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How Do You Drive IMC in Large Matrixed Organizations?

Whitney Drake shares how to use IMC in a matrixed organization

In a small organization, communications and marketing might be the same person or team. As a company grows, marketing and advertising might reside under one leader, while communications reside under another leader. Communications might prioritize public policy, issue management, earned media and brand reputation. Marketing and advertising might be focused on brand awareness, sales revenue, customer relationship management, and conquest sales. How do you stay integrated when you’re matrixed differently and reside in different locations? Whitney Drake, Senior Manager of GM Brand & Story Bureau at General Motors, joins us to answer these questions.

Nathan Pieratt: How do you stay integrated when you’re matrixed differently and reside in those different locations?

Whitney Drake: Communications is a huge part of it. Such as asking questions, making sure you have the right people at the table, and understanding what everyone does, versus assuming you know what other people do.

NP: As we ask those questions, are we reporting to different leaders in that process?

WD: I've had the opportunity to work at Ford, Proctor and Gamble, General Motors. In a lot of those organizations, the marketing and advertising report up into one vice president, and the communications or public relations report into another one. And so they talk at a senior leader level, but sometimes that doesn't transcend down to the working level. It's up to us to make sure that we're working jointly through something like a product launch. Just making sure you're working together to deliver what your customers need.

NP: Some organizations use different types of communication tools. Is there a certain tool or a process that you use?

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WD: I would say there's a couple of best practices. Understanding what the best medium is as we're shifting from maybe email and work remote. We're looking more at SharePoint or web access just to make sure people are able to collaborate in the way that they feel most valued. I'm still a big proponent of picking up the phone and talking to someone because there are nuances through email and different types of posting that might run you into problems. Picking up the phone and then making sure everyone has a seat at the table, advisory board or governance boards where you can all be represented, I think, is a huge opportunity to get everyone aligned and working towards the same goal. Another thing is making sure you all understand what the goal is. In some instances, if revenue is the goal versus earned media, they might conflict at times.

NP: Where is data, and how is it helping you collaborate?

WD: A lot of times, I found that the marketing and advertising team will do a lot of upfront research that maybe we won't have access to in communication. Understanding what data driving towards either a product offering or a decision, that's one piece of data. Then the next piece of data is, how will you measure if you're successful? Is it based on sales? Is it based on site traffic? Is it based on earned media? Is it key messages? That also drives how you collaborate. One of the things we talk a lot about in the auto industry is one and done, where you do something, and then you don't carry it on. So how do you look at carrying on a message for a longer length of time? That becomes another measurement. So all of these things are data points that help drive your plan and show whether you're working successfully together or not.

NP: The last campaign or project that you were working on, how many data points were you having to kind of filter and process?

WD: In the initial phase, we're looking at maybe a dozen, but across multiple facets. So we might look at brand reputation work on different audiences. We might look at research on safety. So it multiplies fairly quickly. And one of my roles, I worked on social care, and when I walked into the job, we had probably close to a hundred different metrics. We weren't really acting on any of them, and one of the first things we did was to try to have better integration across what we were doing in the social space from a marketing communications perspective, and then what we were doing to satisfy a customer, and then the end goal was to reduce that number of data points to just a dozen. Once we got down to a dozen, we could take action on them. You can have data for data's sake, but if you aren't able to use it, it's not really helping you.

NP: How do you drive towards an integrated marketing communications plan?

WD: It's just trying to think about the long-term goal, and what levers you need to pull to be successful, right? So there are going to be times when you just need earned media. Maybe you're in the middle of issue management and you need to put out a statement, and that's it. And that's not integrated marketing. But maybe you're trying to do a new offer, a new product offering, and you want to make sure that the customers know about it. You want to make sure that the media are talking about it. You want to make sure that the customer can find it and purchase it. If you're in a storefront, then you need to make sure that the storefront understands what's coming. And then that would be a more integrated approach. You have to start with the goal in mind, and then go back and figure out, what data points are we trying to achieve, and what are the levers we have to pull to get there? To me, it's all about starting with the end in mind and deciding how you get to an integrated plan. And not every plan is going to pull every lever. I think we need to be respectful of that as marketers. Sometimes it's just not going to need everything.

NP: What advice would you give students or mid-career level professionals?

WD: We’re teaching more integrated marketing in schools, but that isn’t always how a large company works. They come into that large company, and then they wonder, “wait a minute, why aren't they more integrated?” Be the agent of change. Ask the questions, go meet your partners, and drive it from your level to help move change. That's one of the things that I found early in my career. I was working on Mustang, and I just had a whiteboard in my office, and I just said, "Wait a minute. We need to start writing this all down." It was the most amazing feeling to get everyone on the same page, working towards the same goal and having an integrated plan. If you're coming into an organization where your learnings don't match maybe how they function, or it's heavily matrixed, be the agent of change. Ask questions. You might not know the history. You might need to navigate a bit of the challenges.

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