Saturday, January 4, 2014

What I learned in the first semester about integrated communications

In the fall of 2013, the City College of New York (CCNY) Media and Communication Arts Department (MCA) commenced a new undertaking of exploration and education forthe future of professional branding and integrated communications

Who (vaguely referenced in that opening sentence) actually undertook this “exploration”?

A handful of full-time senior faculty, scholars and practitioners with careers in advertising and PR behind them. Another handful of adjunct professors from some of the top advertising and marketing communications agencies in New York City. Yet another handful of advertising and PR industry advisers – senior executives of leading New York agencies and global marketing services groups (top management from Y&R, Ketchum, GroupM, and Finn Partners). And thirty students – the CCNY Branding + Integrated Communications Master of Professional Studies Class of 2015 – a diverse group of young professionals, some of whom worked at ad agencies, some for social service and government agencies, some for NGOs, some for media buying and services agencies, and some right out of their Bachelor’s degree programs; young professionals from Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, Fiji, France, Russia, Thailand – and from California, Illinois, and South Carolina -- and from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley.

Looking back at this momentous first semester of our exploration branding and integrated communications, I am fairly certain that I have learned as much – but maybe not all the same things – as our students..
  • Integrated marketing has arrived. The young, aggressive professional in the field today presumes that integrated marketing communications is the norm. The “battles” between advertising and PR are their grandfathers’ battles – not only irrelevant, not even on their radar screen. And social and digital communications are not something separate from traditional media; for these young professionals the virtual-physical dichotomy isn’t useful. The young communications professionals with which we are working want to move markets, empower ideas, and advance causes. The old marketing communications silos are just not theirs – they are totally in sync with the most forward-thinking senior managers and communications thought leaders at the global agencies, corporations, and not-for-profit organizations.
  • Integrated marketing as practiced in the U.S.A. – and in New York City – remains a global magnet for talent. Of course, there has been, and continues to be, vast turmoil in the technological changes and business models of American media companies and American marketing services providers. But this evolution (“turmoil” for the finance people and the investors) is still, more than ever, a dynamic cauldron for young professionals. Our students (from Queens or Cameroon) are preparing to assume important roles in global media services in the future – whether their future desks rest in Calgary or Bangkok or Paris. They have come to New York to be at an epicenter of where the future of is emergent. Of course, there are many, many brilliant, competent, and effective professionals in marketing communications working outside of New York, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Paris, Sydney, Cape Town, and a few other obvious mature media capitals. But the lure (and the physical, sensual allure) of the world’s media centers has not been eroded at all by global distributed markets and digital technologies.
  • Marketing communications practice and education still lags behind other professions in evidence- and data-driven processes and decision-making. Even as the CCNY BIC students studied with the best -- with Belle Frank, EVP of Global Research and Strategy at Y&R and heard guest lectures from Google and other leaders in data-driven domains, it remained clear to us how far most students and practitioners of advertising and public relations yet have to go fully to participate meaningfully in 21st century strategic communications. It’s not that our students have extraordinary deficits; it is that the bar is raised higher, continuously, for how analytics will contribute to insight and policy formation. This work is just begun. What’s “cool,” ultimately, doesn’t matter. What works? What changes minds and the world? What increases assets (what makes money) in the real world?
  • Integrated communications isn’t just about message delivery technologies and systems. Our students gravitate toward integrated marketing not just because of the hybridization of media technologies. They naturally presume that integrated communications entails a full, strategically aligned integration of marketing, customer relationship management, financial communications, community relations, corporate social responsibility, policy advocacy, and employee communications. Our students demonstrate a mindset that presumes and accepts that “the whole world is watching.” 

Second semester looms ahead.

This post also appears
January 5, 2014