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The Totality of Communication

Charlie Mitchell has been a journalist in Mississippi since 1975 and assistant dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media since 2010. He has written a weekly opinion column, syndicated to Mississippi newspapers for more than 20 years.

By Charlie Mitchell


Faculty at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss developed a curriculum that the state Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning approved in November 2010. It leads to a degree in Integrated Marketing Communication.

It’s a fascinating field because its focus is, literally, everything. Not incidentally, given the arrival of social media, everything is a lot more than it used to be.

As citizens and consumers, we receive hundreds if not thousands of spoken and unspoken “messages” a day.
And, of course, the curriculum includes study of and experimentation with social media as well as other “messaging systems.” How do we use them? How do we react? How often do we return? What prompts us to return? What prompts us to keep browsing?

Traditional consumer behavior studies have long tracked “habits” –– predictive reactions to prompts. Everyone knows that “new and improved” on the label of a box of soap suds will tend to increase sales.

But IMC is not about sales, or not just about sales. It is about creating a relationship, usually built on trust and reliability, with a client. It is about using truth and accuracy to form, cement and improve the relationship.

As an observer of experts in this field, I’ve had a lot of fun – catching on to their excitement at new discoveries and innovations of using old values as part of a new communications environment. (Yes, that describes noses stuck into smart phones.) There’s a lot — a whole lot — going on in strategic communications.

A lot of simple changes can create quantifiable results.

For instance, think about visitor parking on the Ole Miss campus. The university invests lots of resources to make people feel welcome and relies heavily on the good will of the public. But what “message” do we send when a guest lecturer gets a ticket or, worse, booted or towed?

Yes, there is unprecedented and overwhelming demand for faculty, staff and student parking. Yes, there are visitor spaces as well as processes for obtaining visitor permits. But what minor changes could be made to communicate a sincere welcome?

How about a permit that could be e-mailed to a visitor to print out before the visit, including a map showing where to park? How about painting visitor spaces a different color? How about adding the words “Welcome To Ole Miss” to the signs already in place to designate visitor spaces?

Ideas such as this result from a simple analytic process, but one not undertaken unless people stop to realize everything said and done sends a message.

IMC is about the totality of communication, but especially about making sure the message given is well-received and accurate.

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