Although marketing and communications might have similar functions on the surface — namely, telling the organization’s story —they often have widely differing goals. But with the proper structures and planning in place, comms and marketing can align in their aims but also work collaboratively to advance the story of the business. We spoke with Lacey Ehrlich, executive vice president at Golin, and Lisa Fratzke, partner and executive strategist at Fratzke Consulting, about what the comms department can do to strengthen the bond between these two essential functions.
Aligning distinct goals through collaboration
Though marketing and communications functions are increasingly integrated, it’s still common for them to work as independent departments, especially at larger and legacy organizations. But when the two storytelling arms of the business don’t work in sync with one another, the disconnect can lead to outcomes that can negatively impact the bottom line of the business. Fratzke says that this should be the motivation for better collaboration and figuring out where those different goals intersect.
“There are a few ways the two functions can collaborate to build both trust and a mutual sense of accomplishment with one another,” Fratzke said, explaining that marketing can help communications understand the landscape that the company is crafting messages for, while communications can assist marketing in implementing strategies that are consistent with the organization’s comms culture\.
Fratzke added that comms can help the marketing department think about messaging from a reputation management perspective.
“I think that a lot of comms people have been trained to think about messaging and how the words or images will affect internal and external perception — I don’t think marketing has historically always thought the same way,” she said. “If you bring in comms to the marketing process early, they can serve as a sort of risk assessor for marketing initiatives before they go out to the world,”
A trusted partnership rooted in understanding creates a measurable narrative
Though they might have differing metrics for success, in the end, marketing and comms can further align their goals by deepening the knowledge and understanding of the other’s functions help to sow the seeds of collaborative success.
“I liken to it being able to speak the same language,” Ehrlich said. “Each department needs to know what the other is trying to accomplish and how they’re seeking to do it in order to provide the best support possible.”
She added that the understanding needs to cut in both directions in order to create an ecosystem of balance—and once that happens, you can start to shape a measurement narrative.
“Both functions need to know how the other measures success. In communications, we’re about figuring out the messaging and how we can tell the story to the world — marketing can help spread that message to the masses. But without the other, each function of the business isn’t going to be as impactful.”
Avoiding silos through empathy and forming bonds
In the best scenario, marketing and communications have a somewhat symbiotic relationship and talk to one another relatively frequently about initiatives they’re undertaking or future strategy development. But what advice can be given to organizations that haven’t quite figured out how to make the functions work seamlessly with one another?
Fratzke advises against siloing the functions of either department at all costs.
“When one department makes a decision isolated from the other, you’re just increasing the chances for miscommunication,” Fratzke said. “That’s laying the groundwork for confusion, tension, and a lack of progress towards end goals being made on both sides.”
Because a good working relationship between the two comes down to clear, consistent communication, communicators can nurture the relationship by exhibiting a sense of empathy for what marketers is dealing with. Much of this cross-departmental behavior should be modeled by departmental leadership to ensure it works its way down.
Once that empathy is established, truly creative idea-sharing can occur.
“If marketing and comms are open with one another and share ideas, you’re not just going to plant roots for a positive working relationship,” said Fratzke, “you’re also going to avoid potential fire drills that come with a lack of understanding.”
“One of the best starting points for the two departments to collaborate successfully is to treat one another as humans and valued members of the team beyond their roles. That sort of positive culture is a great first step in making sure marketing and comms have a strong bond and can collaborate for the good of the organization.”
Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.