Is there still room in the jungle for both marketing and communications?

As lines continue to blur between earned media and owned, the roles of the marketing and communications heads have become increasingly questioned. It’s time for both to start getting their hands dirty, writes consultant Priyanka Nadkarni

I’ve heard the analogy that marketing and communications are like the British and Americans – both speak English to a different tune –  and both will staunchly defend their version of the same sentence.

Yet, in many large organisations, these teams continue to sit in silos, meeting weekly for ‘work in progress’ discussions and still manage separate P&Ls.

But integrated functions are becoming the new norm. The evolution of the customer journey has blurred the lines of the traditional communications (earned media) and marketing (owned/paid media) functions.

And when ‘content is king’ of the jungle – who owns content, and which team comes out on top?

Changing customer touch-points

The legacy of marketing and communications split functions comes from the days when the distribution model for information was much narrower. Printed press articles or advertising, direct mail and sales materials were how you directly or indirectly reached your audience.

But with today’s consumer absorbing media and messaging in a multi-channel world, gone are the days when you can fully control the distribution of a message (all hail the share button).

Take the LinkedIn platform as a perfect cross-audience example: your communications team manages the brand’s news to journalists; marketing is using it for content marketing and inbound leads; sales is using their sales navigator accounts to push sales content to their clients and start conversations; Investor Relations is ensuring the right message to the business/finance community; and your HR team is running campaigns and job ads to build your employer brand for potential employees.

And as a result, there is considerable overlap in the messages your audience consumes –  and the work your marketing and communications team execute.

So in this jungle, who eats whom?

CEB (now Gartner) recently highlighted: “In 2016, 23 per cent of communication heads  reported to the chief marketing officer. This percentage has more than doubled since 2014, when just 10 per cent reported into the CMO, and is now almost equal to the percentage reporting into the CEO (24 per cent).”

While it can be argued that marketing, due to being closer to the customer, is engulfing communications functions into their remit, a great example of blurred lines is the much-celebrated ANZ Bluenotes platform – the epitome of a corporate content marketing platform.

Additionally, let’s not forget that communications teams tend to be closer to senior management – managing the corporate message and reputation from the top down.

Only time will tell which titles will remain going forward.

Future-proofing your career through this inevitable shift

In 2016, a survey of marketing & communications roles reported that: “Professionals who possess a blend of marketing and communications experience will attract a premium. For example, brand and communications skills alongside the ability to analyse metrics”.

To withstand this change, this is what needs to happen:

  • You’ll need to get your hands dirty and diversify your skillsets; ask for that extra work in a field unfamiliar to you.
  • The closer to the customer you are, the better you will be placed.
  • Be part of a function that measures with dollars – spend versus sales. Returning value on marketing or communications activity in not only views, coverage or engagement #s will strengthen your divisions (or your own) role.
  • Whoever is keeping up with the digital trends of marketing and communications will win the fight.

Embrace the power of working together

In the meantime, combining the power of owned, earned and paid channels will reduce production costs, and exponentially maximise the return on your strategies and tactics:

  1. Have a really strong operating model for consistency between marketing and communications units.
  2. Map customer journeys together, plan together and take a customer first approach to owned, earned and paid media.
  3. Work together to measure effectiveness correctly and building credibility for your functions as a whole, to senior management.

Maybe you’ll both survive.

But more realistically, change is the only constant and diversity in skillsets and adoption of new trends and technologies will win. Innovate, or die by getting eaten by the friendly team next door.

Priyanka Nadkarni is the head of Singapore-based marketing and communications consultancy Window Seat Group


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