Integrated marketing is a high-level strategic issue that involves all marketing channels, including public relations and media relations. And it begins with the marketing planning process. Marketing plans usually start with overall organizational goals in mind – in the next year, we want to increase revenue by a certain amount, or we want to launch a new product, or set of products. Whatever the overall goals, marketers develop a strategic plan to address those objectives and allocate resources – money, person-power, time – to accomplish them. At the planning stage, it is critical to think about those targets in terms of the various marketing channels and how they will work in concert to achieve success. If you’re not thinking about integration during these foundational planning stages, it is unlikely to happen during the execution of your marketing efforts.
PR is a vital tool in an integrated marketing plan. Because PR leverages and extends your organization’s branding and reinforces the messaging, it needs to be considered as part of the overall strategic planning process. Rather than simply thinking about press releases and media communications as a separate part of the “to do” list, smart marketers consider how PR can serve the organization’s overall goals. How does PR support a goal to increase revenue? Are there ways PR can help to generate qualified leads? How does PR work with other marketing channels such as direct mail, e-mail, web, advertising, trade shows, and conferences? All are good questions that need to be asked during the planning process. And I could write a page (or five!) on each. But I’ll spare you the volumes and simply encourage you to think seriously about how PR can work harmoniously with other marketing channels to achieve your organizational goals.
As an example, I worked for an organization that relied on word-of-mouth and referrals for much of our higher-dollar, district-level and state-level business. While we included district and state level administrators in our direct mail and e-mail efforts, we rarely got a response from this market segment. Our research showed that district and state level folks knew who we were, but understood very little about our products and the benefits we brought to the district and state level. As we thought about how to address this market segment with greater effectiveness, PR became an increasingly critical element. In targeted geographic markets, we worked with our PR counsel to conduct media events highlighting the benefits of our products, and aligned the language used in material for the events to make it relevant to administrators. Administrators were invited to the media events and we followed up with a catalog and/or direct mail piece to them within a few weeks of the event, so it remained fresh in their minds. We circulated case studies to administrators (primarily via e-mail) underscoring the success other districts like them were realizing with our programs. We also used the case studies to include relevant examples of district and state level success in our communications (catalogs, direct mail, web, etc.). And we worked with the media that serves district and state level administrators to provide them with stories that emphasized how districts and states used our products to achieve their institutional goals.
Although we did not do it at the time, today I would include using social media to foster a conversation between existing customers and prospective district and state administrators. Most folks at the district and state level are savvy users of technology and rely on it for many aspects of their jobs. Social media can be used to increase awareness and depth of understanding with this audience.
The effort I describe is not just about consistent branding and messaging; those are a given at this point. Rather, this thinking and planning revolved around using integrated marketing (and specifically including PR and media relations as part of an integrated strategy) to address a communication need within a critical market segment. This was not easily accomplished. It took a sound strategy, multiple marketing channels, many reminders to my marketing staff about what we were trying to accomplish and how we were going to get there, and terrific PR counsel to deliver an increase in awareness and subsequent conversion to sales within this audience.
Is PR an integrated element in your marketing strategy?
A 16 year veteran in the education business, Tim Lum has experience in marketing, sales, and business development. He builds successful educational brands through strategic, multi-channel, and integrated marketing plans that lead to increased awareness and to achieving sell-through objectives. Tim lives in Southern California.