Integrate to accumulate
Given the state of the industry during the early years of the new millennium, it’s little wonder that many agency chiefs sought to change tact and adapt to the evolving market. The tightening of budgets witnessed many clients looking to consolidate their marketing services under one roof, and as a result the integrated agency (or full service, depending which way you prefer to swing) was born.
While there were still some agencies that held firm with a specialist offering, (many of which operating in DM, PR or new media) new organisations were set up to facilitate clients looking for a ‘one-stop agency shop’, meanwhile, existing agencies began to diversify the skills-sets they provided.
So when Heather Westgate, managing director of TDA – one of the UK’s leading DM agencies – decided to write about the benefits of specialist marketing services companies over those of full service, it was inevitable that opinion would be divided.
While many of you will no doubt share Westgate’s point of view, it’s evident, judging by the phone calls and e-mails received at Adline Towers, that the integrated-offering folk among you were a tad disgruntled.
It seemed only fair, then, that we should open the floor to the integrated agencies to discuss what they believe are the advantages of using an agency that offers the whole kit and caboodle. Can integrated agencies really offer the same level of expertise in, say, new media, as a specialist new media agency? Does thinking up a holistic marketing solution restrict you from understanding the workings of a specific discipline?
First up to tackle Adline’s questioning, and sell the integrated model to client readers, is James Goddard, the chairman of JJ. Operating in Oxford, JJ works with clients such as Volvo, British Gas, Next Generation Clubs and Beefeater, offering both full service and specialist disciplines depending upon the requirements of the client.
Discussing the philosophy held at the agency, Goddard said: “We believe that unless industry specific knowledge and expertise is needed, for example financial PR, then there is nothing that a full service marketing agency cannot offer.”
It’s a philosophy echoed by Debra Hepburn, managing director at Rees Bradley Hepburn. Like JJ, RBH has an enviable client list, which includes Jaguar, Hyundai and Bullring. Hepburn argues: “Apart from really specialist areas, we firmly believe that any agency worth its salt should have a totally open and unbiased mind when creating the ideal communications mix.”
Rather than producing a list of disciplines that an agency is capable of delivering, these full service agencies are purporting that the integrated approach is just that, an approach. That the benefit is down to their ability to view a problem and through a wide and varied skills base, be able to provide the best possible communication solution for their client.
In Manchester, Citigate SMARTS’ managing director, Steve Antoniewicz, believes there are many advantages to the integrated approach. He says: “For starters, we bring objective and joined up cross-discipline thinking. A marketing plan needs a kit of many parts and each should be linked directly to the other. Other big advantages are the streamlining of service delivery, consistent strategy, in-depth understanding of client business and impartial and media-neutral expertise and advice.” Citigate SMARTS’ client base includes United Utilities, Shell, Bavaria, Ladbrokes, Nestle and World Tourist Attractions.
Another advantage of the integrated approach, according to Goddard, is cost. He suggests: “Full service agencies do not need to outsource to such a great extent as a specialist agency might. Less outsourcing means costs can be kept down for the clients and it also means reactions to client requests are quicker as there are fewer links in the chain of approval.”
David Jones, planning director at Dig For Fire in Sheffield, is next to express his views on the discussion. The agency works on brands such as Express by Holiday Inn, Bravissimo, Budget Insurance and cruisesdirect2u. Jones states: “Integrated agencies can make two plus two equal five faster, and can build on this more rapidly too. They also have the benefit of deploying agency thinking on a brief from many different perspectives, and the client often gains a lot more from this.”
Preston-based full service agency, NXO has a client list, which includes Teradyne Diagnostic Solutions, Lancashire West Partnership and IS Integration. Managing director of the agency, Alex O’Toole also has a host of arguments for why the integrated approach is the way forward. She enthuses: “Full service agencies are able to offer a multi-faceted approach from one source, which gives them a significant advantage when planning and implementing campaigns. Full service agencies have the experience, and appreciation, of the spectrum of marketing disciplines, which is crucial when understanding your clients marketing requirements. You cannot afford to have a blinkered view to be truly effective, even if it is unintentional.”
So, do specialist agencies have a ‘blinkered’ view of their client’s marketing needs? Are they driving clients into a specific discipline alley even if it’s not the best possible route? While specialist agencies would no doubt refute such suggestions, Colin Sneath, managing director at Native – a full service agency based near Manchester, which works with clients such as Fontaine Europe and William Blythe – believes that on occasion, this can be a major problem. “There is less likelihood of clients being channelled in a particular direction (with an integrated agency), simply because that happens to be the specialism of that agency. Integrated agencies can helicopter a situation and be much more of an honest broker than a specialist agency ever can.”
Leeds-based Brahm is one of the city’s most prominent full service agencies, working with clients such as Kellogg’s, Yorkshire Building Society, Littlewoods and Warburtons. Identifying the need to assess the problem before selling a solution, the agency’s joint managing director, Julie Hanson, comments: “Clients each have different needs and each problem has a unique solution. It is important at the start of any project to make a good assessment of the needs of the client and to look at the objectives very clearly. Taking a wider view can produce some very surprising and effective results, however, specialist knowledge is also very important.”
It’s apparent that integrated agencies, while confident of their ability to deliver for clients across the board, are in fact very aware of the important role specialist agencies play. Hepburn sites market researchers and product placement firms as key specialist companies, while Jones, states: “There are good and bad specialist agencies and the same goes for integrated agencies. A good integrated agency needs to take each service seriously. If they can’t offer a first class service in a particular discipline, they need to work with a strong partner in that area.”
Meanwhile, Julian Kynaston, chairman and senior consultant for Leeds-based agency Propaganda, argues: “The ‘specialist versus integrated’ debate is a smoke screen to the real issue: Who is focused on building the client’s brand?”
Propaganda has been operating since 1993 and works with clients such as ghd, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Unilever and Sharwoods. Continuing with his argument, Kynaston, states: “Yes, in some cases a specialist agency will offer the higher level of expertise in a specific discipline and the integrated agencies ought to be prepared to buy-in these services in the client’s best interest.”
All of these integrated agencies have either worked or still work with specialist agencies in the quest of helping deliver the best possible results for their clients. Is this a solution that can produce positive results? Hepburn retorts: “If all parties are clear about their roles and have a common goal in sight then this is always successful. We are firmly of the view that if it’s a good idea, we don’t care who’s had it.”
Antoniewicz adds: “We always approach relationships with other agencies or peers from a positive perspective and with an open mind. It’s how clients often want to work, so we try our best to accommodate them. Occasionally, we may have to work with an in-house team and often more than one other agency provider.”
So, where next for the industry? Discussing the future, Sneath, argues: “There is no doubt in my mind that, particularly in the B2B environment, agencies will need to offer clients a full range of marketing skills if they are both to keep their clients and service them properly. Generally speaking, recommending the integrated approach is like advocating a balanced diet – it aids the development of a healthier, stronger business.”
Similarly, Antoniewicz states: “We have been providing integrated services for close to 15 years. In the last five, we have seen a massive shift by traditional agencies towards the integrated model. However, more often than not this is cosmetic. The future belongs to agencies, which can bring objectivity and cross-discipline insight.”
Kynaston also has a view on how the future is likely to pan out and how agencies should react. He said: “Rather than following trends, agencies need to establish a skills-set and structure that supports true brand planning. The terms ‘integrated’ and ‘full service’ are misleading. The lead agency’s role should be to drive marketing into the heart of the client’s business, to unlock growth opportunity, to identify the briefs, and to direct marketing services in the best interest of the client, calling on specialists where appropriate.”
At Brahm, Hanson believes good solutions are as a result of having good people working on the problem. She states: “I think that working with the very best people will produce the very best results. It must make sense to look at things holistically and to produce work based upon solid planning. Call it solution neutral or call it fulfilling client needs, I think what matters most is finding a team of people who will listen, understand and respond to your needs.”
Moving away from the debate, Hepburn believes that regardless of whether you’re specialist or integrated, there is a more fundamental approach that should be taken to providing the best results for a client. She concludes: “What is vital is the open-minded and flexible approach, which allows this freedom of thinking. We believe that is why agencies who remain ideas houses above all else ultimately provide a better way of working.”