ITL #161 Leaving the silos: setting up communications for the future3 years, 10 months ago
A new, more integrated setup at AccorHotels has improved efficiency, delivered greater impact and boosted team spirit. By Eike Alexander Kraft.
There is no question that in any company, Distribution, Marketing and Communications/PR support revenue growth and profit by transferring the company strategy into actions focused towards stakeholders. Year after year, one main debate during the budget phase is: how much does each function commit and how to split the tight resources?
Combined with the fact that digitalization is rapidly changing the habits of stakeholders, the questions remain: how can companies change to adapt to the new stakeholder arena? How can companies effectively approach today’s customers (in both B2B/B2C arenas), who rapidly change their behaviors? And how can companies overcome the constant internal struggles of departments for influence and resources?
Stakeholders today actively research, publish, comment and share information to find solutions and offers for their demands, focused on the digital environment. They expect dialogue, direct and real-time communications, which they can share and republish.
The “sharing economy” trusts authentic, transparent information and stories rather than traditional marketing pitches. Any topic, including critical ones, is discussed publicly in a very realtime, dynamic environment.
Formerly separate target groups such as employees and customers come together in social media and interact with each other. Today any communication by any representative or department of a company can have a major impact with great reach on overall reputation and image.
At the same time, controlling the message is less and less possible. Everybody is a spokesperson today. The role of Communications therefore has to change from a controller and filter to a moderator and enabler within the company, setting agendas and messages at a fast pace and adapted to all internal and external channels, including an internal social network.
Nevertheless, many companies are still caught in classical silo structures. Expertise and resources for these tasks are spread over separate departments with different goals, hierarchies and reporting lines, providing a great challenge for a consistent approach within the company and to the market. Although working closely together, the department approach regularly ends up in competition over results, resources and the value of every silo.
Actions of Distribution, IT, Marketing and Communications have to interact more closely than ever to meet the new requirements of the outside world. Any investment in infrastructure, processes, campaigns and resources has to be looked at beyond a departmental perspective.
The power of search
The growing importance of online and mobile usage in sales drifts the focus towards Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Closely linking marketing campaigns with distribution/e-Commerce needs is therefore inevitable.
At the same time, there is a high need for content coordination via all channels under the supervision of the Communications function to manage and protect overall messaging and the reputation of the company, its brands and its management.
While the role of Distribution as the driver of e-commerce is growing, the Communications function is trending towards cross media or so-called multi channel activities – collecting and creating content and spreading it via different channels in the appropriate way.
If you come out of one of these silo structures and want to move to an integrated approach, here are your possible first steps – ones that made a great difference for my work today. We at AccorHotels Central Europe stood before these challenges as most companies probably do. As Communications manager, it was part of my understanding as a strategic role to bring up the topic at an early stage. Together with Distribution, Marketing, IT and the leadership we discussed the situation intensively and soon came to a clear conclusion.
Uniting our different efforts is key. While setting up meetings and internal policies might work, the best way is to adapt the structure for a real restart. An integrated structural approach solves the issues and breaks with traditional department structures with their separate resources, procedures and goals. It means integrating teams and building competence centers, putting hierarchies and reporting lines aside, and prioritizing expertise, projects and customer service. It is not only a structural question, it is a change of mind regarding how we work together and lead.
So what did we do? As we already had a basic understanding that a new setup will be a win-win for the company and everyone working in it, we initiated the change. We integrated the Marketing Teams and their focus on product, advertising and content strategy with Distribution/eCommerce.
At the same time, we bundled all communication and dialogue oriented activities including Internal, External/PR, Social Media, Blogger Relations and Customer Service into a “Newsroom” under the lead of Communications. The idea of the Newsroom is to have a service provider in the middle of the company for all communication activities and channels, comparable to an internal agency system.
We integrated experts for the different topic areas and channels from several departments into the Newsroom with pure focus on creating and distributing content, projects and results. Especially in the area of Social Media this was a new approach, as the topic was spread via several teams, agencies and resources.
Our setup is still pretty new, but the first findings are impressively positive and we strongly believe in it. With the right tools and a new mindset, we have found this organization more efficient, with better results and more highly motivated teams and experts, who can free their potential from structural restrictions in a real cross-departmental team spirit.
We expect great steps forward in our Community and Influencer Management, including our Customer Relations. At AccorHotels, the new setup also corresponds with our vision of managing and working together focused on content, topics and projects and less on hierarchies and silo-structures.
Eike Alexander Kraft, VP Corporate Communications & Social Responsibility, AccorHotels Central Europemail the author
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