Integrated Corporate Communications and Marketing Could Help Place Community Building at the Heart of Materiality
By Alex Parkinson, Researcher, The Conference Board
There is an emerging trend of integration in the corporate communications and marketing fields, which is predicated on the fact that companies are increasingly using storytelling and content development to engage with their customers in long-term relationships. This trend sees corporate communications—driven by authenticity, social purpose and localization—underpin marketing in a digitized social world. Instead of capturing the attention of customers with an entertaining commercial or advertisement, businesses have started to appreciate the importance of an ongoing conversation on the benefits customers can derive from products or services. All of this is good news for the corporate community investment world.
In his September 21, 2014, induction speech into the Hall of Fame of the Arthur Page Society, Richard Edelman detailed the importance of this trend to business, highlighting Wrigley and IBM as high-profile examples of companies that have added a strategy role to the responsibilities of senior corporate communications officers.
He said the integration enables serious change within an enterprise, promotes a company by creating movements that advocate for an idea or innovation, and protects brands by helping to prevent problems, not just solving them.
A boon for purpose
So, why should executives in the community investment role be excited about this communications and marketing trend? Much of the answer to this is the fact that the integration of corporate communications and marketing advocates for mission-based, or community-driven, business strategies. In his speech, Edelman saw five important developments in business that make the transition to an integrated function necessary:
- A continued lack of trust of business among the general population
- A world of unprecedented complexity in which globalization, technology and privacy are colliding
- A movement that sees brands increasingly act as representatives of their communities and as leaders in forcing change
- A changing media, where the reader is now also content creator and advocate
- An integration of corporate reputation and brand marketing caused by technology.
The storytelling and messaging that underpins integrated corporate communications and marketing requires content derived from purpose-driven activities, whether they’re philanthropic or revenue seeking. Moreover, the need to engage society through the digitized world in order to adapt and innovate products and services implies a closer connection to communities.
On the materiality agenda
Both these facts place community building at the center of materiality for companies. That’s a position that environmental issues have often claimed over social issues in the corporate social responsibility world, largely due to the related risks associated with climate change and the realization that companies need to mitigate them.
Evidence for this is largely anecdotal. It is true that a large number of companies participate in corporate giving through cash and in-kind donations, such as skills-based volunteering or product donations, but the departments that oversee these activities are usually under-resourced and limited in their ability to make the impact they seek. Philanthropy also struggles to get on the agenda of most CEOs and other senior leaders, and companies that do elevate community investment to a higher agenda tend only to be those whose business value is clearly influenced by its community investment strategy, like extractives or health care companies.
But the risks and opportunities associated with social issues are as relevant to business as those related to environmental issues, a reality that is more apparent under an integrated corporate communications and marketing function.
About the author:
Alex Parkinson is a Researcher in the Corporate Leadership division of The Conference Board. He specializes in corporate philanthropy and sustainability. He is the Executive Editor of the Giving Thoughts blog and monthly publication series and Framing Social Impact Measurement. Before joining The Conference Board in September 2013, Alex worked as a Senior Consultant in London and New York for corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultancy Context. He has advised some of the world’s leading multinationals on CSR communications and strategy development. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexParkinsonNY.