Oh please, let’s put the ‘customer’ first!

The arrival of social media has opened up the age-old angst felt by PR, advertising and marketing folk; into whose domain should this new fangled idea fall?

PR people say that because it is all about the written word, it’s rightfully theirs. (And actually I don’t disagree!) Whereas the other lot talk about ‘integrated digital communication’ and ‘understanding the technology’ blah blah, so they should be responsible.

At the recent MIPAA (Motoring Industry Public Affairs Association) Masterclass, Simon Sproule, director, communications at Renault-Nissan Alliance expounded the view that perhaps now was the time to put an end to these turf wars, and for a new profession – a third-way – to steer a path between these warring factions.

He spoke about organisations still largely structured in functional chimneys – or silos – and gave a number of illustrations to ask the question: Is it marketing or is it PR?’

See presentation: http://www.mipaa.com/images/stories/mipaa.sproule.final.pdf

A brand’s involvement at an exhibition, say, is likely to have been led by marketing, had the PR people take over the stand for the first few press days, and then left for the sales people to look after the great unwashed and do their selling bit!

And that seems to be the nub of the problem. Communications – or as I have long preferred to call it, ‘the management of reputation’ – should not be process driven through tightly defined channels, but all-embracing. Neither should it be a top-down function: surely social media has taught us about inclusivity and dialogue, and torn up the rule book of one-way propaganda from organisation to audience?

Let’s just remember that the customer – aka the audience – doesn’t give a toss about any of the ‘mechanics’. All they want is a seamless join between the editorial they’re interested in, the Tweets, the ads, the exhibition stands, the guerrilla marketing stunts, the shop (sorry – retail experience!), how the ‘phones are answered, the brand values and yes – the product as they experience it, right from purchase through to after sales and repairs for the next umpteen years.

For them, whether they’re driving a Polo, sucking a Polo or watching the polo, it’s the totality of the experience – good, indifferent or bad, and from the first to the last encounter; that’s what forms their opinion and perception of a brand’s reputation.

So yes – I agree with Mr Sproule. We need to think beyond the platforms and processes and focus on changing behaviours and opinions. We need to tell a good, coherent and consistent story, and we need to do so in the round – the full 360 degrees. And critically in my view, we need to do all of this from the recipient’s perspective – the customer, rather than at the organisation’s convenience and via a traditional and evidently outmoded structure.

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