HONG KONG - While many firms have seen the need to restructure their marketing and communications departments into a single unit for some years now, it hasn't all been smooth sailing, as the first panel discussion at today's PR360Asia conference revealed.
The industry's top regional annual event kicked off this morning at the JW Marriott Hong Kong with more than 260 registered delegates and top speakers from communications and public relations.
"It does take some internal balancing with marketing," said Caren Lee, regional director of corporate affairs for Asia-Pacific at Citi. Marketing, she continued, tends to look at everything from a "very direct-ROI perspective" and focuses on "low-cost, high-effectiveness".
"I want to do a campaign, I want to push this product, to sell credit cards... we have to be the voice that says social media is not a direct marketing or advertising platform," said Lee.
For fellow panelist Michelle Saddington, brand marketing and communications director for financial services APAC at EY, the top frustration with integration has less to do with marketing and more to do with getting all stakeholders to agree to upgrade legacy systems.
"The holy grail is to get a structure that will help us get to market in a more integrated way," she said. "It's a challenge to convince the internal powers that be to upgrade systems so they are more commercially savvy, more intelligent and deliver better analytics on customers. We've got old systems where CRM is not talking to the digital infrastructure, where clickthrough-rates on social media campaigns aren't measured directly. There's a lot of work to do in the background to get analytics to tie up, and it's frustrating because it's hugely time consuming."
However it is important, she added. "When a customer visits our site, we want the site to know what they've read, what events they've attended, and can recommend more content to them, and feed information back to the sales team so they have a lead," Saddington said. "That's the future. That's where we want to get. But it's frustrating to achieve on a global level."
All this is complicated by a slowing economy, contributed Catherine Peng, VP of PR and communications at VW Group China. "Forget about big amounts of money going into PR and communications," she said. "We have to do things differently."
Peng added that the change has been good for the team as stronger ROI and KPI requirements have led to stronger crisis and event management across all teams. "The truth is integration is key," she said. "We belong to different teams, but the efforts have to be integrated for the brand."
It has helped effectiveness overall to have marketing and communications on the same team, according to Saddington. "When I joined 15 years ago, when we tried to prove our internal worth to the organisation, we'd often end up competing with our own internal departments," she said. "This caused confusion for clients and duplication errors. When we merged the teams together, we stripped out a lot of structural waste and resources."
Other benefits have been better career paths for individuals in both teams, she added. "PR has learnt new skills and now has a broader remit."
Follow the conference throughout the day on Twitter, and tune in tonight for the presentation of the PR Awards Asia for 2016. We'll be live-tweeting and then sending the full winner list to bulletin subscribers as soon as the event concludes.