Two disciplines on same road

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There's a maxim that says it always makes sense to truly integrate public relations and marketing activities in the drive for the hearts and minds of consumers. Making sense is one thing-making it happen is another. The maxim has been honored more in the breach than the observance. But now, with public doubt about corporate America at an all-time high, public-relations professionals and marketers must collaborate to shape, manage and protect corporate reputation as well as brand image. We must partner to create and demonstrate a single message-whether through public relations or marketing communications-or risk confusion and a mistrusting public.

Traditional barriers to working together must be lifted. But to change our working model we need to first change the way corporate leadership views public relations and marketing-and the best way to do this is by demonstrating a more effective model. Even without an integrated organizational structure, marketing and public relations leadership can build a matrix organization that promotes information sharing, true dialogue and collaboration-a team approach. This attitude is not optional. It is necessary as organizations large and small face up to the complex brand- and reputation-management challenges they face in today's business environment.

Traditional obstacles to partnership have included a number of factors.

different animals

There's the view that advertising and PR are two different animals and that an investment in advertising is somehow radically different from an investment in PR. As a result, many companies have missed opportunities to magnify their marketing and public relations campaigns by combining the power of the two disciplines.

There's the debate that revolves around who controls what budget. A narrowly focused view can result in less than optimal incremental spend in one area while the other is starved for funds.

And many management teams have created too few intersections of marketing and PR. Instead, marketing and PR are often organized into silos-sometimes with different goals within the same company. It's hard enough in the best of worlds to find compelling and differentiated opportunities to reinforce corporate positioning, create new and positive customer brand experiences and communicate or reiterate key messages. Separation of the two makes it even harder.

Arthur W. Page, a pioneer in corporate public relations, was the first public relations professional to serve on a corporate board. He preached what we all know in our hearts: "Public perception of an organization is determined 90% by what it does and 10% by what it says." The Page Principle, "Prove it with action," is as meaningful for marketing and PR people today as it was 30 years ago: Who you are as a company and every aspect of your success has to be proven to be believed. Consumers and the public at large need reasons to believe.

Demonstrating those reasons requires integrating marketing communications and public relations. Certainly, this notion is not news to readers of Ad Age. The most effective marketing communications programs usually include public relations. Experience tells us that the best marketing initiatives integrate all the available tools. But it may come as a surprise to learn that marketing and PR truly working together remains a novel concept in many organizations.

At Allstate, our management team recognizes that the integration of marketing communications and public relations is essential to the effectiveness of our market presence and our reputation-management program. More important, the people doing the work-the in-house staffs of our two departments and our respective advertising, marketing communications and public relations agencies-recognize it too. When we create teams that integrate the collective intellectual capital of all our resources-whether it's to develop annual communication plans, our brand positioning strategy, an event or even a single announcement-we've delivered a better result.

one brand, one vision

We recently reviewed positioning for both the Allstate Corporation and the Allstate brand. The corporate positioning exploration was initiated within Corporate Relations, the brand positioning within Marketing. Though we started independently, we came to a single communication together-we agreed on a one brand, one vision approach. Today, in both brand and corporate positioning, we start from the same visionary statement. All our different audiences receive a consistent message whenever, wherever or however they come in contact with us. We know who we are and who we want to be-and we work to demonstrate this single vision in all that we do.

Our communications response surrounding the recent catastrophic wildfires in California provides a more tactical example of our approach. We sought to demonstrate both through word and deed our commitment to support our customers and the Southern California community-our stand to do the right thing.

Pivotal to our success was the deployment of a truly integrated marketing team comprised of government relations, corporate relations, advertising, customer communications, agents, regional sales and claims center professionals. The Allstate Catastrophe team set up mobile claims centers in the devastated areas-right where help was needed. Agents got personally involved in helping people put their homes and lives back together. We created The Allstate Foundation California Wildfire Relief Fund to distribute $1,000,000 to help aid recovery and rebuilding efforts in the impacted areas. This provided media opportunities to further Allstate's consumer advocacy message. We created advertising to tell people how to protect themselves and prepare for the events ahead in the post-fire environment, including how to easily register and expedite their claims. While some of the advertising was paid, much of the advertising was so informational and advocacy-based that California radio stations ran it as a public service at no charge.

These investments yielded a tremendous amount of goodwill and credibility both in the communities struck by the fires, as well as with our customers and employees nationwide. Our work in California reflects the effects of our integrated work in action and the benefits of our company-wide commitment and adherence to a singular positioning.

In the end, it's not only what we say or how or where we say it. What matters is what we do to back up our words. Proving that we mean what we say. Communicating this proof to all a company's constituents takes an integrated effort-starting with the partnership of marketing communications and public relations.

About the authors

Peter Debreceny is VP-corporate relations, and Lisa Cochrane, VP-integrated marketing communications, at Allstate Insurance Co. Mr. Debreceny is also a VP and member of the board of trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society.

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