Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reputation or Branding in Integrated Marketing Communication for Sage Encycopedia of Reputation Management 2016

Draft:  Strategic and Tactical Integrated Marketing Communications – Branding or Reputation Management?  For Sage Encyclopedia of Reputation Management 2015 entry on IMC.

Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) is “The ethical process of managing all transparent sources of information about a product/service to which a consumer, prospect, or stakeholder is exposed which truthfully and behaviorally moves them toward a sustainable sale and/or relationship and maintains consumer/stakeholder loyalty” (6). IMC exits at several levels of practice but more important, IMC broadens the fields of marketing, advertising, public relations regarding the strategic challenge of branding and reputation management.

It might be more accurate to call integrated marketing communications a newer strategy in organizational communications. This academic and professional field has been around as the acronym “IMC” for nearly a quarter of a century at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications. (1) (2) and at Colorado University – Boulder (3) (4).  Today, the field exists as a course in many schools of Journalism and Schools of Communications. Since the field of communications is only taught strategically in less than a handful of business schools, it represents the cooperation between advertising and public relations as historically taught from the beginning of the 20th century in schools of journalism.

The earliest definition of IMC was for a 1991 report to the largest advertising association.  The simplest definition from industry (Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies) is that IMC is defined as “a concept of marketing communications planning that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communications disciplines such as general advertising, direct response, sales promotion and public relations, and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communications impact” (5). Each subsequent definition of IMC became broader and more managerial rather than tactical.  More advanced definitions of IMC are now strategic, ethical, transparent, cross- organizational and concern many stakeholders.  

Perhaps the most powerful strategic use of multiple channels began in the 19th century, with the intense political campaign use of buttons, flyers, stump speeches, newspaper quotes, stories and advertisements. In the early to late 20th century there was a flood of political campaign network TV advertising, cable ads, billboards, radio ads, newspaper stories and ads, websites, email fundraising, flyers, campaign buttons, skywriting, door-to-door request for votes, mobile sound systems on trucks and cars, events and much more (7). Today with the addition of the Internet in communications for business, politics, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)  we have the widest range of choices to be used to reach, inform, persuade or simply notify voters, audiences, publics or stakeholders.

Certainly the Internet has allowed communications to explode as much as or more than the invention of the printing press. The need for more accurate and powerful methods to reach all critical stakeholders, not just consumers, is a strongest reason for IMC.  The stakeholder concept is critical to the growth of IMC.  In too much of traditional marketing, the only stakeholder has been the consumer in business-to-consumer marketing or the customer in business-to business marketing.  While marketing is a broader strategic process than communications, many intelligent observers agree with the consulting firm Forrester, which states: “Marketing communications may be the only controllable decision in marketing today.” 

The momentum of IMC was garnered in the beginning from the sometimes unfairly labelled business of “junk mail.”  While some of the criticism was deserved, the realignment of direct mail within IMC created a more strategic model that relied on evaluation and research. In the first decade of IMC direct mail taught mainstream marketers that they could know valuable information about their B2C consumer or B2B customer from sales order history including seasonal timing, price sensitivity, product mixes, subscriptions to lifestyle publications and trends in sales that could be offered to consumers with similar profiles. While the word “direct” could be a neutral term, it also became entangled in fraudulent offers of inferior products, extra, unexpected fees and charges, catalogue image misrepresentation in contests and offers sponsored by a formerly proud organization such as The Reader’s Digest Association, that exploited the elderly and poor; and Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, with the puffed promises that mislead millions. Even the sale of tobacco related products sold to people on lists of smokers and created by agencies such as Leo Burnett after tobacco advertising was forbidden fouled the traditions of communications.  

All the personal data floating around and being consolidated in increasingly powerful and useful computers would eventually lead to the use of so-called “big data” in 21st century IMC.  Big data could reach highly specified audiences who might consider the communications to have value to them rather than being “junk.” Such databases started with public and sometimes secret government organizations that maintained large databases for the Patriot Act, census, education, health, taxes and other precursors of data collection in demographic categories. The mergers of companies included the mergers of databases leading to stronger insights to the traits of consumers and all stakeholders.  Even as some direct mail continued its invasive tactics, a more strategic IMC led to message delivery via the Internet in the form of emails and precisely targeted banner messages on the web.  A more mature form of IMC was evolving.  At the same time traditional advertising, which had exploded in marketing during the second half of the 20th century because of television, lost much of its luster and impact as more targeted tactics were devised. Certainly the growth of cable networks contributed to opportunities for more integrated communications across audiences known to view specific shows and categories of programming.  However, the days of only 3 major networks was dead and dying like other mass communications including newspapers and large subscription magazines.

PR as an IMC Leader – Outside-in Management 

One of the most significant beneficiaries from IMC in the professional field of communications was the field of public relations. PR is defined as the profitable integration of an organization’s new and continuing relationships with stakeholders, including customers, by managing all communications contacts with the organization which create and protect the brand and reputation of the organization (8).  Unlike advertising and direct mail, public relations has depended on a very long list of strategies and tactical communications to reach audiences beyond consumers. A unique advantage of public relations or, less frequently, strategic communications, was its power beyond marketing.   This is significant for organizations who had recognized that both marketing and communications are strategic management functions that reach many more audiences than some still traditional marketers tout as only the consumer.  The term public, from public relations, has evolved to become the term stakeholder and includes hundreds of possible communication targets inside and outside an organization listed in the next section.  Ray Ewing called this outside-in management, necessary to manage an organization’s response to issues outside its direct control by looking at the world of publics or stakeholders (9).  Marketing was one powerful way to be outside oriented but PR was far richer and earlier from this point of view. 

Branding or Reputation Management

To address the issue of reputation management in IMC there are two distinct approaches.  For the most part the classic field of advertising uses “branding” (graphics and font styles for a name and image) as a symbol to represent a company or product as distinctive from others.  Branding has also developed to represent a still narrow symbol of a company’s reputation. Branding is used widely but it is most often a definition of the products’ or services’ reliability, value, history and promised level of quality.

Again, showing the distinctions between the founding disciplines of IMC, advertising, public relations and direct marketing, the concept of “reputation” is more broadly defined in the discipline of PR and IMC to address all the qualities of branding but as applied to the entire organization and its leadership.  More importantly, rather than focusing on the important but limited definition of a consumer or customer, PR professionals focus on all the stakeholders relevant to the organization. For reputation management, public relations has led in the use of word, voice and image tracking systems which automatically read and report on hundreds to  billions of messages from all sources of media. These digital tracking systems are extremely valuable because computers read, analyze and report what is being written or said about a company, leader, product or stakeholder so that crises can be anticipated and prevented (11) (9) (8).  

What is critical to the management of both reputation and branding is that senior marketing and sales managers may take branding considerations into every decision. However, to enhance and protect the larger reputation of their organization and marketing brands, they must cooperate with general senior management under the guidance of a Senior Vice President of Public Relations or the Chief Communications Officer. The reputation concept is necessarily broader since it addresses the value, quality, history and image of the organization and its leadership from the viewpoint of the following selected stakeholders which includes the reputation of the company in their industry and more importantly in society (9) (12) (13):

-        Investors, both individual and institutional

-        Employees, past, present and future

-        Community, in this case literally the community of families and people living near the physical offices, factories and warehouses

-        Community in the contemporary sense of social media communities

-        Government leaders and institutions at the local, regional, state, federal and global levels with policy or public influence

-        Suppliers who provide staffing, product supplies for operation, computer systems and much more

-        Universities that provide technical support through research and graduating students

-        Labor unions where relevant to the operations and goals of the organization

-        Non-governmental organizations and other not-for-profits whose missions intersect

-        Political parties and independent political organizations whose goals align or conflict

-        Trade and professional associations

-        Other highly specific and relevant organizations such as local school districts and trade associations

In conclusion, the concept of reputation as linked to the newer practice of IMC demonstrates that market branding is not enough.  While critical for the more narrow focus of most marketing strategies and tactics, the concept of reputation, as demonstrated throughout this book, relies on the critical and integrated mix of communications-based professional fields such as public relations, advertising, marketing and big data from many sources and newer data tracking systems searching for emerging problems to predictively deal with the future. With the help of IMC, reputation management is the charge of organizational leaders (9).


1. Caywood, Clarke and Raymond Ewing (1991), “Integrated Marketing Communications: A New   Master’s Degree Concept,” Public Relations Review, 17 (3), 237-244 Caywood, C.L., D.E. Schultz, and P. Wang (1991), IMC: A Survey of Consumer Goods Advertisers. Northwestern University Report.

2. Schultz, Don E, Stanley Tannenbaum and Robert Lauterborn, (1994), Integrated Marketing Communications, NTC Books, Lincolnwood IL.

3. Duncan, T. and C. Caywood (1996), The Concept, Process, and Evolution of Integrated Marketing Communication, in Thorson, E. & J. Moore, Integrated Communication: Synergy of Persuasive Voices. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 13–34.

5. Caywood, Clarke, Don Schultz and Paul Wang (1991) Working Paper for the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

6. Caywood, Clarke (2013) Conference talk for American Academy of Advertising, annual meeting. Competitive session, Hawaii. 


7. Caywood, Clarke L. and Gene R. Laczniak, (1989) "The Marketing of Political Candidates: Current Tactics and Future Strategies," in Social Marketing, Seymour Fine, ed. Allyn and Bacon, Boston.


8. Ewing, Ray (1986) Managing the New Bottom Line – Issues Management for Senior Executives, McGraw-Hill, NY. 


9. Caywood, Clarke (2012) The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Marketing Communications, McGraw-Hill, NY, and Caywood, Clarke (1996) ed. The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Communications, McGraw-Hill, NY.


10. Englehart, Hud, “Crisis Management – New Channels, Same Old Static” in Caywood (2012) The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Marketing Communications, McGraw-Hill, NY.

12. Duncan, Thomas R., Clarke Caywood and Doug Newsom (1993), Preparing Advertising and Public Relations Students for the Communications Industry in the 21st Century: A Report of the Task Force on Integrated Communications.

1 comment:

  1. Why call it public relations. What is the trouble with "PR"? The abbreviation is too often "spat" as a pithy insult. Public relations is the most common descriptor represented by the largest professional Public Relations Society of America. Strategic Communications is merely an important but partial step in public relations which reminds us of the failure of MBA and business schools to teach or conduct research on various publics or stakeholders. The latter word is a personal favorite for richness and exclusivity but even past US Presidents have a hard time gaining acceptance. The quickly dated "content" practice and even the more valuable and clever "context" management are transitory but useful. In conclusion, stay the course with public relations or even Public Relations.