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Volume 83 | Issue 2
March 2015

Integrating Marketing Communications in a Union

Kat Shanahan

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Students today are inundated with messaging and technology that guide their on-campus experience. Student unions strive to capture student time and attention by providing safe programing that enhances the campus experience. With so many choices available for students, unions need to find a way to rise to the top of customer minds. Integrated marketing communications serve as a vehicle to drive the organization forward, steering it toward achieving the mission and vision set forth.

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is a process, not a department within an organization whose sole responsibility is to focus on the graphic design and brand image of the organization. Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, said: “A brand is a living entity and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

These “small gestures” combined are integrated marketing communications. IMC planning provides a roadmap of where the organization is going and what business success looks like. It also ensures that messaging is consistent across all touch points, which helps to build relationships with target audiences.

 snickers commercial screenshot
 In this 2010 Snickers commercial, hungry passengers appeared as Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin (not pictured). The ad was among the first installments of the “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign.

IMC In Action

Snickers has been successful in implementing an IMC campaign surrounding the tagline, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” The popular campaign was a successful follow-up to the previous “Hungry, why wait?” campaign. Snickers did more than use the same content and message across all of its marketing platforms; it individually tailored each message to the medium. Not simply recycling the messaging, but growing and enhancing messaging across multiple platforms is the basis for IMC.

Snickers used celebrities acting “out of character” as other celebrities in their television ads. Their print ads targeted everyday activities that became difficult if customers were hungry. A favorite example was the guerilla marketing in the streets of Brazil. Snickers created a photobooth in which customers would have their photo taken, but what printed was the photo of someone else, thus furthering the idea that you’re not you when you’re hungry.

According to the 2011 Effie Awards, in the first three months of the campaign, Snickers saw global growth. In the United States alone, sales volume increased 8% and single sales rose by 13.4%. Additionally, the year-on-year household penetration rose 1.8 percentage points after previously declining by 1.6.

The success of this campaign is due to the strong brand focus and IMC plan. Snickers is positioned as a treat that satisfies hunger. Keeping the element of satisfying hunger and adding a humorous twist kept the messaging in line with the brand. The IMC execution has allowed that message to infiltrate Snickers’ target audience and create memorable experiences that reinforce the campaign message.

IMC in a College Union

Beginning in 2012, the James R. Connor University Center at UW–Whitewater began developing an IMC process. The team started by drafting a campaign for the overall University Center, followed by an implementation plan that would lead to the creation of IMC campaigns for each individual department. In 2014–15, this totaled 10 plans. This number will vary based on the number of units within the union. Northwestern University has transitioned its union marketing efforts to a divisional structure, which resulted in 20 marketing plans in 2014–15.

The first year of implementation was also a year of teaching. The marketing staff created an IMC campaign for the University Center while also educating internal departments on the importance of executing these plans. The departments worked to gather data to ensure the objectives outlined in the plan were attainable. 

The IMC Plan

A typical integrated marketing communications plan is composed of the following sections.

  • Company Background Information
  • Target Market Analysis
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Integrated Marketing Communications Goals
  • Creative Strategy
  • Advertising
  • Public Relations
  • Direct Marketing
  • Sales Promotions
  • Conclusion

In addition to these sections, the James R. Connor University Center asked departments to begin developing semester-long or year-long schedules to be included with marketing plans. This allowed the calendars to be centralized to see when events overlapped and also ensured marketing materials were requested in a timely fashion. Adding the calendar component assists departments with ensuring marketing materials are requested well in advance of the event date.

imc plan examples objectivesImplementation

Though these are the standard sections, student unions can adjust the categories based on current business practices. For example, if a union does not have a revenue-generating area such as a games room or bookstore, the “sales promotion” section could be eliminated and more emphasis placed on other promotional tactics such as giveaways or contests. Additionally, it may be beneficial to add a digital or social category if digital and social tactics make up a large part of the
marketing strategy.

An IMC plan helps a student union set and measure goals. These goals are not simply “marketing goals,” but rather business goals that marketing helps achieve. Many times, unions get in the habit of creating more and more avenues to market events and services to students and don’t take the time to determine which avenues are most effective.
All departments can create an IMC plan. The James R. Connor University Center has implemented 10 marketing plans this year. Each department is responsible for working with the internal marketing office to develop and monitor the plan.

  1. Overall University Center
  2. Roberta’s Art Gallery
  3. Warhawk Alley (recreation center)
  4. Information Services
  5. Reservations
  6. HawkCard Office 
  7. Ticket Services
  8. Custodial Services
  9. Graphics & Marketing
  10. Human Resources/Administration

imc plan examples tacticsEach section of the IMC plan will have both objectives and tactics. The tactics say what is going to be done and the objectives say what the tactics will accomplish. Setting IMC objectives can be done one of two ways: The process can start with the objectives, or it can start with the tactics.

A quick note on objectives: Objectives need to be specific and measurable. If the objective calls for an increase, how much of an increase? How long will it take to complete this task, one semester or one fiscal year? Being specific and clarifying measurements ensures that there are no misunderstandings about what defines success.

Starting with Objectives

IMC, or marketing for that matter, is not a discrete department of the student union; IMC is what drives a student union forward. When implementing an IMC strategy by starting with the objectives, think about the goals of the student union. Are there service areas that need to increase sales? Is there an attendance goal that needs to be met? After the overall objectives are determined, the next step is to plan how those goals will be reached. Marketing tactics explain “how” something will be done.

Starting with Tactics

When beginning to implement an IMC campaign it can be difficult to think about the big picture, especially if measuring marketing efforts is new for the organization. If it’s a struggle to determine the overall outcomes, start with reviewing what is already being done in the areas mentioned. That will organize the current marketing efforts and help distinguish what those tactics will accomplish.

When the James R. Connor University Center began implementing an IMC plan, departments focused on what they were currently doing. They began by organizing the marketing tactics they had already put into place and then identified what they wanted those marketing tactics to do for them, which led to the creation of objectives. As it was the first year of implementation, this helped departments better understand what was currently being done to market their events and services. After that process was complete, the departments could better determine how they wanted to amend tactics.


As previously mentioned, IMC plans are the roadmap for the entire year. Throughout the year, the University Center marketing staff members at UW–Whitewater are responsible for assisting departments with the maintenance of IMC plans. Students play a key role in the implementation of these plans. These “account managers” are assigned three departments. They do the design work for those departments and manage a calendar to streamline graphic design and marketing materials needed for departmental events.

The James R. Connor Uni-versity Center process also includes four check-in meetings between the marketing office and the individual departments. The meetings are not opportunities to reevaluate goals; rather, they serve to measure progress and assess and evaluate goals.

Looking Ahead

The IMC approach allows departments to strategically focus on business goals to ensure their budgets are being allocated appropriately. Additionally, the process of creating marketing plans helps departments stay on task with their overall goals and spend their resources on tactics to achieve those goals. It is a more intentional, efficient approach to marketing.
Prior to the beginning of the next fiscal year, it is important to reevaluate objectives and set a new course. The marketing landscape is always changing and as such, marketing objectives will not be the same from year to year. It’s acceptable to abandon goals and rework them to better benefit to the organization’s strategic mission.

Equally important as setting new goals is to ensure time is spent evaluating the success of the previous year’s plans. Knowing where the organization was successful can help determine which areas need improvement. Chances are, goals will need to be set for the upcoming fiscal year prior to fully being able to analyze the results from the previous year; however, the information gathered during check-in meetings will be essential to creating new goals.

Timm R. Crull, chairman and CEO of Nestle, said: “Long-term brand equity and growth depends on our ability to successfully integrate and implement all elements of a comprehensive marketing program.” IMC isn’t just something that needs to get done; it is a smarter way of doing business. 


kat shanahan mugshotKat Shanahan serves as the promotions coordinator for the James R. Connor University Center at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater where she has designed and implemented a rebranding project, restructured the marketing department, and led the center’s staff in creating and implementing 10 integrated marketing communications plans. She is currently working on her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from West Virginia University. Shanahan also serves as the Region V communications coordinator.