R.I.P. Traditional Marketing

02/10/2012 09:48 BST | Updated 01/12/2012 10:12 GMT

If your SEO isn't talking to your PR isn't talking to your social media, you are losing out on customers.

If a PR professional had jumped into a time machine in 2008 and landed in 2012, they would find themselves lost and unemployable. That's because the way customers interact with organisations has changed beyond recognition and the traditional marketing communications model is now all but redundant. Print advertising no longer works. Cold calling is a bore. And an article in the papers doesn't have the effect on a business's sales figures that it once did.

As traditional marketing rapidly became outmoded we've seen organisations scrambling to exploit the enormous opportunities to reach customers through their browsers. Yet the vast majority of businesses are not even close to achieving their potential in terms of online marketing. That's because their strategies are fragmented: they have a PR agency taking one message to the media, an SEO consultancy building links to their website, a production house making a corporate video, and a social media specialist advising on how to reach their market via Facebook and Twitter.

What they fail to recognise is that most of the value in these marketing channels is to be captured in their interaction. The organisations that are winning the online marketing race are those that recognise the enormous potential of an integrated communications strategy.

From a marketing perspective the last five years have been pivotal in shaping the future of the discipline. Organisations have been forced to reassess their marketing strategies as budgets have been cut; social networks have grown to claim the lion's share of consumers' online time; and people are increasingly demanding that organisations present them with instant, useful and easily digestible information in the form of video and infographics.

The result will almost certainly be a blurring of the boundaries between communications disciplines.

PR is no longer isolated to media relations, and now has to incorporate elements such as blogger outreach and social media marketing to achieve the same results as it did earlier in the century. At a very minimum, organisations now need to be using Twitter to better engage with journalists.

Social media are maturing as marketing tools and have evolved past simple sharing of company updates. Strategic communications professionals are recognising the lead generation power of social networks and revolutionising their organisations' approach to business development. In my experience running social lead generation campaigns, this is best achieved when they are constructed around the company's core messages, or carefully woven around the organisation's existing narratives (assuming these are compelling). Much of this work is already being done by the PR function, and so the efficiencies that could be realised further support the argument for merging PR and social.

But what good is a great reputation built on social networks and in the media, for an organisation whose website is difficult to find or doesn't engage visitors once they get there? Most business leaders now recognise the need to optimise their websites, but many fail to understand the close (and growing) interaction between the work of the PR and social media specialists and that of their SEO providers. For example, earlier this year, Google changed its algorithm, shifting emphasis more and more towards content and recency and placing greater value on links from social networks. That means, in theory, that businesses that generate regular content for both their own sites and for sites that link to theirs, will be rewarded with higher search engine rankings. Frustratingly, the response from standard SEO providers has been unoriginal and poorly thought through: most have embarked on quests to find a way to create as much content as possible at as low a cost as possible. This can only be achieved at the expense of quality, so while the results tend to be adequate, they are not the kind of results that will give an organisation a genuine lead in an increasingly competitive online world. The most successful companies field are those that recognised early their PR and social media teams' existing institutional knowledge, ability to produce quality copy and capacity to negotiate with bloggers and media outlets (to secure the kind of links that Google ranks highly). It is patently clear that incorporating SEO into the wider communications strategy delivers much greater returns than running it in parallel.

That brings me to video, and you can probably guess where I'm going with this. Running a video campaign in isolation from the rest of the marketing function is probably the most costly mistake an organisation can make.

We regularly encounter execs who have been briefed to churn out a few pixels at the lowest possible cost. It seems very straightforward to them: we need a video that tells web visitors what we do; as we know exactly what we do, we can write the script ourselves and find a cameraman / editor to produce it to our direction. This is incredibly short-sighted. Everyone is making videos (the number of videos on YouTube is approaching a billion!), and customers (who tend to be humans) have a finite amount of time with which to watch them.

That means that video content needs to be on target and on message, and your standard video production team trained in the technicalities of operating cameras and edit suites (i.e. in delivering visuals), is simply not able to service this element of the brief. However, the existing comms team, which has been working on the strategy, developing messages, monitoring customer sentiment on social networks, liaising with case studies and receiving daily feedback from the media, will be able to drive the direction of the corporate video to ensure it achieves results. For any organisation spending thousands on producing video (that can only be updated or changed at great expense after delivery), neglecting to work with the existing comms function is a costly mistake.

And, unfortunately (although often comically), it's one I've seen hundreds of times - companies looking to save a few pennies here or there making rookie mistakes on their corporate videos. The most common include dull animation (don't make the mistake of thinking that it's interesting just because it's animated) that runs over 90 seconds along a rambling script drafted by someone who has clearly never written a script before.

Consistency of message is critical across the marketing function. Those organisations that maximise the value of a newspaper article by sharing it with their social networks; that get the online editor of their top industry title involved in their video case study from the start (so they can ultimately feature it); that build fewer but better quality links by targeting the media and highly-ranked blogs with thoughtful content; and that use their blog to support them at every step in the marketing process will achieve results that are not possible when separating functions (and they'll enjoy significant cost efficiencies in the process). This will give them notable first mover advantage against competitors that are lumbering along trying to piece together disparate elements of their marketing campaigns.