By Dominic Walters
The Covid-19 pandemic outbreak led to marketing budgets around the world shrinking at the fastest pace since the last global recession with all areas of marketing impacted, according to the IPA Bellwether Report published in the first quarter of 2020. While activity has picked up in the first quarter of 2021, many businesses still face an uncertain future and budget cuts remain the top concern and biggest challenge for marketers across different industries.
Marketing is your first line of defence
Even though businesses have been operating in crisis mode, they have overlooked an important aspect of risk management and mitigation: marketing communications is a business’ first line of defence in a crisis. Regardless of a business’ size or industry, the marketing team is part of the company’s backbone. It shapes and builds an organisation’s reputation with all key stakeholders and it establishes credibility and stability in the eyes of investors, shareholders and partners. It fosters customer loyalty and it keeps employees engaged and inspired. Agile marketing also means a company can quickly adapt to changing environments. Covid-19 has provided a big lesson on the importance of agility as companies found they had to pivot in order to respond to rapidly unfolding events.
As the world continues to respond to the aftermath of the pandemic, challenging times lie ahead for businesses. New communication channels and opinion leaders are constantly emerging and audiences have different needs and priorities. In this changing world, matching business strategies to marcomms intelligence can protect the company while informing growth. Now is definitely the right time to amplify your company’s marcomms efforts. When done well, a truly integrated marcomms strategy which leverages each and every discipline within your organisation – from public, government, employee and external relations through to digital, brand management, advertising and storytelling – can deliver impactful short and long-term results.
So once you’ve recognised the impact that integrated marketing communications can have, how can you get started on making the most of this often underutilised discipline?
Give marcomms a place at the top table
Start by giving marcomms a place at the top table. Nothing will change unless it comes from the top and from there it will filter down the organisation. Once you’ve established it as a central part of the business priorities, move on to assessing how your business strategy, mandate, employee relations or services have changed or evolved over the past 12 months. Are you operating in a sector that may be perceived as high risk, or been impacted by the pandemic? Has your investment plan changed? Are your employees working in a different setting? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you need to consider how you are going to communicate this evolution to your most important stakeholders. They need to know about the ‘new you’, how the changes will impact them and be reassured that you remain a stable and credible business that is fit for the future.
After examining what has changed within your organisation and industry look at the wider environment you operate in, what other external or internal factors may affect your business in the coming months and years?
Find the right talent and abolish silos
Once you’ve identified your business needs, you’ll be able to decide what talent and skills you need, what each marketing discipline can offer to the organisation and whether you need to outsource any work to external suppliers. Ensure your marketing team doesn’t end up working in silos. A common mistake many organisations make is to split their marcomms team into different departments. Businesses mistakenly try to create a structure where different marcomms teams are fitted around the leadership team or business as opposed to being established as one function. You might see branding under one manager, PR under the CEO, government relations under corporate comms and internal communications under HR.
As a result, these teams don’t communicate as effectively and often end up competing for budgets. This can lead to diluted messaging and missed opportunities to work together on powerful campaigns to amplify activity. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to organisational structure as every business has different requirements, and it’s quite likely that you will need to consider various options when it comes to your marcomms teams. Consider which areas need more focus than others and what purpose each team has. It’s important to think of your marketing comms team as a unit that works in unison to achieve the best outcomes.
Develop a powerful narrative
Once you’ve ensured everyone is working in alignment, get your narrative clear and find the best channels to get it in front of your audiences. One of the greatest powers of marcomms is the abundance of routes it can utilise to communicate with different stakeholders. From my experience, the key is to focus on a powerful narrative that communicates the big, bold and simple messages to quickly establish a voice and reach your key audiences with these messages at the right time. Anything that gets too technically-led tends to either miss the point or lose the audience halfway through the delivery.
Energise your people
Your employees should also be considered in your marcomms efforts. Before embarking on any external communications, energise the workforce, focusing on internal communications. After all, your employees are one of your most important stakeholders – the business brand ambassadors – so you need to get them on board with your plans.
Make a long-term commitment to your marcomms
Marketing communications is uniquely able to flex and be agile enough to support the business to take advantage of opportunities that may arise to help build credibility.
Make a long-term commitment to your marcomms. Future proof your strategies by reviewing them on a regular basis and decide which ones are here to stay and which you’ll be changing. Marcomms are not a ‘nice to have’ or a team that you bring in temporarily to deal with an incident when your reputation is on the line. They’re an integral part of your business on a day-to-day basis and it’s more important than ever to give them the space, investment and time they need to protect and enhance your company’s DNA.
Dominic Walters is an international leading B2B marcomms strategist and author of “Cutting Through the Bull – Harnessing the Power at Your Fingertips.
Dominic advises ambitious businesses and leadership teams on how to shape effective marketing communications strategies that drive business growth, launch or transformation objectives Over the past 20 years, he has advised and held senior roles in a range of organisations including BAE Systems, Network Rail, Inmarsat PLC, BP, Shell, PizzaExpress Hong Kong.