Should we be more specialized or all become generalists?
For many in the industry, these are the decades old questions about how to combine the strengths of team members, including agency support, within larger marketing and communications divisions. The questions about specialization exist for smaller groups of teams within one of these domains as well. For example, specialties within a corporate communications function, can include media relations, internal communications, business line or product public relations, crisis communications, market communications, executive communications and so on.
For large, complex organizations, you may have a digital team within a business line that never talks with the corporate communications team, though they get their respective jobs done well. On the other end of the spectrum, a small business might lump advertising, public relations and marketing together and not have clearly defined roles or swim lanes at all.
Since small to mid-size organizations may be lucky to have a handful of people doing all jobs, they likely struggle with where to focus and what area to resource most. Some of those difficult structure and budget decisions may be related to the purchase of the latest CRM tools or media monitoring services or hiring consultants such as a PR firm or advertising agency.
For larger organizations, additional questions will arise—how can we get our PR firm to work better with our creative agency and bring in our digital firm as needed? Should we hire an issues management consultancy and an ad agency? Do we do all design in house or outsource it?
And then for the very small shops or non-consumer facing ones, their professionals might handle media relations, investor relations and marketing combined—and they likely run the company gift shop too.
In any scenario, there are pros and cons to specialization. If you have the the resources to specialize in some way, always invest in the areas that can deliver results connected back to the company’s biggest strategic priorities. And, if there’s a gap in an area, fill it. Finally, start with the basics and not the specialized just to say you have it. For example, there’s no need to hire multiple layers of a design team or marketing analytics if you have no strategic marketing with measurable results to start.
Blurring the lines
Social media may be the best example of the blurry lines between marketing and communications. Social is no longer new—it’s here to stay in some capacity, and as communicators (or marketers), we are finally getting better at using it for our clients and our companies.
But, where should social media live in the organizational chart? Where a social media associate, manager or team sits within a given department hugely depends on several factors, but primarily including 1) the overall talent, skills and sophistication of the entire marketing and communications team, 2) the organization’s voice and share of voice among it’s competitors and 3) the organizational strategic priorities as they relate to how marketing and/or communications can help drive business goals.
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To dive a bit deeper, social media strategies and teams have started in one area and then moved to another within their division. For example, if the focus is online engagements that can lead to real conversion and transactions, perhaps social media (or a portion of it) fits nicely into the marketing or digital marketing team and can support existing marketing campaigns, create powerful digital campaigns with tangible results and show positive ROI through paid or boosted posts that tie directly to conversion. However, if the company is struggling to break through earned media and desires more awareness and engagement among their general audience, newsworthy and timely content is the key and the social channels should be used more to share this type of content broadly. These efforts should all being regularly measured, and marketing and communications leaders should have good, honest debate about current and future priorities.
Check your organizational priorities
Furthermore, if the organizational priorities change, revenue falls or a crisis hits, the marketing and communications team should always be prepared to shift accordingly.
Social media is only one example of the increasingly blurry lines between communications and marketing. Content strategy and development and brand are other examples some marketing and communications professionals may be currently tackling. The key to overall success is getting dedicated individuals and teams to both understand individual responsibility and authority, regularly discuss and debate the overlap and the dividing lines, but, most importantly, to work together. This is easier said than done and requires vision and leadership, with a constant focus on strategic direction. Successful integration of marketing and communications also requires trust, collaboration and excellent communication.
CMO or CCO
The best elected officials, CEOs or executive directors surround themselves with at least one genuine counselor they can trust to provide critical feedback and counsel them as they authentically communicate. The exact title of chief communications officer, chief marketing officer or something else doesn’t matter so much as the relationship between the leader of communications (or leader of marketing) and the CEO.
Beyond executive and board-level communications, the need for a c-suite level marketer is also apparent. Consumer companies with multiple brands likely have both type executives and may have a chief digital officer or chief consumer (or experience) officer as well. Again, the key to success is not in how many of these executives there are and what titles exist, success lies in the ability of the leaders to connect to the strategy of the organization, understand their specific roles and responsibility and have honest discussion and debate.
Having a well-organized, high-performing division of both specialized and strategic marketing and communications professionals who work as a cohesive team takes time, trust and hard work. There are multiple ways to specialize and prioritize and even more ways to organize, but starting with an honest assessment of the current team’s effectiveness based on results is the first place to start. Then, build up from there.