Convergence Ahead: Combining marketing and communication functions

Weber Shandwick has been a keen observer in recent years of “hybridized” marketing and communication functions. We have investigated the trend in numerous research studies, dedicating an entire study in 2014 to the issue. In that study, 10 chief communication and marketing officers (CCMOs) from companies of varying sizes and industries shared deep insights into the drivers and benefits of convergence at their organizations, as well as the challenges they faced in the process of integrating two traditionally disparate functions. Our study, Convergence Ahead: The Integration of Communications and Marketing, reveals firsthand knowledge about what to expect when integrating communication and marketing.

The impetus for integration

There is no single reason for integrating marketing and communication. Some companies were responding to a radical change in their business portfolios or markets, while others were adapting to the rapidly changing media environment. Only a few were driven by a need to streamline operations for cost efficiencies. However, in every instance, the CEO explicitly or implicitly mandated action against reputation-related goals, paving the road to convergence.

Acceleration through digital

The study found that digital media are an accelerator of convergence. Social media and digital technologies have blurred the lines between marketing and communication, and integration allows better alignment to meet the demands of this new environment. CMCOs describe how the greater variety of information choices arising from digital media compelled them to evolve and organize around multichannel communication. According to one CCMO, “Marcomms, as a discipline, has become digitally centric—call it digital convergence. That fundamentally changes what we do, how we do it, and the kind of people we need.”

Pre-integration jitters

While the CCMOs in our study knew that integration was the right thing to do, most were not entirely prepared for the challenges that awaited them. CCMOs described three main obstacles to convergence:

  1. Cultural issues. The marketing and communication divisions each come to the communal table with their own cultures, perspectives, and ways of doing things. Said one CCMO, “Despite everyone’s best intentions to work together, sometimes they just don’t speak the same language.”
  2. Uncertainty and fear. Changes in management and shifting power dynamics can spark apprehension among some employees. One CCMO described his experience this way: “Some were resisting the change and some fighting for it.”
  3. Need for cross-education. Several CCMOs inherited legacies of limited experience in either marketing or communication. Individuals need to be educated in a discipline previously unfamiliar to them.

Although these obstacles are important to acknowledge and be ready for, they should hardly be considered reasons to avoid convergence. None of our CCMO interviewees regretted the decision to converge, but they did acknowledge that they wished they had been better prepared.

Lasting legacies of integration

The benefits of combining communication and marketing under one leader are profound. Here are just three of several covered in our report:

  1. A consistent message and voice across all channels of communication and stakeholder audiences, undeniably critical in today’s fragmented media environment. In fact, one CCMO describes his role as managing a “seamless continuum” or “ecosystem” of communication channels.
  2. More nimble organizations, where team members can act faster and coordinate across disciplines more fluidly.
  3. Better career paths. Clarity and greater variety of career opportunities arise from combining marketing and communications.

Integration is a trend to watch

As diligent CMCO-watchers, Weber Shandwick monitors the growth of the title itself through collecting media announcements. From October 2016 through October 2017, we identified five executives who were either hired or promoted into a position with this title (or a close derivation). However, the title tells only part of the story: Another 24 individuals were hired or promoted to senior-level  jobs with marketing and communication responsibilities.

Further expanding our knowledge of the convergence of the roles, The Rising CCO VI, a quantitative global study that we conducted in partnership with Spencer Stuart in 2016 among Chief Communications Officers (CCOs), we learned that the marketing and communication functions are already highly collaborative and that link is only expected to tighten. Four in 10 CCOs report already managing marketing, branding or advertising, 86 percent work closely with marketing, and 54 percent expect the two functions to be fully integrated in the next few years.

Responsibility for integrating marketing into a traditional communication function is not the only aspect of a CCO’s portfolio expansion. Today’s CCO expects that a growing focus of his or her job in the near future will be digital communication (cited by 72 percent of CCOs) and even employee advocacy and engagement (59 percent).

Centralizing these once-disparate functions has a very practical advantage. CCOs are often the “guardians” of their firms’ reputations. Having increased oversight for additional functions helps keeps CCOs hyper-vigilant about protecting their company reputations from harm, whether it be from consumer criticism, crises of any kind, or the growing importance of employee engagement.

Clearly, the job of the CCO has changed radically in recent times and will continue to evolve. The road to convergence is not always fast or entirely smooth, but it’s a trend increasingly facing organizations.

Written by Leslie Gaines-Ross for CW Magazine.