Episode 3

Published on:

8th Feb 2024

S4 E3: The Power of Integrated Marketing with Deborah Spencer of the Castle Group

The terms integrated marketing and integrated communications are often used interchangeably. Whether you call it your marketing mix, communication mix, or strategy, the goal is to have a holistic approach that considers all channels and touchpoints.

Deborah Spencer, the Chief Marketing Officer of the Castle Group, discusses the concept of integrated marketing and its importance in strengthening relationships, telling compelling stories, and amplifying brands. She emphasizes the need to understand the audience and their preferred channels of engagement, as well as setting clear goals and objectives for marketing strategies. Deborah also highlights the significance of involving leadership in the process and the value of external perspectives in uncovering authentic messaging.

Integrated marketing is not just about what you want to say, but also about how your audience wants to engage with you. By meeting them where they are and showing that you care about their needs, you can build stronger relationships and achieve greater success in your marketing efforts.

About the Guest

Deborah Spencer is Chief Marketing Officer of The Castle Group in Boston, MA. As a marketing and creative strategist, Deb takes the creative process seriously. Her approach is to be imaginative and inventive—and calculated and tactical. She draws from decades of experience in marketing, creative direction, and project management to foster an idea to fruition and develop the best plan to deploy it.

Deb leads Castle’s marketing division, splitting her time between agency and client work. Her primary role is collaborating with visionary business leaders and creative teams to ideate actionable marketing initiatives that strengthen relationships, tell compelling stories, and amplify brands. Over her career, she’s directed hundreds of marketing projects, initiatives, and communications strategies—from marketing asset development to company branding to full-blown integrated marketing communications campaigns and strategies..

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Deborah Spencer:

My name is Deborah Spencer. I am the Chief Marketing Officer of the Castle Group in Boston, Massachusetts. I lead our marketing division, splitting my time between agency and client work. And my primary role is to collaborate with visionary business leaders and create actual marketing initiatives that strengthen relationships, tell compelling stories, and amplify brands.

Abbie Fink:

I think this is a fabulous way to introduce the concept of integrated marketing: “strengthen relationships, tell compelling stories, and amplify brands.” So tell me what that means, because that is such a powerful statement.

Deborah Spencer:

It is a powerful statement. Well, let’s start with strengthening relationships. Integrated marketing is a real opportunity for you to strengthen your relationships. And, you know, there are different aspects of integrated marketing that allow you to do that. But I would start with first that understanding your audience, so understanding your stakeholders, that’s part of your relationship with them. And how you understand them is knowing what and how they want to engage with you. And also understanding that not all marketing communications are the way you want to communicate. And if you can find a way to foster an awareness campaign around who these people are, then you’re ahead of the game in building a relationship and you’re showing how much you care about how they want to communicate with you. And that’s through different channels and also what they care about.

Abbie Fink:

For me personally, I think interchangeably talk about integrated communications, integrated marketing, integrated strategies. Are they the same? Is there a distinction between integrated marketing and integrated communications? Or is it just the same idea or how you approach it?

Deborah Spencer:

I think it’s the same idea. It’s how you’re looking at your complete communications mix. You can say your communications mix, your marketing mix, your channel, your strategy. They’re all one in the same to me.

Abbie Fink:

Okay. So one of the things, as communications counselors, as we’re talking with our clients, whether they’re on board or we’re about ready to have that new business development, is we have to start with what you want to accomplish, what the goals are, before we can actually start to put a strategy together. So what steps should we be thinking about and advising those that are guiding the communications efforts, maybe internally with our clients, how to set some goals and really think about what role a marketing strategy might play for their business goals?

Deborah Spencer:

Absolutely. So I think there are, to me, five real steps that you need to take. And we do this internally when we’re working on a marketing strategy or a campaign, or we have a brand new idea or something’s happening that we want to announce. Accounts, and also in our clients, whether they’re looking to do a full-blown marketing strategy or they’re going to be doing some sort of campaign to meet an objective. So the first thing you always want to do, and I think I alluded to this a little bit, which was to define your audience. It’s a really good first step towards selecting your marketing channels. A lot of times when we’re brought in as communications professionals, organizations are trying to better their communications internally and externally.

So defining your audience and your stakeholders is the very first step. And I think, for me, start with your internal team. They’re your brand ambassadors and the first line of communicators who tell your story. So absolutely identify and work that in your internal communications. Your team has to know what’s going on, how you communicate, what your strategies are, what your messaging is, in order for them to have more meaningful conversations and represent you. The second thing you want to do is focus on creating the ideal client persona. And this is like very daunting to some people to think about your client persona or your audience persona. persona. But it can be something that’s simple. What are the characteristics of your most successful business relationships? So I would always ask that question. What are you looking for? What are those business relationships? What are the most successful ones for you? Because that’s part of your story and how you attract the clients you attract. And then all the other stakeholders that support your company’s success. So your partners, your suppliers, the media, of a community, board members.

So defining your audience and really knowing who you’re going to be talking to is critical. The next step I would go through with a client or even internally when we’re doing our own marketing initiatives is to understand how your audience prefers to engage with you. You may be more comfortable just putting everything up on your website or sending an email blast to your entire list. But understanding the way different clients interact with you, some may interact with you on social more, LinkedIn, who knows? If you understand that, that goes back to what I originally said. If you understand and show.

An effort towards understanding how to best communicate with all of your stakeholders, you’re ahead of the game. It’s showing them how much you care. The other thing I think I would do is establish those goals. Like, what’s right for you? Don’t be afraid to understand what’s right for you. You’re going to have short and long-term goals and objectives that support your company’s goals. And what are your marketing communication goals? Were they for the year, this quarter, today? You may have an exciting news announcement today. So your long-term goals may be to launch a refreshed brand or support an awareness campaign, promote a new product, cross-sell services.

You really have to know what you’re trying to do. Is it a full-blown, multi-tiered strategy, or are you looking to just focus on one campaign for a specific issue? And no matter where you are on your marketing journey, approaching those goals with an integrated marketing mindset will help to maximize hard-earned content. It takes a lot of work to develop engaging, targeted, authentic-to-you content. And when you think in an integrated marketing way, you stretch those marketing dollars, you reach more people, and you improve your overall performance. And then one last thing I would just say is understanding which channels you use, choose your marketing channels wisely. And this goes back to understanding your audience and what channels work best for you. You have to strike that balance between the expertise you have internally, like what channels do you have people, do you have experts in your company that can execute on these different channels, or do you need external support? So I think really being honest with yourself and understanding which channels work best for your audience and for you.

Abbie Fink:

So there’s a couple things in that conversation that sort of that, well, a lot of it resonated with me. But one of the things I wanted to kind of clarify in this is who needs to be in these conversations? Like this is, you know, this is the creative side of it. Those of us that do the work, that makes a lot of sense. a small business owner or the executive director of a non-profit or someone is not necessarily thinking with a marketing mindset they have business goals in mind but may not may not see that so a little bit about you know who’s who should make up these conversations and then sides to that is sort of the investment of the time to create these things and you touched briefly regarding, you know, budgeting, but, you know, how do we, how do we get folks to be thinking about really making this investment, both from a time perspective, as well as the financial side, but to make it work, you have to give it the time and attention that it really needs. So who should be in those conversations? You know, who, you know, who and how much time should we be allocating from a resource perspective outside of the, you know, the hard cost in from the implementation standpoint? Right.

Deborah Spencer:

Right. So first of all, who should be in the room? You know, I’m going to say it depends. It depends on the size of the company that you’re working with, what stage they are in their marketing. If it’s a startup company, you know, of course, it would most likely be those people that are deeply involved in the startup. So that would be really key to larger companies who may have a full-blown marketing department, but just need support on possibly putting together a strategy or a fresh look at new ideas for communicating any marketing messaging or strategy. So I think it depends on who should be in the room depends on what the project is. Is it a full-blown marketing strategy or is it a campaign, one element of the company’s marketing strategy? Are you supporting them with branding? But I will say this, it’s important to have the leadership be involved and those people that are going to be able to execute. So, like I said, it’s hard to determine who should be in the room. It would be based on the company. But I think at a minimum, you need to have those leaders that really understand what the messaging is. You have to start, and I don’t like to say the top necessarily, but you have to start at the top. Those leaders of that company need to be involved at least in the beginning of a conversation to make sure that your strategy is authentic to you and what you want your company to represent, say, all of that. So that’s really important that the messaging is understood by whoever is involved.

Adrian McIntyre:

Deborah, you mentioned doing this work for the Castle Group as well as doing this for clients. And I think that’s an opportunity to talk about something really important, which is it’s often hard, no matter how much expertise and marketing experience and savvy one has, it’s hard to read the label from inside the jar. And so if you’re working with marketing leads at a client company, there is a certain amount of empathy that you must have for what they’re having to go through, because this really does require them to clarify some pretty foundational aspects of not just their communications plan, but really their business strategy and how they’re going to help their executives reach their goals. You said at the very beginning of the conversation, something that I really liked. I don’t remember exactly the words that you used, but it was something to the effect of not everything that you’re going to communicate is based on what you think needs to be said. A lot of it has to connect with the audience in new ways. Could you share a little bit from your own experience what it’s like to go through these exercises in ways that perhaps the client side might also really understand and relate to?

Deborah Spencer:

Yes, of course. I think you said it perfectly. It’s not an easy exercise. It’s not. It can be a hard thing to do. Some leaders just know exactly that, you know, this is our messaging and this is what we want to be about. And this is our culture and this is our brand. And, you know, they’re really on top of that. And sometimes you have to pull it out of them. And when you’re a marketer you understand well okay so how does your culture feed across you know your client mix and so it is about understanding or maybe offering up, uh, offering up different ways, different ideas, I think, based on, you know, having the experience like, okay, is your culture about, you know, having fun or doing great work? Or what is what is your culture? And what would you want your clients to know about that culture? And why? So I think you’re absolutely right that it’s sometimes you’re going to be dealing with a client that just knows and the leadership knows and they have their agency and business goals. But more often than not, a lot of marketing is done by, you know, just kind of a dartboard and throwing ideas out there and trying different things and seeing what sticks.

That’s not the best approach. You really don’t want to do it that way. Sometimes it works, though, and it can be still come out with some great campaigns and some great messaging and hit your target audiences. But it is important. It is when you’re doing agency work, working within. So if you’re in your company and you’re right, you’re kind of looking inside the label, you have these preconceived notions of what those messages are. So sometimes bringing in an external person who can just ask the questions of various parts of the company. And everyone’s going to have an idea about what they think the company represents. And it is about asking the right questions and being able to glean that information. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s easier. Sometimes it’s harder.

Abbie Fink:

So the logic here or the best advice that we can offer really is, as I hear this, is really a willingness to look deep into your organization, ask difficult questions, demand difficult answers, right? If we’re really going to understand the, you know, who our business is, who we’re trying to reach the types of stories that we want to tell can be a little uncomfortable, might get us to places that we’re not always willing to go to. And from an advisor perspective, sometimes we have to ask the more complicated questions and get our clients to think a little bit differently and maybe take them on a path that they were not originally expecting to go Because we’re hearing some things a little bit differently.

So, you know, as we’re developing those relationships and asking people to, you know, to think a little bit differently, how do we ensure that we’re hearing what the client has to say, that we’re getting across what they want to while using our knowledge, our expertise, our best practices to make sure we’re delivering on that integrated strategy that really brings them those results. That ultimately is what they’re trying to accomplish by bringing someone like one of our firms in to help them do that.

Deborah Spencer:

I think you’re absolutely right. It’s not one conversation. It is about putting back what you heard and making suggestions and then feeling that out. I think there’s a lot of back and forth with really when the leadership is not clear about even their business goals and how marketing can support those business goals. It does take quite a bit of back and forth to figure out and nail it, really. So it’s about investing the time, showing that it’s important, helping those leaders understand that the exercise is worthwhile.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.

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About the Podcast

PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network
Leading a business effectively in today's fast-paced and interconnected world requires expert guidance and a strong communications strategy. The Public Relations Global Network is here to help.
PRGN Presents is the essential podcast for international business leaders, non-profit executives, and those who hire public relations, marketing, and communications firms. It provides an exclusive look into the ever-evolving world of PR and communications, featuring experts from the Public Relations Global Network, “the world’s local public relations agency.”

Is your message winning hearts and minds? No matter where you do business, there is a PRGN member agency in your region with the deep industry expertise, international experience, and local market knowledge you need to connect with your target audience and achieve your goals.

Whether you're an executive looking to improve your organization's communication strategy or an in-house marketing professional looking to bring in an outside firm to support a specific campaign, this podcast will provide valuable insights on how to communicate effectively and build lasting relationships with customers, staff, and communities around the world.

In each episode, you’ll hear PR professionals and industry experts share valuable insights and perspectives on the latest trends in public relations, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), media relations, crisis management, investor relations, stakeholder engagement, executive thought leadership, and strategic communications.

About your host

Profile picture for Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Abbie is often invited to present to a wide variety of business and civic organizations on such topics as media relations, social media and digital communications strategies, crisis communications, and special events management.