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“I think in theory it’s great, and we all love each other and we all work under one umbrella…but we’re charged with bringing viewers to our network, so there’s a little competition there. So, there’s a lot of media contacts that don’t make it onto the database, sometimes because of competitiveness and sometimes because we just don’t get to it.” Conclusion The purpose of this study was to provide research-based insights on integrated communication where opinion-based and normative theories have dominated the literature.
Adventure Communications represents a high level of integration because its structure permits “each form of communication to contribute to the success of the corporate mission” through the full cooperation of public relations, marketing, and selling (Duncan & Caywood, 1996, p. 23).
Additionally, communication professionals are brought “in direct contact with the full range of management functions and businesses” (p. 32) for the strategic relationship management of the company’s stakeholders.
As a representative case example of high levels of integration, Adventure Communications demonstrates how integration is implemented. Communicators at the company 729 lead formal and informal processes behind integration by building brand-specific initiatives and by facilitating connections between employees en route to natural and spontaneous collaboration—a process I refer to as organic integration.
Organic Integration: A New Direction in Theory and Practice Results from this study reveal a need to reconsider integrated communication as an organic process, in which integration occurs naturally (even spontaneously), and is fertilized by an open structure of interaction and cross-functional collaboration. In particular, integration occurs through relationships. Though management directives may serve to initiate the process, integration works as organically, through self-initiative, from the bottom of the organization up, and from the inside of the organization out.
Organic integration reflects the essence of the model Duncan and Caywood (1996) proposed: “The greatest degree of integration emerges from cooperative efforts…as each step of integration is mastered and accepted, the elements begin to work together” (p. 23, 29). This study demonstrates that the integrated elements “work together” through bottom-up, inside-out
collaboration. This organic integration operates based on the following factors:
Access. Employees need access and face-time in order to collaborate. This may be common sense, but it is one element of integrated communication that is not recognized enough in management or academic literature. For Adventure Communications, getting employees together to spur integration was a priority. Access requires that communicators have informal interaction outside of meetings. This process was often spontaneous at Adventure, though management also encouraged it.
Organizational support. Successful integration depends on an open and fluid company structure. Adventure communicators described the company culture as flexible, open, and one that welcomes change. Adventure's autonomous structure, evident in interviews and participant observation, enables practitioners to work independently toward communication success.
Knowledge sharing. A fluid knowledge-sharing process facilitates integrated communication, and enables communicators to collaborate. Adventure Communications ensures knowledge sharing through employee luncheons with executives, weekly meetings, daily intranet information updates, and even global events featuring interactive sessions with network talent and celebrities. Additionally, Adventure's inter-department liaisons facilitate knowledge sharing by creating connections as they attend meetings outside of their department. By keeping both marketing and communication teams informed on the other’s activities, they create synergy and ensure integration.
Self-initiative. The propensity for an individual to interact with others and seek out opportunities to coordinate efforts defines integration. Individual relationships and interactions may have the greatest effect on integration.
Brand essence. Integration operates more on matching the essence of the company brand rather than copying messages and matching words. Though a company may have a brand lexicon, representing a company’s brand themes is more important than semantic similarities.
Internal relationships. Fluid internal relationships enable integration to work organically.
Communication is a relationship-driven function, and should be considered as such internally, through employee relationships, as much as it is externally, through relationship marketing and management efforts.
Innovation. Innovation may be a contributing factor to organic integration. In order to enable integration to operate naturally, management and employees should be open to change and engage in new ways to solve communication problems and approach communication 730 campaigns. This was evident in one executive’s efforts to mix and match team members through different projects at Adventure.
Practical Applications: Sowing Organic Integration This research provides managerial insights on building a successful integrated program.
Communication managers can facilitate integration by building an open organizational culture of knowledge-sharing, and recognizing and intervening in traditional department silos between communication functions. Managers can facilitate ongoing interaction through cross-functional teams, in which roles are assigned based on individual expertise rather than traditional functional boundaries. Furthermore, teams should be built around issue or programme goal, and should emphasize collaboration.
Managers should also be cautious in mandating integrated efforts. Putting up boundaries, restrictions, and excessively governed processes may hinder integration efforts. Rather, encouraged collaboration or company-wide recognition of successful collaboration efforts may lead to the level of innovation among individual communicators that is requisite for a functioning organic system. Finally, when managing messaging, professionals should consider integrating communications based on the essence of the organization brand. Tagline dependency can be limiting, and expanding brand messaging around brand purpose and its reception among stakeholders may yield better communication results.
Limitations Confounding variables may have influenced the results of this research, not the least of which is the type of organization I studied. As a media company, it is possible that integration may be more of a focus for Adventure due to the company’s high media profile. At the same time, however, company type may not be a valid limitation for this study because the purpose of qualitative methodology is to describe a phenomenon’s occurrence, not prove that it is consistent across all contexts. Within this framework, the results here represent a possibility in professional practice and provide a theoretical perspective to be tested across organizational settings.
Future Research: Cultural and Systemic Dimensions of Integration It is possible that this study provides a set of generic principles of integration that have specific applications in the same way that Grunig, Grunig, and Dozier (2006) have argued that the principles of excellent communication management apply generally, though each country may apply them differently. However, taking a generic principles approach to explain integrated communication may overshadow important cultural contributions. First, Adventure operates within a Western-societal framework, and integration may differ in other regions. Second, Adventure’s organizational culture poses unique influences.
Several scholars point to the need to understand such cultural influences on communication management, including Bardhan (2003), whose research showed that Western models overlook important social differences, and Holtzhausen and Tindall (2003), who question whether communication models “developed in some countries can be applied to others” (p. 306).
The same questions apply here, and future research should explore the cultural characteristics that are unique to a single culture and look for differences in practice between societies and cultures because professionals deal with "publics who are acculturated differently by society and by organizations, respectively" (Sriramesh, 2007 p. 509).
Another argument could be made that this study shows integration should be understood as a systems construct—that is, the interaction between an organization’s interrelated parts or subsystems (i.e. functions, teams, and groups) influences the performance of the entire system (Grunig, 1992). Examining integration from a systems approach implies studying the social 731 structure within which organizational actors operate, including actor interdependence, needs fulfilment, and external influences. Further research should consider such perspectives in the system’s operation. Research should also consider the related perspectives of competing values within an integrated system and the needs of strategic constituencies (see Grunig, Grunig, and Dozier ). Such perspectives, coupled with this study’s findings, provide a basis for Schultz’s (2005) call to “focus on indentifying the interactions that integration creates” (p. 7).
Overall, this study has demonstrated that integrated communication operates organically through natural processes and cross-functional collaboration. Scholarship and practice can flourish from the consideration of integrated communication as a cultural and relational discipline.
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