News & Insights

5 Tips for Creating an Integrated Communications Strategy

By Kevin Duggan

Financial data displayed on a laptop.

In today’s digital world, marketing and communications professionals need to stay on top of a growing number of evolving channels and platforms. What worked last quarter might not work this quarter, and what you did last year wouldn’t even be possible this year.  It may seem like a daunting task, but it also presents marketers with massive opportunities to better reach their customers and get ahead of the competition.

Let’s review some of these best practices for taking a digital-first approach to create an integrated communications strategy.

1. Start with a common goal

Marketers love goals. Finding out that a campaign “exceeded industry benchmark” or “surpassed the quarterly goal” can immediately put a smile on any marketer’s face.  But what happens when revenue still falls short of annual projections, or your site traffic is down 10% from last quarter?  That smile fades away pretty darn quick because somebody moved the goalposts.

Setting granular goals for individual campaigns and projects is still important. But it’s exponentially more important to understand how each of those goals is leveling up to whatever your “common goal” is.  This common goal should be something that can be understood by all of your various teams, internally and externally, and it should be clear how each team is impacting that goal through their own success or failure.

You may already have a common goal and not even know it. By simply asking “why?” you can uncover the larger reason a campaign has a specific goal, and how it contributes to your common goal.

For example, maybe you run a paid social campaign promoting your recent blog post and the campaign’s goal is to exceed the industry benchmark of .40%.  Why? Because that would indicate that people are interested in your content.  And if people are interested in your content, hopefully they’ll share it with their colleagues and introduce your brand to new customers. Now we can see that in this instance, the common goal would be tied to new customer acquisition, which is a metric set that can be shared across paid, earned, shared, and owned media channels.

2. Leverage your keywords everywhere

Most marketers have a decent sense of what their target keywords are, but where they fall short is in making sure those keywords are being leveraged across all their content and channels. The paid search team is optimizing for the lowest cost-per-click, the SEO team is optimizing for page 1 rankings, and the earned media team is optimizing for brand mentions and quotes of key spokespeople.

An integrated approach will successfully identify a core set of priority keywords and ensure that those keywords are being used across all channels and content – and consistency is paramount. If your SEO team is optimizing a section of your website for the phrase “limited ingredient pet food”, it won’t be good enough for your social media team to post about your new “grain-free pet food” or your earned media team to be pitching reporters on why your “healthy pet food” is better for adult dogs than the leading brand.  They all need to be on the same page and using the same terminology if you want to achieve your common goals.

3. Keep a consistent tone of voice

Similar to your keywords, it is important that all parties involved in creating content for your brand know how they fit into the bigger picture and align their writing style to fit your brand narrative.  Content strategists write differently from paid search specialists, which write differently from social media managers. In a vacuum, each of these groups probably knows what works best in each of their channels and will write their respective pieces accordingly, which certainly has benefits. But tying these channels together with a consistent tone of voice will make it easier for users to jump from one channel to another without abandoning their customer journey.

Your keywords will play a major role in this, but your tone of voice will have a greater impact on how your customers feel when they engage with your brand and if you ultimately achieve your common goal. A playful tone of voice might work for certain industries and allow your writers to use puns, jokes, and plays on words, while other industries may lean more towards the buttoned-up and professional tone.  In earnest, either tone can work for most industries as long as it is done thoughtfully, professionally, and consistently across channels.

4. Align your paid media plan to your earned media outreach list

At the end of the day, earned media and paid advertising are trying to do the same thing, and that’s to get in front of potential customers. If you see value in having your CEO quoted in an article from a particular publication, it would make sense that you would also want to be advertising in that publication.

What about the other way around? Surely, if a website is worth advertising your brand on, you would also be trying to secure earned coverage from them too.

Of course, you don’t need to be running paid ads on every site that your earned media team is working with.  That’s likely an enormous waste of money. But you should be able to curate a singular list of publications that matter most to your brand and use that as a starting point.

Once you have your list, you will need to decide for yourself what the best strategy is for achieving your common goal. You will naturally start to divide your list into segments of groups you can definitely get earned coverage from, ones you might be able to, and ones that are less likely to cover your brand.

From there, you will want to decide if your paid media budget is best used to reinforce your message on publications that you’ve secured coverage from, or to gain visibility on the ones where you haven’t been able to break through yet. What works best for you will depend entirely upon your list, your market presence, and your common goal.

5. Be ready to pivot

After more than a decade of working in digital marketing, I have gotten into the habit of telling my clients “This is our plan…for now.” Sometimes people will chuckle at this or raise an eyebrow if they think it has some hidden meaning behind it, but most often it gets a nod of approval from the most senior people in the room who know what I am implying.

It is a guarantee that no matter how thoroughly you plan, how much research you do, and how closely you monitor your results, something will change. And you will need to be ready for it.

An event may get canceled, or a product launch will get delayed, or (hopefully) you get a major piece of positive media coverage from a publication you thought was out of reach.  Whatever it is, it will force you to reassess your strategy and pivot to a better path forward. Having the ability to be flexible across channels and stakeholders will ultimately prove to be the difference between capitalizing on a new opportunity or falling to a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

Let’s say you get lucky and the change for your brand comes in the form of a national news outlet writing a front page piece that prominently features your brand and quotes your CEO.  This is a huge win for the PR department, but an integrated marketer will also see it as so much more.

It is an opportunity to share it on social media to increase exposure and followers. It’s a mad dash to make sure the CEO’s profile page on your website is SEO-optimized with the most up to date information and schema code. It’s a new stake in the ground to monitor how all subsequent coverage and backlinks affect the website’s authority, keyword rankings, and site traffic. The list goes on and on.

A marketer’s work is never finished, but by following these best practices you can ensure that your integrated communications strategy is generating the business results you are hoping for at both the micro and macro levels of your organization.

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