The Call for Collaboration within PR and Beyond

June 16, 2015

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You’ve all experienced it and you are feeling it: The need for collaboration and integration across marketing communications functions and with other strategic groups and units within your organization and beyond. The need to solve for increasingly complex and global business problems and prevail against mounting expectations for speedy performance is pushing us all more closely together. Through cross department and geographic collaborations and the inward and outward alignment representing one company and one purpose to the world, organizations can achieve needed cost efficiencies, manage transparency, move faster, be more agile competitively and minimize the risks that result from a lack of alignment. Sounds like business nirvana and a peaceable kingdom of people working together, but the truth of the matter is that business collaboration is more easily imagined than done, and if you asked any one person the rules for engagement or a successful path to integration, you’d discover more questions than answers and more confusion than clarity.

Nonetheless, the need for collaboration mounts. Success in a global world, managing the complex mix of technological, regulatory, social, economic and environmental demands, calls for consensus on a broadening set of corporate objectives and, as a result, a more integrated way to execute. Organizations struggling to achieve this goal are hindered by the lack of roadmaps to integration. Procedural and process changes are not enough to affect this change – achieving goals of culture, common platforms, cooperation and driving the necessary understanding to make these things happen is required.

As corporate communications and marketing professionals, we are on the front lines of this escalating need, not only attempting to integrate our own disciplines. Additionally, CCOs, CMOs and their teams are also expected to drive integration of multiple functions, break down silos, as well as align marketing and communications as companies require unified global messaging, branding and reputation management that will get everyone aligned inside and outside the organization.

FleishmanHillard has moved fast to provide answers to our clients facing these challenges. The Organizing Principle has been helping organizations come together to define their businesses and gain alignment for marketing and communications activities across functions, divisions and geographies. In recent months, we’ve been able to help a diverse mix of organizations. We’ve helped a global company face the challenge of articulating a common purpose, those trying to make sense of how their brands collaborate with the corporate parent, and others trying to help the corporate parent emerge from behind marquee brands. We’ve helped diversified global businesses align functions, geographies and business divisions in one unified marketing and communications plan, and companies transforming with new strategies and leaders, but limited by old expectations, present a new face to the world. Each of these organizations, as unique as their businesses and needs, share a common goal: alignment. We helped each adopt priority-based decision-making and move away from silo-based decision-making to realize their collaborative potential and encourage new models for integration and KPIs.

To further our commitment to clients, recognizing that marketing and communications is only one critical expertise needed for collaboration, FleishmanHillard sponsored a unique hands-on learning program about Collaborative Leadership – with one the world’s leading business schools, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management on May 6-7 – called KALE (Kellogg Action Lab Experience). KALE brings together senior executives for two-days of problem solving on their most complex challenges, aided by Kellogg Professors, their peers and through a unique educational formula that fosters applied learning and aims to send participants home with answers to specific challenges they bring to the session. While the specific work of participants and the issues they bring forward is kept confidential at KALE, it was evident from the challenges they presented that finding solutions to the barriers to integration was real and urgent.

At KALE, participants gained a unique three-way view of the benefits of collaboration. Professor Jean Egmon, creator of KALE and director of the Architectures of Collaboration, presented a model that identified the behaviors of the most collaborative organizations. Leadership expert and Professor Harry Kraemer, emphasized the necessity of leaders to understand and exemplify collaboration and addressed the fear of letting go of perceived power: “Balanced leaders want to know others’ opinions, but that doesn’t mean abdicating authority. It’s not about having your way, but about being respected.”

Marketing Professor Greg Carpenter, acknowledging transparency and the information sharing economy, spoke about the role that collaboration has played in helping the most successful companies sustain their success, which is the subject of his new book Resurgence. Carpenter said the most successful companies are those who trust others beyond themselves and are willing to give up power to change, noting Intel’s move to embrace brand before engineering and Apple’s giving up control of app development as putting the customer in charge.

The benefits of collaboration are often initially hard to see, but integration produces better business results, including higher margins, customer loyalty, employee retention and competitive success, as our KALE experts expressed. FleishmanHillard clients’ response to the Organizing Principle and interest in participating in KALE indicates that there’s not only burgeoning need for collaborative practices, but readiness to invest in adopting the new tools needed and to learning how to collaborate.