Answer: Integrated marketing communication (IMC) can be defined as the process used to unify marketing communication elements, such as public relations, social media, audience analytics, business development principles, and advertising, into a brand identity that remains consistent across distinct media channels. It allows public and private organizations and businesses to deliver an engaging and seamless consumer experience for a product and/or service, and to optimize an organization’s image and relationship with stakeholders. Professionals with a background in integrated marketing communications might pursue employment throughout the marketing and communications industries, in areas such as social media marketing, digital media, journalism, market research and consulting, public relations, non-profit and government, entertainment, television and radio, and other related fields.
Integrated marketing communication is a multi-disciplinary field that combines traditional and new media practices. As its name suggests, integrated marketing communications is a holistic marketing approach that considers marketing strategy within the larger context of an organization’s aims and business development and maintenance needs. In other words, rather than having marketing, advertising, public relations, social media, and consumer/audience analytics be separate teams or efforts within an organization, integrated marketing communications encourages the integration of these disciplines to create a more powerful and concerted approach.
By using IMC theories and strategies, marketing specialists, public relations directors, brand managers, digital media associates, social media marketers, and other media professionals can create, execute, and track multi-channel advertising and communication messages that target and influence specific audiences. IMC’s influence can be seen throughout modern society, in website display advertisements, enterprise blogs, search engine optimization, newspaper editorials, outdoor billboards, magazine advertisements, and more.
The increasing reliance of many companies on data-driven and multi-faceted marketing strategies, instead of general mass media marketing, has led to an increase in both bachelor’s and master’s programs in integrated marketing communications that teach students how to coordinate between marketing and public relations; build a brand’s social media presence; and leverage consumer attitudes, shopping patterns, and buying preferences to deliver impactful advertisements and brand messaging.
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Bachelor’s in Integrated Marketing Communication Programs
Bachelor’s degrees in Integrated Marketing Communication provide students with a foundational understanding of all the key elements of a comprehensive marketing strategy for an organization, from marketing and advertising to sales, business-to-business and direct-to-consumer marketing channels, public relations, social media, and basic consumer data analytics. Students of these programs learn how to integrate these elements to develop a cohesive marketing plan across multiple platforms that addresses the needs and interests of diverse potential and current consumers.
Courses that comprise undergraduate programs in IMC typically cover the core principles of IMC, as well as topics in consumer research and insights, digital and social media marketing, mobile marketing, strategic communication, public relations and consumer/stakeholder outreach, marketing ethics, global marketing, and intercultural communication. Depending on the program, students might also be required to complete an IMC capstone project. This project gives students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in their courses to a concrete marketing campaign or other marketing-related project. In some cases, the program might partner with real clients in need of a comprehensive IMC plan so that students can work with as realistic parameters as possible for their project.
Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication Programs
As with bachelor’s in integrated marketing communication programs, master’s in integrated marketing communications programs cover the principles, concepts, and practices relevant to designing and implementing a comprehensive marketing strategy for an organization. However, while bachelor’s degree programs in IMC have general education requirements in addition to coursework for the major, master’s programs in IMC are comprised of coursework that is devoted almost exclusively to topics in the IMC field, allowing students to delve more deeply into the field of IMC and to even specialize further within this broad field. Master’s programs often include courses in organizational leadership as well in order to prepare students for management positions.
Students of master’s in integrated marketing communication programs gain an understanding of the practices and strategies used to create, launch, and measure effective marketing initiatives that engage with today’s consumers (as well as other stakeholders) across different media channels. These programs cover the major elements of marketing communication (e.g. advertising, public relations, display marketing), teaching students how to meld these distinct elements into a unified brand message and experience for consumers. Students develop skills in audience-based research analysis (e.g. implementing consumer surveys and analyzing their results), strategic communication techniques (e.g. marketing copy writing), social media strategies (e.g. creating social campaigns), business-to-business communication and business-to-consumer communication, public relations, brand development and promotion, and more.
The courses featured in integrated marketing communication master’s programs explore topics throughout marketing communications, including marketing research and mixed methods analysis of marketing data, mobile marketing, branding and brand strategy, consumer psychology and behavior, direct marketing, digital and social marketing, business analytics and data visualization, organizational leadership, and public relations. In addition to applied skill development, these programs also may offer courses that allow students to explore broader topics in the field, such as how emerging media influences consumer behaviors and shopping patterns; how social media is altering the notion of consumer engagement with a brand, service or product; or the various channels through which organizations communicate with and market to prospective customers and establish a trustworthy brand identity.
Many master’s programs in integrated marketing communication culminate in a capstone experience; commonly, this capstone is in the form of an industry-oriented marketing campaign. Through the development (and in some cases the implementation) of this campaign, students learn to apply all of the research skills and IMC knowledge they have gained in their program to a concrete deliverable. Some IMC master’s programs will partner with real clients in order to give students as realistic an experience as possible, and to allow students to have an artifact in their portfolio that had a real-world impact on a client’s marketing strategy.
Depending on the program, students may complete their capstone individually or in groups, and they typically consult with one or more faculty advisors who provide support as they complete their capstone project. Some programs may allow students to complete a thesis or research paper in lieu of a professional capstone project; however, as IMC is a highly industry-focused field, the vast majority of programs require a professional project.
For additional information about master’s in integrated marketing communication programs, including degree requirements and sample course plans, please refer to our Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication Programs page.
Careers in Integrated Marketing Communications
A bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in integrated marketing communication can lead to numerous career paths throughout the public and private sectors, in areas such as market research, public relations, digital and social media, consulting, higher education, government and nonprofits, information technology, and more. Individuals with a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications might pursue employment opportunities with marketing agencies, design firms, digital and social media agencies, private corporations, public relations agencies, market research companies, consulting firms, or any other organization or business that works in the marketing or communication space.
Effective marketing communication is critical for establishing relationships with potential and current consumers, creating efficient information exchange for product development, and maintaining brand reputation, as well as advertising and selling products and services. Integrated marketing communication professionals are vital to the entire marketing process, helping synthesize and unify messaging for a company, its brand, services, and products to drive audience engagement. While career options vary by industry, below are several career paths graduates of master’s programs in integrated marketing communications might pursue:
- Public Relations Director: Public relations directors oversee the public facing and internal communications for an organization, including developing and executing strategic initiatives to improve its reputation among consumers, the public, and stakeholders. They typically supervise a staff of public relations professionals, manage large communication projects, and consult with senior leadership on long-term public relations strategies that align with the organization’s value, mission, and goals.
- Marketing Director: From creating advertising concepts to developing multi-channel marketing campaigns, marketing directors translate a company’s brand and positioning statement into effective marketing practices. They use various tools, such as media analytics and customer relationship management software, to analyze consumer and audience behavior patterns and shape advertising initiatives that drive interest in the company’s services or products.
- Marketing Specialist: Typically working under the supervision of a marketing director, marketing specialists develop, execute, and track marketing campaigns for businesses or organizations. Whether conducting audience research, writing campaign copy, buying media, or crafting a look and feel to a display advertisement, these professionals handle the entire end-to-end spectrum of setting up effective marketing campaigns. Throughout their work, marketing specialists use data gathering and analytics technology in order to evaluate the impact of their marketing initiatives on consumer behavior and the perception of their company’s brand(s), so that they can adjust their strategies accordingly.
- Director of Consumer Affairs: Directors of consumer affairs handle a company’s relationship with both consumers and the general public, including overseeing customer service processes and representatives. They manage consumer education, deal directly with customer questions, and deal with client-based complaints regarding products or services.
Note: Integrated marketing communications is a broad field with a diversity of potential jobs and career paths. As a result, the application requirements for jobs in integrated marketing communication vary widely depending on the nature of the specific position, the expectations of the employing organization, and the applicant’s professional and educational background. While many IMC-related job listings may state that they accept applications from candidates with either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in the field, a graduate degree may provide a candidate with a competitive advantage. However, employers typically view applicants’ qualifications holistically, and therefore many years of professional experience in marketing and/or communication may make a candidate with a bachelor’s degree just as competitive as someone who has earned a master’s degree in the field.
As employers’ expectations for candidates seeking positions in integrated marketing communication vary due to any factors, it is important for applicants to research their desired places of employment, as well as the nature of the roles for which they are applying, to best understand how they can put forth a competitive application. Finally, while a master’s degree might not be a strict requirement for many IMC roles in industry, positions that involve intensive IMC research (including consumer data research) and positions in academia tend to expect candidates to hold a master’s degree or higher.