now reports to sales. Talk about bridging a previously impossible gap: "There is a huge gulf between PR and sales," Cody noted. What better way to close it? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. If you are an agency executive, connectivity is equally relevant. It's just a matter of mandating a structure that enables full cooperation from all the players. "[Agency professionals] are like Switzerland and the client is like Burger King - 'have it your way,'" Horn said. "Now we make it a requirement that the Horn Group and all other marketing agencies have a monthly meeting with the client. We put it in every contract." At the end of the two-hour discussion, all the world's problems were by no means solved; but the participants did provide a few resolutions to build from: Integration as a term has become meaningless; It's about connectivity, it's about functions linking together, it's about consumers, it's about stakeholders; There must be incentives for companies and people to "connect," but it's still too difficult to determine how to measure results; and Disintermediation has affected the way communicators do business, making connectivity all the more urgent. And maybe connectivity isn't the perfect word, but it's a start in breaking down the silos and reasserting the concept's relevance to all business practices. As Hinz, put it: "Integrated communications has to come from a common goal. If you can get stakeholders together to define integration, then maybe one day it will actually mean something." Roundtable Attendees Jill Davison, VP Corporate Communications, American Express Publishing, amexpubpr@aexp.com Kenneth Kerrigan, Deputy Director Americas PR, Ernst & Young, kenneth.kerrigan@ey.com Joseph R. Russo, EVP Global Director of Research, Porter Novelli, joseph.russo@porternovelli.com Atalanta Rafferty, Executive Managing Director, RF|Binder, atalanta.rafferty@rfbinder.com Deborah Radman, Managing Director, Stanton Communications, debraradman@yahoo.com Alayna Tagariello, VP/Media Relations Manager, Swiss Re, Alayna_Tagariello@swissre.com Steve Cody, President, Peppercom, scody@peppercom.com Mike Paul, President & Senior Counselor, MGP & Associates, mpaul@mgppr.com Sabrina Horn, President, Horn Group, shorn@horngroup.com Tom Stein, President/CEO, Stein Rogan, tstein@steinrogan.com Jeff Hinz, Senior Vice President Client Services, ID Media, jhinz@idmediaww.com Mark Stevens, CEO, MSCO, mark@msco.com Marianne Eisenmann, Director of Research, Chandler Chicco, meisenmann@ccapr.com Michael Giovia, VP Marketing, VMS, mgiovia@vmsinfo.com Angela Jeffrey, VP Editorial Research, VMS, ajeffrey@vmsinfo.com Diane Schwartz, VP/Group Publisher, PR News, dschwartz@accessintel.com To be invited to a future roundtable, please contact Diane Schwartz at dschwartz@accessintel.com, or Angela Jeffrey at ajeffrey@vmsinfo.com.

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