Who holds the key to integrated marketing communications?

Illustration by Francis Anderson

Illustration by Francis Anderson

Having worked at both PR  and advertising agencies, I’ve had the opportunity to experience how each view integrated marketing communications (IMC). I believe advertising agencies do not understand IMCs true purpose, but PR agencies do.

Is it because people at ad agencies tend to be more creative-based? Or is it because PR pros are inherently analytical and strategic? Or is it rooted in the education each practitioner receives?

What I Think
I consider advertising professionals to be limited in their knowledge of IMC because they’re not exposed to the many facets of marketing communications in both theory and practice like a PR practitioner is. So I contend that advertising professionals lack of understanding of IMC stems from their cumulative education. University advertising programs look to train their students singularly in advertising, with few courses required in public relations or general communications.

Food for Thought
The University of Florida’s advertising program consists of only advertising-centric courses, with one general introduction course in public relations. Integration cannot be achieved in this environment. Many universities are like this, with courses focused solely on advertising, with little or no tie-in to other aspects of IMC, like direct marketing, social media, public relations, issues management, etc.

This narrow thought process is supported by Professor John Philip Jones, in his book The Advertising Business:

Historically, most agencies have caused the work process to skew decidedly towards advertising, with “below-the-line” services like public relations… bringing up the rear.

Advertising agencies understand advertising best. It is what they do. It is the least labor-intensive among the various communications services included in an integrated plan.

booksNow this is just one opinion of how IMC is perceived, but an excellent supporting point for my argument. To fully explore how advertising and public relations differ in various collegiate programs, take a look at Kent State University’s public relations program, part of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Their program consists of a holistic mix of course requirements, including: marketing, advertising promotion, economics, research, management and finance.

Kent State University’s public relations program certainly varies from the Univeristy of Florida’s advertising program in many ways – the most important being a comprehensive integration among industry disciplines.

What this Means in the Real World
You have a one-sided notion that advertising is the centerpiece of communications – particularly in agency settings – when you take that education, learned mentality and combine it with real-world execution. Advertising has the glitz and glamour, the bling that sells clients and is exciting to work on. But when you say PR to an ad person, they usually cringe and equate those two letters to “press release,” which is still an unexplainable term.

Folks in advertising also unfortunately think that media buys are the gateway to getting ink. Many trade publications and weekly and monthly media outlets offer editorials as a value-add for ad contracts. This opens up another can of worms I will address in another posting, but the ethics of advertising and PR are yet another distinctive difference.

Final Thought
Being adept in the many aspects of IMC – from brand management to media relations – allows PR professionals to have a true understanding of IMC and how it could, and should, be used for clients and agencies.


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