The Impact of IMC on Advertising and Public Relations Education

Article excerpt

Advertising and public relations graduates often question their preparedness for employment. For its part, the two industies are often vocal in their assertion that educators are somehow failing to train effective, job-ready communicators. Many critics point to a growing practice in the advertising industry -- integrated marketing communications (IMC) - as the solution for bringing current advertising and public relations curricula up-to-date. According to practitioners sold on IMC, what is good for business is good for the classroom. Conceptually, IMC suggests that advertising and public relations efforts achieve their greatest impact when coupled together and with other marketing elements such as direct marketing and sales promotion to communicate with consumers through multiple channels. In practice, IMC rejects past mass-media strategies by citing the increasingly segmented audiences of today (Schultz, Tannenbaum and Lauterborn, 1993).

As more advertising and public relations educators examine IMC and evaluate its applicability in reshaping curricula, the need for attitudinal research among this population becomes vital. Although some insist that IMC is the new framework by which course sequences shouldbe redrawn and developed, others charge that an IMCbased curriculum will undermine the educator's ability to provide in-depth instruction, thus leaving students ill-prepared for their careers. To date, IMC in education has been addressed using a macro perspective, relying primarily on anecdotal information, on general studies of communication teachers, and on testimonials of IMC advocates. While helpful in providing insights on IMC's role in instruction, these perspectives provide no specific examination of attitudes held by advertising and public relations educators. The present study is meant to supplement the contemporary literature on IMC. We report on a survey designed to ascertain the perceptions and opinions of advertising and public relations faculty members with regard to IMC and its impact on current curricula.

The IMC phenomenon

With most advertising industry publications herald.ing IMC as the wave of the future, it can be argued that many practitioners welcome the concept. But it seems that more discussion is focused on where and when IMC is best employed than whether or not it is a good idea. And those responsible for defining IMC as it relates to advertising and public relations education have yet to agree on its meaning within their own ranks.

What is new about IMC? One view suggests that the mass media of the 1950s met their match in the 1980s, when "technology collided with society and human wants and needs" (Schultz, Tannenbaum & Lauterborn, 1993). This "demassification" of the population was actually a splintering of the mass market into highly specialized groups according to lifestyle, ethnicity, education and other variables. The capacity for technology to deliver more information in new and different ways made consumers more difficult to reach as their media options increased. Markets once accessible by a single advertising strategy now demand a multi-level, multi-channel campaign aimed from different directions at the same target. Current industry wisdom dictates that marketers "speak with one voice not only to consumers but also to all those who influence their purchase decisions" (Harris, 1993, p.15).

Thus, it is generally agreed that IMC is a strategic joining of communication functions used by marketers. The major communication functions are used in concert to yield a result "greater than if each functional area had selected its own targets, chosen its own message strategy, and set its own media schedule and timing" (Duncan & Everett, 1993, p.32). This dynamic is commonly referred to as synergy. But exactly how the practice influences campaigns and benefits clients is not as easy to determine or explain. While many businesses will agree that an IMC approach can be successful in executing a campaign, some point out that the approach is not universally necessary or applicable to every communication task. …