Integration in advertising agencies has been a growing trend for a long time now, with marketing agencies looking not only to attract new clients by offering several services “all under one roof”, as the Toys R Us advert used to say, but also hoping that the new services they introduce will retain long standing clients in the process.
With competition for accounts increasing as quickly as budgets decrease, and technology advancing as fast as consumers become more choosy, agencies have had to adapt to offer all manner of services to engage a client’s attention.
This has resulted in integrated agencies beginning to dominate the marketplace, with clients now warming to the lower budgets and time saved from working with a ‘one stop shop’ rather than communicating with several agencies.
A lot of this is down to the value for money that integrated agencies offer. Spaceport, the Liverpool space-themed visitors centre, uses Manchester-based Unit Communications. Layton Quinton, the centre’s sales and marketing manager appointed an integrated agency because it felt it was good value for money. “For clients with a small to medium level of spend, integrated agencies offer an extremely good value proposition,” he says. “It reduces the amount of time we spend briefing and we feel provides better value overall for us. It means we get very good service from our agency and they work very closely with us and understand our business really well.”
The close relationship and understanding also brings trust which a lot of clients acknowledge.
“You build a friendship and trust so as a business I feel confident that my money is being well spent since I know exactly what is going on,” says Richard Lefton, managing director of furnishing specialist Leftons Group, which employs Defy Communications. “Another benefit, for me in particular, comes from the fact that an integrated agency won’t want you to take your marketing and media needs elsewhere, and so they will accommodate almost any need or suggestion you have. Recently, I have just had a TV commercial produced by Defy which was of the highest standard but for less than half the price it would have cost my company to go to a single production company.”
But many clients also need a more flexible approach to working, which specialist agencies may not offer.
Yha Do It 4 Real, a summer camps company, first started working with Worthington Brown on a project, which needed focused, one-stop shop attention. “The project that we started working with Worthington Brown on was a new project,” says Ben Rossi, promotions manager. “It was a government-funded project that was awarded to us. It’s a two-year project, and we’re coming towards the second year now. We had a very short lead-in time, for setting up the look and the feel of advertising for the project in terms of promoting the product and getting the message over in terms of direct mail, advertising or whatever. It’s a summer camp project, for 11 to 17 year-olds, so the fact that we could go to one place for all the available services that they provided was extremely beneficial. Considering we had to get many people applying to the camps, and we only had a four month lead-in time to do it, we decided to go with a one-stop-shop service. Otherwise I don’t necessarily think that we would have done it. From our point of view, I suppose it’s because you have one point of contact. We don’t have to go to advertising people to get the same message over or go to direct mail people who may or may not write that letter for you. The one person who you are dealing with understands the brief that you’ve given them and what you want out of that brief. When you start dealing with more than one agency, you’re at risk of getting a diluted message which may not impact as greatly as you would like it to.”
Dilution of message also drives client’s desire to use an integrated agency. “The main advantage of going with an integrated agency is the consistency of output as well as the budget cost efficiency and savings in client time,” says Paul Goldstein, Venture’s marketing director, which works with Knutsford-based communications agency Sass. “From our own point of view, the pool of talent and experience at Sass combined with Venture’s own team presents a potent mix of multi-discipline thinking. Very few clients have the luxury of time these days so it’s of great benefit to the client when a good integrated agency can help facilitate and co-ordinate campaigns on the client’s behalf, thereby saving time as well as ensuring all channel communication is ‘on brand’.”
With the growth of integrated agencies, specialised agencies are forced to compete by offering a focused approach. But is this a dying trend?
Georgina Thomson, marketing manager of Sheffield’s Meadowhall Shopping Centre, who employs the integrated services of Poulters, believes that there is still a place in the market for single service agencies. She says: “There’s still very much a role for individual agencies to have specific expertise. Certainly some agencies are a lot stronger in certain areas. For example in our sector on the above the line campaigns you get TV specialists, whereas others are digital communications specialists. I do think that more and more agencies will, even if it’s not their overall specialism, try to offer a wider sweep of services.
“I think where it is a very specific brief, especially for ourselves, we don’t just work with one agency; we work with a couple of other agencies on some other specific things. There are also lots of smaller businesses, different briefs and different size agencies as well.”
Thomson agrees that more clients are seeking an integrated approach in many cases when looking to appoint an agency. “Over the last few years things have gotten more sophisticated, particularly with the advent of on-line marketing,” she says. “For a lot of clients it makes sense to have one agency that will be able to control the consistency of the message, rather than putting out a lot of different briefs and having to manage relationships with agencies that all have different elements of the work.”
Henneke Duistermaat, marketing manager of retail cooker specialist Britannia Living, feels that despite the current integrated trend, focuse.d agencies still have a vital role to play in the advertising market. “There is still a place for specialised agencies but they have to be really good at what they are doing,” she says. “In marketing we have to become more and more accountable, and we realize that it is better to integrate with differing marketing tools. I believe that there is a push from the client side to use an integrated marketing agency, but on the other hand. I do think it’s up to the integrated agencies in order to attract more business to promote their services to the cleint.
“Specialised agencies either have to move towards integration or they have to find their own niche and be very geared to what they’re doing. If you have a PR agency that is specialised in a certain market then they might be able to do a better job than the PR group that is part of your integrated agency.”
But specialised agencies will always have a role to play believes Darren Copland, marketing manager of Mercedes-Benz Retail, which retains McCann Erickson Central LTD for its marketing. “This is primarily because, by their nature, they have very specific skill sets, often at the cutting edge of innovation,” he says. “I believe specialised agencies need to work with integrated agencies to widen the scope and potential for their clients, especially in areas which push boundaries.”
Despite heavy competition from multi service agencies, will more single service, bespoke agencies need to offer a wider range of services in order to compete for the attention and work from clients?
ZoÃ« Schula, marketing manager of sparkling soft drink Shloer, which works with Bray Leino, agrees that despite the obvious advantages of utilising all that integrated agencies have to offer, single service agencies still have a place.
“Large agencies obviously have more benefits and specialised agencies would need to expand,” she says. “A lot of them are, I know. I think in the future it probably will be a growing trend to offer at least a few areas rather than to simply specialise in one area.
“If you were looking for something very specific then you might not feel that an integrated agency will be the right choice or have the real, inside knowledge to carry out a task for you. Maybe then certain methods of marketing might suit a specialised agency. I don’t think there’s much difference in the quality of service that you receive, it’s a more efficient way of working sometimes as an integrated agency knows what is going on and rather than having to explain to different agencies or trying to get the effort to get everyone to join up together to have a discussion, it’s already done and a given that the agency will already know what is going on. For that reason, if they’re on board already, the level of service they can give you is very high.”
Shloer may at times choose to work with a specialised service, as Schula explains. “It depends on what exactly it was you were looking to do,” she says. “At the minute, we’ve got everything covered in terms of using Bray Leino as an integrated agency. They cover such a wide range of elements, even down to the printing elements, they have such a span of various areas that they work in there doesn’t seem to be any reason why we would need to go out and look elsewhere at the moment. But if we did have something exponential then maybe there would be a need to use specialised agencies if we wanted to do something specific.”
James Smith, marketing director at Ronseal, who employs Manchester-based Tangerine PR, feels that the move from agencies towards an integrated approach is due to a brand’s determination to see a connection run throughout its full marketing campaign. “Consumers see brands in their entirety and they make connections between what brands say and do in different contexts and in different media and a genuinely integrated agency is the best way to help to respond to this,” he says.
Smith also believes that it is client demand that is fuelling the agency move towards offering more services. He says: “It can also make my life as a client much more efficient if the agency can be a provider of, or a gateway to, the full range of services I may require. There is such an over-supply of agencies generally that I can’t see how agencies could be driving the provision of an approach for which there is no demand.”
Goldstein feels that this depends on the capability of the individual agency to offer certain services. “It’s down to levels of expertise and proven ability,” he says. “Many agencies claim they can do other disciplines beyond their specialism, but this is only credible if the right talent is in place and they can prove they can deliver. I wouldn’t want my agency experimenting and learning at my expense.”
Some clients believe integration is actually a specialism. “Traditional full service agencies claim to understand the other marketing disciplines but do not,” says Stewart Taylor, marketing communications manager for NEC Computers, whose marketing is handled by IAS Smarts. “Today’s marketing channels are so broad that good agencies should be able to be objective about the best one for the job. Currently I can trust my agency to produce an idea that will work through the line. Not only that but if I need a specialist service they have this within their team, in data management, interactive and experiential marketing. Good integration is a specialism in itself.”
Lefton believes that agencies should aim to offer many services to their clients or that single service agencies should be bought over and used by larger, integrated agencies, as a single, specialist department. “An agency should either aim to become full service themselves or at least gradually increase their service roster to clients,” he says. “If I can go to my PR and marketing agency and have a TV commercial produced professionally, why should I bother paying extra to a group of people I haven’t met before? With an integrated agency, they take away that hassle and make sure the job is done to the highest standard by the time it comes back to me, the client.”
Taylor believes that online will become more of a focus. “I think more and more marketing expenditure is heading online,” he says. “The successful integrated agencies will know how the medium impacts on every existing marketing channel. I think in the future agencies must know how to develop and manage one to one relationships with their clients\' customers.”