Integrated agencies

By The Drum, Administrator

July 14, 2005 | 10 min read

Over the last few years Scottish agencies have been working hard to keep their clients happy while simultaneously wooing business from South of the Border and further afield. While flaunting their skills to potential targets in this constant quest, it is often the standard of service on offer in Scotland that is the key selling point for agencies as they court new business. However, smaller agencies haven’t always got the resource to offer the client the full service that they crave and a number of strategic alliances have sprung up to meet such needs, to reel the business in.

With rivalries being cast aside in the pursuit of new and bigger clients, and with such alliances starting to pay dividends for clients and agencies alike, where does this leave the full-service agency? As niche agencies combine to offer a united service, as though one multi-disciplined team, is the integrated model as relevant as it used to be?

“These alliances wouldn’t be being forged, if clients weren’t looking for an integrated service. Our proposition is all about alliance – but without the politics,” says Citigate Smarts’ chief executive for Scotland, Mark Gorman. “The value of an integrated service is that disciplines don’t work in ‘silos’ but work cohesively to produce more rounded and better thought-through responses to client issues. But integration’s forte is the breadth of different media that can be exploited, even on a small budget, to make an idea ‘sweat’, and the creativity that comes from working in a diverse environment.

“An integrated approach can be achieved by bringing a range of single discipline agencies together, and indeed we’ve done this with a number of clients. That said it does not, and cannot, achieve the additional benefits of truly media-neutral thinking or the benefits of a single contact point and administrative focus that many clients value.

“Increasingly, creative services agencies claim they are integrated. The truth is they offer a range of ‘flavours’ of their core discipline. Where truly integrated agencies differ is in their seamless integration with a fundamentally different discipline, PR. It is a difficult feat to pull off as the core skills are very different, albeit they are both about effective communication.”

Perhaps, though, it is independence that is integration’s biggest USP? “We have no vested interest in pushing budgets into financially beneficial areas. If you are a solus PR agency, what format are you going to recommend?” asks Peter Clayton, MD at Clayton Graham. “When was the last time you heard an independent practitioner, such as a PR exec, say, ‘Great meeting boss, I told the client to take 75 per cent of our budget which will let them put it through their ad agency so they can go on TV’? Having all of the formats under one roof means we can change tack should one format outperform the others. We recently shaved £50,000 off a TV proposal for a client as the PR generated achieved more than anticipated.”

Chris Wallace, MD at Barkers, agrees: “What we can guarantee is that we come to the table with no predetermined solution. That simple fact allows us to plan communication in a strategic way. Rather than having to fight for a larger share of the budget for advertising or PR, we can put all of that to one side and ask ourselves about what would work for the client.

“You can’t ignore that a strategic alliance is about bringing two different companies together. It raises the possibility of conflict between your communication advisors, possibly over the budget share or a disagreement over the right marketing mix. This can be a distraction from coming up with a great communication solution for the client. With an integrated agency you will get a solution based on your needs, thought out as a whole rather than trying to knit two sets of ideas together.”

Curious Group MD Stephen Halpin adds: “We generally find the real value for the client is when their marketing and brand resource, i.e. staff numbers, is tight, having one company to manage requirements – from branding to packaging, exhibitions to advertising, interiors to e-commerce solutions – is far easier than trying to manage four or five separate companies.

“When an integrated agency is dealing with the entire business as opposed to just one small bit, it gets to know and understand the business better – the product or service, the people, the market, the issues, the clients, the general environment. This has a direct impact on the quality of the delivery that you provide as an agency. It’s then less about the disciplines that you are providing and more about the solutions. As a result of dealing with more of a client’s business, you spend more time with that client. We all know that our business is a people business, therefore the building and development of relationships is all important.”

For further proof of the relevance of integration you only have to look at the client, says, 1576’s joint MD, Gary Smith. “Ten years ago it was not unusual to find in one marketing department a head of advertising, a DM manager and a sales and events manager. Due to widespread downsizing and more widely educated clients these three functions are now usually done by one person. If the client contact is well educated on all areas then the agency should be too. Clients crave integration more than ever. Of our top ten clients over half of them use us in an integrated fashion.”

“We describe our service as unified,” says Family’s MD, Ian Wright. “Integrated is great, but can confine as different disciplines fight for the biggest bit of the cake. We prefer a unified approach, as it is all about combining all our expertise and working closely together, with the client being the real focus. The value of doing business this way is enormous as a real communications agency will be able to lead their client through the maze of media proliferation and work their ideas in all the appropriate channels.

“Clients don’t crave integration – they crave big ideas that will make a difference to their businesses.

“Scotland is a small market and if the bigger clients are looking for an integrated approach and that means agencies working together, then we should, otherwise more business will head South. I’d also have no issue working with another agency on a big project, if it meant keeping a bit of business in Scotland, or winning business from South of the Border.”

However, as the search to secure business widens, and as budgets are cut, more and more agencies seem to be offering a wider range in services - a move that does not always benefit the industry says Peter Clayton. He adds: “Like any format, content is king. Crap content and thinking doesn’t work whichever format you choose to pursue.

“Are all the integrated agencies out there really integrated? Or are they finding the above-the-line route tougher, so they try to grab more of the client pie to protect revenue?

“I was in a meeting recently and a potential client explained to me how their agency turned down some work when they were asked if they produced design. On finding out that the project was worth over £250,000 they discovered that they specialised in that type of design after all. Integration is still critical, but clients are tiring of agencies claiming integration then struggling to deliver, forcing them back to a coalition of companies. There are simply not enough top-flight integration agencies for the amount of clients who could benefit.”

Gary Smith agrees: “There is a danger in integrated agencies being seen as jack of all trades, and specialists in none, and that is something that has tarnished the reputation of such agencies in the past. While we have one account management department and one creative department we have specialists within those departments, we do not expect our people to be jack of all trades, we expect them to be the best specialists in the business working in an integrated environment. It’s impossible to be fully up-to-date with the latest developments, techniques and legal issues across all disciplines. Far better to specialise in one discipline and know that you have experts in all the other disciplines on tap if you, or your client, need them.”

Barkers’ Wallace also believes that it would be “nonsense” to describe integrated agencies as jack of all trades. “As managing director of an integrated agency it is up to me to recruit the best and brightest in the different communication specialisms. We have advertising executives, creatives and PR consultants that are among the best in their field. But because we all work under one roof we can also bring a better understanding of how all the elements can work together.”

Integrated agencies exist in response to market demand from clients, says Kylee Pearce, marketing manager at Laveron, to handle communication and marketing challenges across all media channels. “As an integrated agency we have ‘specialist’ and experienced teams in place from a variety of disciplines, whether they be design, marketing or technology, to produce quality results for our clients, both on and offline.

“At Laveron our USP is ASP: Art, Science, People. We believe design, marketing and technology are the essential skills required in any project, across any media platform. A fluid, cohesive and, most importantly, creative approach is the basis for delivering to our clients outstanding and measurable results for their business or organisation. All agencies need to offer something different. In our experience, there is a noticeable trend from clients showing preference to integrated agencies for consistency and financial benefits.”

However, at the end of the day, Rob Morrice, regional chief executive at Citigate Smarts, believes that all marketing and communications campaigns should be integrated and anyone would be daft to suggest otherwise.” It is just down to the client as to how this happens.

“The real question is who should do the integrating. I’ve worked with clients who are absolutely perfect at co-ordinating different agencies to deliver an integrated solution, however I’ve also experienced the reverse. In my view, there’s an undoubted swing in Scotland towards clients looking for agencies to be multi-discipline experts and to integrate the disciplines. Not every client needs or wants this, but it’s a lot more commonplace than it used to be. And there’s no reason that one company can’t be specialists in different things. That’s a lie perpetuated by those who have a vested interest, notably ‘one-club golfers’ and agencies that have tried it but failed.

“At Smarts, we do specialism and we do integration – they are not mutually exclusive. Quite the reverse – cross-discipline expertise under one roof actually has the positive effect of super-charging campaigns.”


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