Integrated marketing communications is dead — Here’s what’s next

Today’s post is by Paul Furiga, President and CEO of WordWrite Communications of Pittsburgh, a fellow member firm of PR Boutiques International.

Marketers are supposed to be hip — trendsetters, the first to buy the new gadget, to try the latest thing, the pop culture savants who drive everybody else to consume something new.

So then why are marketers so in love with a way of doing business that’s totally irrelevant today, as much a hangover of the 1980s as the Sony Walkman? I’m talking about “integrated marketing communications,” a way of organizing marketing activities that was supposed to bring together everything from print to broadcast (nobody except the government and Al Gore knew about the Internet back then). Now, not everything about the 1980s is bad. For instance, about half of the world’s biggest generation, the Millennials, was born in the 1980s.

RIP graphicBack when hair was big and glam metal was bigger, aspiring young communicators and marketers first learned this new discipline: Integrated Marketing Communications, or IMC. While practitioners have tried to sex up the definition of IMC in recent years to include social media, cell phones, the Internet, etc., the fact remains that when it was conceived, IMC contemplated one-way communication, primarily through advertising or direct mail, supported by a limited interpretation of public relations and a smattering of point of purchase or other marketing disciplines that barely resemble their descendants (such as guerrilla marketing or street marketing — there was no social media or Internet).

When IMC was conceived, MTV was in its infancy, CNN was still a toddler and Fox News hadn’t even been sketched out by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch. The three over-the-air networks still ruled the marketing roost and the idea that an audience would talk back to someone practicing IMC with a response other than “Yes, yes, I will buy your product!” was a concept beyond imagining. Ah, the good old days. (Most of my nostalgia is directed at bands such as Queen or Poison, and not at one-way marketing).

As we hit the midpoint of the second decade of the 21st century, it’s time to retire Integrated Marketing Communications along with the bad hair and hair bands. Social media tools and inbound marketing have changed the game. It’s all about the conversation and engagement now.

It’s time for a new paradigm, one I call Integrated Digital Communications. Like its predecessor, IDC contemplates the seamless use of a variety of tools to achieve communication or marketing objectives. The difference is that today’s world demands different tools. For example, no one calls it “direct mail” any more, and fewer and fewer marketers use it. We have hundreds of cable channels with smaller audiences and thousands of cell phones with small screens and iPods and Chromebooks and SnapChat and on and on.

In the place of printed phone books, direct mail postcards, or a limited selection of one-way, bombastic network ad vehicles, this exploding universe of social media tools, when used best, really do support each other. They are best when they are integrated — Twitter twinned with Facebook or LinkedIn driving traffic to a company’s HR page, or a YouTube video to a contest, or in our practice of inbound marketing, the union of social media highways with remarkable content driving traffic to your website, to drive traffic, engagement and a relationship, often a sales relationship.

The common denominator for all of these 21st century tools is that they crave content by the bucket load, and not just any content — the kind that drives the conversation. This is what PR, and PR practitioners, have been doing for decades.

In this new universe, PR is the only discipline properly equipped to create, deliver and manage content in the new social media universe.

They call it public relations because it’s about relationships. Forget spin and all that other crap wannabe practitioners and charlatans peddle at the bottom of the PR food chain. True public relations begins with conversations, which can lead to deeper dialogue, which can lead to long-term relationships.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or YouTube or whatever other social media tool you might name, it’s about creating community, and that’s built through relationships. This is what public relations does better than any other communication or marketing discipline.

So what’s the next step for public relations and integrated digital communications? The content gap, if anything, is only yawning wider. At WordWrite, we find more and more often that clients “get” the social media concept as an engine in their public relations and marketing efforts and they are asking us to help.

How will this shift toward communities of conversation affect the overall communication or marketing world? The battle is on. Ad shops are buying social media shops. “Interactive” shops are becoming social media shops. Direct mail has become direct marketing, and guess what, direct marketing is a form of social media!

None of these disciplines, whatever they may call themselves, understand conversations. They are pipe people, technologists rather than communicators, or they are communicators in love with one-way bombast.

So as the fight to rename or reclaim traditional marketing territory moves into cyberspace, the demand for content grows. And as the demand for content that feeds conversation grows, so does the need for public relations and public relations practitioners who understand Integrated Digital Communications. Welcome to the brave new world. May the best conversationalists win!

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