Ideas Unbound
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Holmes Report
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Ideas Unbound

Ikea's Leontyne Green Sykes explains how PR became the driver for the retailer's most creative campaigns.

Holmes Report

Ikea’s Embrace Change campaign, not only made Leontyne Green Sykes the company’s US chief marketing officer, but has become an example of PR creativity in integrated campaigns. What started as a paid media campaign to support stores in Washington DC - the region Sykes oversaw before taking on the CMO role -- was ultimately defined by an idea from the PR team at Deutsch.

“It was the PR team that realized there was something bigger happening in the world and offered the idea of redecorating the Oval Office [with Ikea furniture] in the DC metro station,” Sykes recalls. 

Since then, Sykes has taken over as US CMO, tearing down silos and continuously reevaluating how the marketing disciplines should work together to ensure maximum return on investment. The US ranks behind Europe as Ikea’s top-selling region in 2012, when the retailer generated €27.6 billion in global revenues. The company works with Ketchum as its PR agency. 

When you were named US CMO in 2009, how did you change the marketing department?

"We sat and worked in silos at the time. My experience as a brand manager [at McNeil Consumer Healthcare] really influenced me to integrate and so we underwent that transition. It was certainly a transition but now works very well. I have a PR manager who focuses on earned media; a communications manager who works on message and ensures it is integrated with paid and earned media; a media manager who focuses on owned and social; and a strategic insights manager who focuses on analytics.  They are all housed under what we call integrated marketing communications (IMC).  Social is one area of the IMC that I’m very focused on because it crosses into all areas."

Right, because social media, especially, crosses over many of these disciplines?

"Yes, and we are still learning in that regard. Organizationally, I’m always looking to see if we have social media in the right place, especially incorporating its role as a customer service platform. Right now, social media sits with the media manager and it’s working there. But the solution for today might not be the solution for the future."

What is your ideal partnership with an agency? What kind of creativity do you expect from your agency? 

"It’s about elevating impact and I think it’s very important for PR agencies to be clear on their value. For example, our Bring Your Own Friends campaign was a PR initiative driven by Ketchum and then our media partner said let’s invest in this from a paid media standpoint. It was a truly integrated campaign that started as a PR idea. We generated incredible buzz on social media and can tie that campaign to actual sales results based on increased visitation to the store that day.

The Ikea Life Improvement Project started as a smaller PR idea that was all about giving away $100K for a sabbatical. And that spark pulled in the rest of the team and we expanded it from there. 
For Bring Your Own Friends, all the credit goes to PR for the idea, whereas in Life Improvement PR was the spark."

What is your approach to analytics and measurement?

"When you talk about marketing, explaining the ROI isn’t always clear-cut and easy to explain. But for me, the best way to engage my colleagues [in the C-suite] was with facts and looking at consumer insights. That’s why I put together a strategic insights group focused on looking at data. 

For marketers, sometimes it’s great to go with our gut. But in conversations with the company’s CFO or CEO, it’s always good to share facts rather than rely on anecdotal support, especially when it comes to impact and results."

Given your background in PR, how do you define PR’s role within the marketing mix and how has it influenced your career?

"I majored in PR because, at the time, I wanted to go into public affairs. But aside from one internship, I’ve never worked in PR. The way I define it now, from then, is much broader. To me, PR is about the earned dialogue and reputation of an organization, business or brand; it’s the language and the buzz and noise that you didn’t pay for. I don’t differentiate what it can do from the other marketing disciplines because I don’t like to think about marketing from a siloed perspective. Marketing is about demand generation and PR is one way to generate demand. "

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