IMC Can Increase Results and Stretch Your Budget

"...everything from your business cards to your billboards should work together in perfect harmony."

By David P. Kowal

If a boat’s oars are not rowing in the same direction, the boat will go nowhere, no matter how hard you row. Marketing communications follows the same principles. If a company’s Web marketing is going in one direction, advertising is going in another direction, public relations is going in a third direction and collateral is being developed just to look good with no consistent objectives, the communications program is bound to fail.

Communicators need to communicate among themselves, so that all of their communications tactics work together to carry out a common strategy. This very simple, common-sense idea is the foundation for a stuffy-sounding concept called integrated marketing communications, or IMC.

Northwestern University, which naturally takes a more academic approach, defines IMC as “the process of managing all sources of information about a product/service to which a customer or prospect is exposed which behavorially move the customer toward a sale and maintain customer loyalty.” In other words, everything from your business cards to your billboards should work together in perfect harmony.

Because it is efficient and takes advantage of synergies between various communications tactics, IMC should increase the effectiveness of a company’s communications program regardless of the size of your budget.

IMC may seem logical, but it is contrary to the experience of many companies. Internally, many mid-sized and large companies have separate communications and public relations departments that rarely work together. In fact, they are often hostile to each other, since they are competing for a larger share of the budget. Even if there is a single department responsible for all communications disciplines, it often uses different agencies for advertising, public relations and Web-based marketing.

On the agency side, the advertising account managers typically look at the public relations staff as writing an occasional press release. They don’t understand why that service can’t be thrown in at no extra charge to impress their important clients. The public relations managers, on the other hand, would be happy to explain to clients why public relations gives them a better return on their investment than advertising.

IMC was born out of the need to make more efficient use of communications budgets. If, in the process, it forces communicators of all disciplines to work together for the mutual benefit of the customer, it is worth putting up with another acronym.

David P. Kowal is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com.