Integrated Communication – Pursuing a Harmony of Persuasive Voices

“Integrated communication” has become a frequently used buzzword in marketing communication. It refers to an aim of integrating all promotional tools so that they work together in harmony, thus increasing the effects of communication. But is it really possible to create messages that can be trusted by drawing on both propaganda and democratic rhetorics?

It seems like a Renaissance idea. How to get different modes of communication to perfectly function together, in a harmony that makes the message into a seamless entity. That is the basic idea of what is called “integrated communication” in marketing.

Integrated communication (IC) originated as a management philosophy at the turn of 21st century, and it has developed as a strategic concept open for renovation and rethinking. IC has been recognised as a way to win in an increasingly chaotic world. Some consider it a new approach, allowing the possibility to integrate a message in the mind of the selected addressee, as well as a chance to unite an organisation’s internal and external communication by communicating political and business-related messages simultaneously.

IC is the result of the development that has occurred in integrated marketing communication (IMC) (Caywood et al., 1991; Caywood, 2012) and has been theoretically and practically investigated by Diane Gayeski (1996, 1998). Gayeski explains: IMC establishes a model for coordinating marketing, advertising, and PR efforts, all of which are promotional and external in nature. What we are calling IC is thus a model that encompasses both internal and external communication and its application for information dissemination, communication and collaboration, learning, and performance support. IC is the application of analysis, communication, and evaluation techniques to create and manage integrated, multifaceted interventions combining information, instruction, collaboration, business process design, feedback, and incentive systems to improve human performance in the workplace in order to achieve an organisation’s desired missions and visions. 

According to Kenneth Clow and Donald Baack, IC is a “seamless program” that maximises the impact on consumers and others at a minimal cost (2004: 322). The interaction is at the heart of IMC, which means that individual efforts are mutually reinforced by the effect of the result achieved. This is quite different from the individual objectives chosen by the representatives of each functional sphere of communication, different reporting strategies, and self-coordinated and uncoordinated public awareness plans.

IC proposes a new direction of management. New communication understanding should be taken up by representatives of all management chains, and integration processes should start at the top management level, along with a more horizontal direction. It means that top managers must be educated as practitioners of integrated communication, and they have to be able to develop communication‘s levels permanently and professionally and unify all divisions of organisation using communication.

Different definitions

IC is moving further than IMC, according to the needs for effective communication. IMC means different things to different people and, according to Chris Fill, the term IMC should embrace the marketing mix, the promotional mix, internal communications and all those outsourced providers who contribute to the overall marketing communication process. Fill argues that it is possible to make communication management less expensive by using integrated approach (2001: 411). 

Paul Smith’s definition is still in use. Smith bases his marketing communication theory on a rational argument: there is more room for a coordinated and crystal-clear message in a world where the consumer is bombarded with over 1,000 commercial communications every day (2004: 16). Hence, Smith’s 7 Ps – product, price, place, promotion, people, physical evidence, process – is not very original, because a more precise formula of 12 elements was originated by Neil H. Borden in 1964. On the other hand, Smith details promotion as an element of the marketing mix and introduces the structure of the communication mix: selling; advertisement; sales promotion; direct marketing; publicity and public relations; sponsorship; exhibitions; packaging; point of sale and merchandising; Internet; word of mouth; and corporate identity (2004: 6–8).

Ben Wightman (1999) discussed James E. Grunig’s and Thomas Hunter’s suggestions mostly in the sphere of structural arrangements. It is some kind of signal about problems of deciding what IMC originally means and what higher level of importance it has. The real strength of the concept is a variety of communication actions, equal voices for different communication forms, and orchestration of them. Wightman’s conclusion is related to the need for the great changes in organisational thinking and also the deficit of skilled IMC professionals. His explanations about Clarke Caywood’s contribution to renovating the concept of IC give support to Gayeski’s works and may also form a united theoretical platform with Dutch scholars working in the same field. Hunter’s conception about unification of organisational functions can be implemented in the public sector as well as the business sector; hence, the Lithuanian public sector tested the ability to launch IC (Armonienė, 2001).

Is it possible to implement?

IC practical usage reveals evidence about universality of implementation. This new paradigm was discussed and studied in Lithuania using qualitative and quantitative statistical methods in the field of bibliometrics and also from the point of view of Lithuanian realities in the public sector – with a sample of 13 ministries – in 2001. In addition, IC as an outside-in planning model was suggested for Lithuanian food product promotion in a case of having excellent promotional programmes and EU financial support infiltration  in 2005. IC was furthermore evaluated as a model for online journalism development in 2009 and 2014, being introduced as a universal model for those aiming to win with their “one voice” messages in a very turbulent market (Armonienė 2001, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2014).

J. H. C. Rebel implemented an IC approach for the bank sector and financial communication management in Poland during the last years of the 20th century. He showed that the application of IC outside the business sector is possible (Schultz et al., 1994; Caywood, 1997). One of the first major projects was a three-year integrated support and training strategy for the Polish public administration sector, beginning in 2004, to prepare effectively for the absorption of EU Structural Funds. 

The project is an excellent example of the application of IC in the public administration sector. The integrated approach was chosen precisely in order to successfully work in the management of community financial assistance. In general, an integrated approach is envisaged on the basis of an action plan with strategically justified and specific objectives. The implementation of the integrated strategy is primarily linked to the planning of actions, thus, establishing the planning model is one of the most acceptable. The development of an integrated approach is broadened by the development of IC, which is possible primarily by strategically underpinning coherent activities.

Hence, implication – that “it may be that integrated marketing can work in a business context, but in terms of other organizations, municipalities, hospitals and government agencies, the concept is not at all useful” (Falkheimer & Heide, 2014: 133) – provides opposite evidence; for example, IC is useful for implementation in the governmental sector. The Lithuanian Government used the services of IC agencies to originate effective communication and coordinated messages to prevent a crisis situation during the COVID-19 quarantine in effect since April 2020. 

Nete N. Kristensen (2010), who investigated IC in the Danish context, claims that IC is a normative theory. While writing about problems with its implementation, she suggests that in times of crisis, communication managers can ask for more power and respect for tightened budgets, and it is not normal when communication professionals don’t have the chance to integrate communication and manage at the same moment when managers of organisations or CEO “don’t get it” (cit. Berger, 2007:230). Sometimes it is too late to start implement integrated communication when you already have a crisis in your organisation or in it’s environment, but it is possible to ask for an additional budget for crisis communication preparation work and start to launch integrated approach. Thus, in this case managers of organisations would be able to have integrated communication in times of crisis and be more successful during overcoming them.

New media, new possibilities

Is it possible to “get it” – to implement IC in various organisations, especially during a time of crisis? Changes in communication and its management are in line with social changes, spreading new technologies (Armonienė, 1999) and information platforms, and the increasingly active role of social networks.

An important change is that there are often no decision-making factors in virtual space about what to publish or not, and there is no control function. Knowledge is spread through discussion, and personal subjective opinion is freely expressed. However, in virtual space, evolutionary processes do not take place; as traditional journalism changes, do interactive tools become part of the media – or vice versa? Journalists can immediately exchange views with readers, ensuring feedback. As the process is being developed, its directions can be difficult to predict, but one thing is clear. Individual authors can be independent and self-regulated when they use new forms of media – there are no such institutional control that existed in mass media in the 20th century. Today, everybody can basically be a content producer of high quality; the question is about ethics and self-control.

The “outside-in” approach of information dissemination planning and preparing messages of “one voice” was created by journalists aiming to survive in a turbulent market by preparing news and information for various public groups’ business. IC is a way to jump out from the stream of chaotic communication flows, and it is especially important during crises times. “One voice” messages are greatly needed when we have a huge amount of false information reaching us mostly from social networks during this COVID-19 crisis. People want information that is trustworthy; they need media and communication which they can trust.

In sum, though not easy to implement, IC can result in profit and a winning position when implemented according to the needs of users who seek well structured and manageable information. It means permanent development. 

Andžela Armonienė is an independent researcher and journalist from Lithuania. She is a head of Support and Charity Foundation Young Researcher in Lithuania.


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Illustration: Paulios Armonas, “Communication from one to many” (2006)

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