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Integrated communication?

What kind of communicator will best meet the needs of tomorrow's more aggressive and complex business environment? Some think we're on the right track, but many others think we will need to develop a whole new breed of professional.

Are corporate needs changing?

Educating a new communicator will require knowing exactly which needs are changing. In interviews, several CEOs said their agencies haven't been able to get to know their companies' businesses well enough. Even though the agencies' ideas seem great at first, the results frequently are short-lived.

Other executives seem to agree. Several expressed concern that too many public relations firms pitch highly creative ideas that end up as "environmental clutter"; too many marketing specialists underestimate the reputation-building power of really well-done public relations work, and too many advertising people think they are more effective than they are. If they all work in too much isolation they end up going in different directions.

Indeed, more and more corporate leaders are finding communication results disappointing, and as they reengineer their business processes, focus on service quality, reduce the size of their operations, and prepare for increased competition, they are seeing the solution to their communication problems to be a more integrated and total organizational assault.

A trend or passing fad?

A December 1993 report of the Task Force on Integrated Communications, a project that grew out of the 1991 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications national meeting, stated, "Changes in practice show a trendline more toward integrated communication strategies on the part of advertising agencies, public relations finns, corporations and other types of organizations."

But, many remain unclear about definition. Some see it simply as a coming together of specialty areas, and others see it even more comprehensively. One university's marketing plan describes it as:

"The orchestration of planned communication and marketing initiatives on many fronts at the same time. It requires a common understanding of market niche and central messages, the participation of all levels of management and employees, and the leadership of both executive staff and trustees."

Thomas L. Harris, managing partner of Thomas L. Harris and Company, a consulting firm in Highland Park, Ill., in the March 1993 issue of Communication World said, "Considering marketing and public relations as the same function, in my view, is in the best interest of the corporation." He appears to represent the thinking of a growing number of others.

But, not everyone agrees that an integrated approach by any definition is the trendline of the future. James E. Grunig, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland said in the same article, "Organizations that make public relations a marketing function lose their ability to communicate effectively with groups other than consumers ...."

And the Education and Public Affairs Committee of the Public Relations Society of America issued a statement in response to the 1993 task force report that it "cannot support and in fact opposes, the conclusions."

The committee goes on to say, "... the functions of advertising, marketing and public relations fulfill different purposes within organizations ... advertising, marketing, and public relations employ different strategies and tactics ... public relations professionals and educators define communication differently from their colleagues in advertising and marketing ... [and] the EAC cannot agree that the type of integrated approach it [the task force] proposes would prepare public relations students any better for their future careers ...."

Specialty areas, or a broader field?

Little doubt exists that many in the profession will continue to see advertising, marketing and public relations as separate areas, and will continue to expect professional. education programs to reflect that perspective. "Marketing," says Scott Cutlip, dean emeritus of communication at the University of Georgia, "has a considerably narrower focus."

Nonetheless, the evidence is that an increasing number of senior managers are looking for a more integrated, total-organization approach to renew, revitalize and transform their organizations. And these corporate leaders are going to be searching for communication executives and counselors who can think strategically about all the tools in the communication tool box, and who have the background to develop plans that mobilize the participation of the total organization. And so, just what kind of education will meet these needs?

What will integrated communicators need to know?

Integrated communicators will need to have an understanding of product development and positioning as well as reputation development and stakeholder communication. They will need the capacity to clarify market niche, identity messages, appeals themes, core values and corporate culture. They will need to know about product-support communication, institutional advertising, news story marketing, issues management, crisis containment and internal communication. They will need the background to influence new employee orientation programs, training courses, and the internal events that help build community and increase productivity. They will have to understand and use survey, focus group and interview research. They also will need to be versed in all media - including group dynamics and face-to-face communication. And, they will need a thorough understanding of theory of business and an ability to use business knowledge and savvy effectively in serving as a member of, or counsel to, senior management.

Where will these people come from?

It is clear that those who chose to specialize may not end up with the education integrated communication will require. Those who make the grade, however, as the 1993 task force report stipulates, "will need a strong emphasis on liberal arts; training in verbal, written and visual communication; a solid understanding of business and organizational behaviors, an understanding and respect for all communication disciplines and specialties; and mastery of basic research skills."

Most academic programs today are not doing an adequate job of educating integrated communicators. Most business schools still teach marketing with little offered about advertising, less about public relations, and not enough in the liberal arts. And most journalism-based programs, while they do better in the liberal arts and writing skills, often leave very much to be desired with respect to business subjects.

In the final analysis, it doesn't really matter whether the program is based in journalism or business. What matters is what courses the students take and what perspective they end up having on their work. Dennis L. Wilcox, public relations professor at San Jose State University, Calif., and participant in the 1993 task force, said, "Employers don't give a damn if someone majored in advertising, public relations or journalism. Let's stop talking about being a subset of something else and get on with the job of training the communicators of the 21st century."

The problem with the specialization approach is that it often ends up limiting the communicator's advancement possibilities. Indeed, specialists in all these areas wily continue to be called in, and they always will be very important for their skills and talent - and many will legitimately prefer to remain specialists. But, those who aspire to communication management and leadership will need to have a different, broader view of their work.

The designer and manager of integrated communication will need a solid and broad education.

Core subjects will include: Communication theory and principles, quantitative and qualitative research, public relations principles and cases, advertising principles and practice, marketing management, management theories and practice, organizational communications, organizational behavior, computers and communication.

Related subjects should include: Principles of economics and finance, employee relations and personnel management, writing and grammar, video writing and production, speech writing and performance, international communication, intercultural communication, politics and government, art appreciation, historical and literary foundations, orientation to science and technology.

The ultimate responsibility of management is to communicate the organization, and the ultimate responsibility of the communication manager is to orchestrate the total process. To do this, and meet the challenges of the rough times ahead, communication practitioners and educators will no doubt need to rethink and reengineer just like everyone else. And when that task is complete, many think a more integrated approach to educating and preparing professionals will be the result.

Larry D. Lauer is associate vice chancellor, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.
COPYRIGHT 1995 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:business communication
Author:Lauer, Larry D.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Aug 1, 1995
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