In making the announcement its teams for brand and company communications would come together and operate as an integrated global unit, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard (above) sent a memo to employees.
Writing that business is operating in a world of “mass disruption,” Pritchard continues: “We realized the best way to deal with disruption is lead it, which is why we are reinventing brand building, and communications has a big part to play.”
He adds, “These changes will enable us to leverage the best of brand and corporate communications work to better tell our story more seamlessly in an environment that is increasingly fluid and dynamic.”
In-house comms leaders applaud P&G’s recognition of the gravitational forces pulling marketing and PR closer together and the need to lead rather than react to disruption. However, they say that doesn’t necessarily have to manifest itself within corporations in a combining of those departments or a new reporting structure.
Dave Samson, GM of public affairs for Chevron, one of the largest energy companies in the U.S., says it is about a mindset.
“The discussion is not really about, ‘Should marketing take over comms, or should comms sit on top of marketing?’” he contends. “The discussion we should be having stems from the question, ‘How do we work together and integrate in a way that drives business value for our company?’”
The answer may or may not include organizational changes, but Samson asserts it demands strong leadership on both the marketing and comms sides. The strength comes in their understanding the respective functions are stronger in collaboration than they are independent of one another. In other words: no “us versus them” identity that has been entrenched in many corporations between marketing and comms.
Samson says “marketers have always used data and analytics more effectively than comms people. So, communicators can apply the same discipline to comms to better understand their stakeholders.”
You can put PR and marketing people in the same reporting line or change things organizationally. Sometimes that does help, but in my experience that successful integration is about the way people work and think
Dave Samson, Chevron
Meanwhile, marketing has focused on the customer, but would benefit from a broader view of stakeholder engagement, given the worlds of consumer marketing, employee communications, corporate comms, public affairs, and investor relations have become so interconnected.
“You can put PR and marketing people in the same reporting line or change things organizationally – and sometimes that does help – but in my experience that successful integration is about the way people work and think,” explains Samson.
And as he notes, comms isn’t just collaborating with marketing, but also HR, legal, investor relations, and other departments.
“We partner with HR to better drive employee engagement within Chevron. We have a shared accountability for that, but I don’t report to HR and they don’t report to me, and we don’t sit together,” notes Samson. “It is about taking an enterprise view to the work we do as opposed to a purely functional view.”
Linda Rutherford, SVP and chief comms officer at Southwest Airlines, agrees.
“I’ve seen organizations organize this in many different ways, so I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to maximize the work,” she says. “It’s about a commitment to understanding the power in the integration.”
The commitment means striving to bring, as well as demonstrate, a greater benefit of the comms function to the overall company strategy.
Rutherford cites a number of possible changes to help facilitate that. It could include “using measurement and analytics to better understand the impact of various communications initiatives, bringing insights from behavioral science to better inform communications strategies, and looking for talent beyond traditional communications or media experience.”
“There is a right or wrong way to maximize the work. It’s about a commitment to understanding the power in the integration.”
Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines
These are all things Southwest Airlines’ PR function has undertaken in evolving from being order-takers to strategic partners in the business, explains Rutherford.
“Our comms function has followed that evolution over time – from being brought in at the end of a decision process to ‘check the box’ on communications to being brought in much earlier in the debate and discussion phase to help guide the business,” she says. “From a talent standpoint, that means we need to ensure the staff is equipped to provide strategic counsel, not just exist as a writing pool.”
CCOs as chief integration officers
Rutherford’s role has evolved, too. Although not an official part of her title, she says she has effectively been acting as a “chief integration officer.”
“From my vantage point in supporting business objectives, I can see the big picture of how different projects, programs, or initiatives would benefit from collaboration, crowdsourcing for solutions, or to converge the deliverables,” she notes. “I can help the organization avoid duplicate expenses and repetitive work.”
Joe Cohen, chief communications officer of Axis Capital Holdings, agrees with that point.
“The core competencies required to be a strong communications leader have expanded – we’ve gone from PR leaders to integrated brand marketing leaders,” as well as from “skill-based experts to data-driven strategists,” he explains.
In becoming those kinds of leaders, he says comms has gone from being “viewed as a second-tier discipline or as a marketing amplifier” to one with an important seat at the table.
In the most sophisticated models, Cohen says reputation management has become prioritized as a strategic imperative, with comms building, measuring, and protecting brand reputation in partnership with other company functions, including marketing.
“From a structural standpoint, different models work for different organizations, but the consistent trend is traditional silos between marketing and communications are breaking down and there is much more integration and centralization of resources,” he notes.
His advice for comms departments? They can “benefit significantly by scaling up their measurement capabilities” and “creating integrated reporting models that show the combined impact of paid, earned, owned, and shared.”