Generally, the field of Public Relations is one of the less understood, with fairness to some areas of study, such as Medicine, Engineering, Law and Accountancy. While this discussion is not to dissect PR, it is important to state it briefly concerning the subject matter.
PR is decentralised into various aspects, cutting across corporate communications, media relations, stakeholders management, advertising, broadcasting, content management, events, sustainable development and journalism. This broadness is, perhaps, why the public rarely understands the field. As a practitioner, in the gathering of contemporaries and friends, it is sometimes difficult to explain what one does in simple terms for quick understanding like it applies to other careers.
Be that as it may, the current business environment necessitates organisations harnessing PR’s influence in all spheres. This has evolved into a driving force in establishing a favourable position among stakeholders. It is also essential for strategic corporate reputation and brand perception building through the corporate affairs or communications department. In most organisations, other departments see employees in this department as the show-off team, whose goal is all about glitz, razzmatazz and paparazzi.
Outside the strategic job functions, which shall be highlighted, the average communication strategists are likely to be among the most popular employees in an organisation. The reason is that they are seen as a bridge between the system and the people through disseminating information and interfacing with internal and external stakeholders. It is sometimes quick to assume that the functions of the communication team are limited to creating impressions by coordinating photography and video coverage for events, news publications and broadcast on internal and external channels, being eloquent or outspoken (sugar-coated tongue) and distribution of freebies in the form of branded collateral.
What does integrated communications strategy do?
PR experts or communications strategists sit as business advisors with several tactical initiatives driving business objectives. Below is a highlight of what an integrated communication strategy does for organisations.
Target audience identification and best communications channel: Communications strategists ensure to identify the target audience and the proper channels to best communicate the messages to them. This helps the business to communicate effectively and efficiently with a relative message to meet every demography of the target audience and their unique way of consuming information.
Message consistency and synchronisation across platforms: Beyond identifying communication channels for each demographic of the target audience, it is essential to have a connecting vein between all messages in the traditional space and the digital ecosystem. These messages must remain in the same context, irrespective of the tone or style to ensure consistency and maintain uniformity.
Link internal audience with business objectives: It has become a strategic imperative to connect the internal audience with regular updates on business development. This is done across all internal communications channels as available in the organisation to keep employees up-to-date and adequately informed.
Sustainability and enabling business environment: The communications team has the task of engendering initiatives for a sustainable business drive, such as infrastructure development, which will be tabled under the Corporate Social Responsibility policy, and stakeholders’ engagements to foster an enabling and sustainable environment for the business to thrive.
Elements of integrated communications strategy
Vision: A vision is to foretell new outlook of success. It is the aspiration to achieve the desired outcomes in the future. The concept gives an insight into the big picture of the business.
Objectives: The vision further needs to be broken down into objectives and goals to propel the functional changes of the organisation. Objectives, in essence, are the step-by-step approach to achieving the vision.
Key Performance Indicators: These are necessary tools for measuring and evaluating accomplishments made in tandem with the objectives. The KPIs help to create a roadmap to achieving the strategic objectives. In other words, with KPIs settings, you have your eyes on the ball.
Achievements or milestones: In achieving results, it is essential to set timelines or deadlines from the short-term to the long-term business objectives. Timelines are key to the realisation of the objectives to guarantee efficiency. It is vital to fast-track short-term goals and focus on long-term goals.
Proprietorship: How well a business thrives is also a function of the demonstration of ownership exhibited by the employees. With accountability and transparency, coupled with information dissemination, employees are on autopilot mode to see themselves as owners when satisfactorily informed of the business strategies.
How integrated communications build connections that support growth
Strategic Integrated communication is a live wire of any organisation that desires to be competent in the modern world. With integrated communications activities, significant discussions are used to establish fundamental relationships that will drive desirable actions for the business to flourish. Nicki Gibbs highlighted three ways to build this connection – customers, partners and employees.
Brand connection with the right content: Existing customers and prospects discover, engage and form real-time connection with businesses when they have access to the right content at the appropriate channel that resonates with them. This symbiotic connection will further inspire patronage of the offerings in terms of services and products when the need arises because of the relationship they previously had with the communications content.
Right communications channel aligned with business objectives: Integrated communications ensures that organisations show up on the proper channels with a cohesive message that aligns with the business objectives.This is important to avoid posting right content on the wrong channel or platform.
Connection to business metrics: Customer experience has direct ties with business metrics. When they derive satisfaction from your offerings, there will be improved patronage. Through this, there will be a spike in unsolicited Word of Mouth marketing/advertisement, leading to increased sales/patronage.
Customer experience as the new differentiator: A recent study by Walker, an experience management service provider, has found that customer experience will overtake price and product as the essential brand differentiator. With satisfaction gained, customers will likely be loyal to a business that offers such beyond the price and product offering.
Satisfaction and retention: With practical customer experience and increased satisfaction, there will be a high expectation of retention, leading to revenue boost. Suffice to say that a satisfied customer will be willing to pay premiums for better experiences, irrespective of competitors’ low costs on similar offerings.
Valuable partnership: Integrated communication also helps organisations to form beneficial partnership across the board. This permeates strength into the business operation in various capacities.
Connectivity and sustainability: Through the championing of initiatives in infrastructure development and sponsorships, unique alignment is created, which deepens connections with stakeholders, communities, regulators and others – this powers equity for the business, enabling sustainability and healthy relationships for the company to thrive.
Partnership attraction: There is a propensity to get strategic business partners to align with the organisation’s objectives for growth, resulting, possibly, in Joint Ventures.
Infusion of life into the corporate statements: Consistency in strategic communications about the business and its achievements across channels is a direct infusion of life into the image, as it brings the vision, mission, objectives and core values to life.
Increased productivity: Employees are likely to be more productive and profitable when adequately engaged. This value sees them take ownership of the business and ensure that results are aligned with the business objectives. This further increases the level of employee retention, revenue boost and efficiency in customer engagement.
Transparency and trust: With effective and consistent direct communications to employees using channels that resonate with each demographic within the system will impact the positive perception of the organisation among internal stakeholders. These are the first ambassadors of the system and, as such, it is essential to promote an open-door policy to enhance transparency and trust.
First-hand information: With first-hand information about the business, employees see themselves very involved in the operations and will not be surprised when such messages are posted to the public. They are posted to external channels to communicate to an external audience. Such statements should not take them by surprise because they should receive similar messages internally. When an organisation is strategic about message deployment, it is bound to gain employee trust and loyalty.
In wrapping up this narrative, it is crystal clear that today’s businesses must be deliberate in adopting integrated communications strategy to fulfil all strategic business plans. The ripple effect is a spike in revenue and retention of patronage for service offerings.
One of the critical points highlighted is that for organisations to drive growth in reputation building, earn a positive perception and record a significant spike in sales, customer satisfaction is the new gold. This should be taken as a topmost priority, and fast pace of the digital revolution.
Organisations should explore all relevant channels to engage the target audience in their demographics and connect appropriately with them. This way, businesses will maintain a positive outlook in strategic audience engagement and join effectively to gain the expected market perception and retention.
*Adejumoh, a Public Relations and Integrated Communications expert, writes from Lagos.
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