Volvo crosses over to integrated communication
22 May 2010
A little more than a week ago, something very exciting and promising came out of Ford-owned carmaker Volvo Cars. No, it isn’t a new hydrogen hybrid car running on water, even though that would be cool. No, what got me so excited was the news that Volvo Cars has merged their marketing and PR departments.
I have been whining and complaining for years about how many of the larger organizations I come in contact with seem to believe that it is important that communication is done by as many different departments, business areas and positions as possible, preferably without any coordination between them at all. I have seen so many arrangements boarding onto criminal waste of resources, often where everyone involved just sighs, shrugs their shoulders and say, “well, that’s just the way it is”.
In Volvo’s case, the marketing and PR departments had to come together around a communication effort which has had a major impact on brand, and possibly the future of the company – the image of the Volvo cars as heavy, thirsty and not very environmentally friendly. But Volvo has developed a series of cars with amazingly low fuel consumption considering they are just using technology off the shelf, nothing fancy like hybrid drives. They call this the DRIVe series.
Now, Volvo realized that it didn’t matter what they actually sold because the general perception was that something like the DRIVe cars could not come out of Volvo. Having been forced to join forces to change that perception, Volvo Cars’ marketing and PR departments came to realize that they must work as one. And so they have now integrated the two departments into one working strategically with integrated communication.
Most books on communication and marketing will contain a chapter stating very clearly that everything you do sends a message and that the communication therefore must be coordinated and integrated to deliver maximum effect and value.
If your ad says that the product is superior to everything else, while at the same time the internal communication says “hold off on selling it because it is a piece of rubbish” then you will of course run into problems eventually. If the ad claims that the product is best suited for something, but the message to the journalists is different (since they will question any marketing BS) the result is going to be confusion and a fuzzy perception.
But most companies seem unable to get this message. As an agency, you see this time and time again when clients basically say no thanks to better results and less cost. And on the agency side, the handful integrated communication agencies I’ve ever known here in Sweden all folded. Nobody wants to buy reasonably good advertising, web services, PR etc just because they all come from the same office.
Still many ad agencies claim to do “PR” today and many marcom specialized PR agencies do concept development in the ad domains. But I don’t believe the agency has to be able to deliver all the services. The important part is that the client integrates their communication. Then it doesn’t matter who delivers the services.
And of course, social media and communication has totally changed how companies can control messaging. Partners, employees, journalists, customers and experts chat about the short-comings of your products in open and searchable forums. You simply can’t hide anymore.
In my experience, this problem with lack of integration is most accentuated in international matrix organizations where each silo makes its own decision on what to spend and how to spend it, and this without any coordination with the next silo. The result is truly horrendous out of a brand perspective and also very costly.
Let’s hope that more companies follow Volvo Cars example and integrate marketing and PR. All ways of communicating with the customers; bought and deserved space, SEO, viral/WoM, customer service, web etc - they are all different channels connected to the same core – your brand.