Why integrated communications without integrated planning cannot work

“Integrated campaigns are – or should be – the holy grail of a communications strategy,” says Duncan Cantor, director of communications at pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. “Few, if any, programmes stand alone as a single activity. And, even if they do, they can almost always be better when combined as part of a wider, more holistic set of tactics.”

The secret to implementing a brilliant integrated campaign lies in its planning. Cantor explains: “The critical point is to take a step back at the planning phase. It sounds obvious, but don’t jump in to the tactics too early. The sooner you start visualising the press release, the sooner you make that the hub of your campaign, rather than the concept/activity/call to action itself.”

Cantor says you need to start at the end and work out exactly what you are aiming for: “Know what you want your audiences to do after engaging with your campaign, work back through how they will get to engage with your campaign and end with working out how to ensure your campaign is visible in all the places you’ve identified as being where your audiences are. Working backwards in this way ensures that you select the most appropriate media for your campaign. In effect, it should – if done properly – ensure that you don’t pick the media for your campaign. Instead, the campaign picks the media.”

One major problem with planning integrated work is the plethora of channels to choose from. As James Kelliher, chairman and CEO of PR consultancy Whiteoaks, says: “In the modern day communications landscape, audiences are so overwhelmed with content that ‘cutting through the noise’ has never been so challenging. There are an abundance of social media platforms such as YouTube, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as the many traditional web and print media channels. Moreover, today’s audiences have increasingly short attention spans and expect that content will be tailored and/or personalised for their specific requirements.”

In order to get through to a key audience, you have to appreciate what their needs are. Kelliher says: “The mistake that many organisations (and their PR agencies) make when developing content for campaigns is to prioritise ‘what we want to say’ over ‘what our audiences want to hear’. As such, an audience-centric approach to content channel selection is a much more effective way to get results. Rather than talking about the things they find the most interesting and compelling, the thought process should happen the other way round – i.e., what are the issues, concerns and areas of interest for the audience? And what are the most appropriate channels to use to engage with them?

“It’s also important to keep in mind that one channel doesn’t fit all and one type of content doesn’t fit all channels. For example, while a C-level executive may be most interested in thought-leadership from a traditional channel, explaining the features and benefits of a solution via a non-traditional channel could be a more effective way to engage a technical influencer.”

Top tips for planning integrated campaigns

Three tips from Kenny Campbell, director of Campbell Brown PR:

1. Be interesting. A beautifully integrated campaign can still fail to engage with the audience, although it will fail beautifully, on oh-so-many platforms. So forget the platforms until you have something interesting to put out there; please stop being dull.

2. Understand what integration means. Integrated and multi-channel don't mean the same thing. If you don't understand this, get someone else to look at integration for you.

3. Evaluate. Do you know how much value you are getting from engagement on each of these seamlessly integrated platforms? How many Likes equal a Retweet? And, in the unlikely event you do know, are you building this into your plans? If you make the effort to plan an integrated campaign, do make the effort to understand its results. And remember, creating “a buzz” isn't the same as creating “a sale” or “a customer“.

Three tips from Lewis Webb, digital director at communications consultancy Text100:

1. Keep the focus on your target audience. The more you know about your audience, the better you can build an integrated campaign around reaching and engaging with them. In the B2B world, this can go as far as researching actual individuals that you want to get in front of. Find out who they follow on Twitter and which groups they are members of on LinkedIn. This extends into any search activity you might be conducting as well. Don’t just assume that people are searching for the keywords you’ve decided to promote, carry out an audit of the terms people are actually using.

2. Be prepared to amplify your content. With the explosion in content marketing across PR and digital, it’s no longer the case that the best videos, articles, infographics and games will automatically become instant hits. Once you’ve created your assets, you will need to give them the boost they need to reach as many of the right eyeballs as possible. Whether that’s giving it to top online influencers as an exclusive, maximizing social presence through paid sponsorship of posts, or using a tool like OutBrain to get content in front of your audience.

3. Think about media consumption behaviour when it comes to planning where you want your campaign messages to hit. People read and share printed media in very different ways to online media. If you’re working with a specific press title to produce something that’s going to be an in-depth print piece, think about how the same story plays out online – an online version of the same article will rarely produce the results you want. Can it be divided into a series of shorter posts? What are the key quotes that can be shared on social networking platforms? Or can you turn the feature into something more visual like an illustrated timeline or infographic which is a lot easier to digest in an online environment?