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Integration - The real benefits of joined-up thinking

By The Drum | Administrator

July 12, 2007 | 8 min read

The communications industry has been waxing lyrical about the concept of integration for almost a decade. The all-services-under-one-roof model aimed to provide clients with a solution to their full spectrum of communications problems, it ensured consistency and, more importantly, it allowed agencies to generate a higher potential for income through a number of different points of contact with clients.

Integration was hailed as the saviour to a rapidly diversifying industry, by agencies and the occasional client alike. However, is that now changing?

Last issue 1576’s co-founder and creative director announced his decision to leave the agency, citing the its increasingly integrated model as the reason behind his decision, claiming that his inspiration as a creative had been hampered.

“1576 has changed beyond all recognition since it was found in 1994 as purely an above the line agency,” said Adrian Jeffrey. “Sadly I’ve come to the difficult decision that the integrated agency model the company has now evolved into simply doesn’t inspire me as a creative. So I’m looking forward to getting back to doing the kind of work I’ve built my reputation on.”

Jeffrey has since stated that his comment did not mean that he didn’t believe that the integration model was entirely detrimental to the creative process, simply that he wanted to work out with it.

“Integration has been a buzzword for donkey’s years. And of course, the concept makes sense,” says Jeffrey.

“Strong ideas are what will always be at the heart of marketing. Strong ideas are what motivate me…that can be a strong idea that’s going to manifest itself in a website or a strong idea that’s going to manifest itself in promotion or a strong idea that’s going to manifest itself as a traditional 30-second advert.”

He continues by saying that, from a creative point of view, “the lines of communication are well and truly blurred…one thing that never changes, strong creative ideas are still what sells.”

Now, 1576’s model is not unique. A majority of agencies in Scotland boast of an integrated offering. But it does lead to the obvious question, ‘is integration killing creativity?’

Phil Adams, managing partner at The Leith Agency believes that there is no reason why integration should hinder creativity or that it certainly shouldn’t have a negative impact, but admits that he understands why people would think that it could.

“Too many of the agencies that describe themselves as integrated are more process-led than they are planning and creative-led. A lot of the agencies that are setting themselves out to practice integration aren’t great at creativity. When you get agencies that are good at creativity, whether they’re integrated or not, there’s no way it gets stifled.”

Ian Dommett, managing director of Golley Slater Edinburgh is in full agreement with Adams, that the creation of a strong idea for a campaign is integral in order to be a success.

“The top prize at Cannes went to an integrated campaign for BMW,” says Dommett.

“The problem can be that people are looking at the production process instead of what we are paid for by clients, which is to create an idea that they couldn't come up with themselves.”

“We all know that the media and technology explosion has meant that to seduce and engage our target consumers we have to take a 360 degree approach,” says Mark Fowlestone, managing director of Multiply.

“We must apply our creative ideas across all available and feasible platforms to make the necessary impact. If we are relying on one medium - TV advertising for example - then frankly we cannot be fully doing the job. If the idea cannot be shaped and moulded around other media then it isn’t a campaignable idea - it's nothing. For me the power of an idea is how it grows through other media over time.

Fowlestone continues, “We are all money strapped and time sapped so we need to be really smart about making the budget work with the most amount of noise as possible. So whoever can apply and orchestrate an idea widely is my kind of creative flavour.”

Adrian Jeffrey makes an interesting point when he says that several agencies use a framework, which has the staff of an agency working on several forms of advertising for different campaigns, instead of becoming 'masters of one.' A set up he does not believe fully benefits the client.

“If a number of an integrated agency's clients simply do not use them for integrated campaigns then that agency finds itself in a schizophrenic position.” Says Jeffrey. “For some clients, that agency is seen as no more than their above-the-line providers, or purely their DM agency, or sales promotion company...that means one minute the agency's staff might find themselves working in an ad agency, then next a DM company, which means that often the agency is unable to practice its integrated positioning.”

Helen Hourston, advertising managing director at IAS Smarts makes a similar point when she says that the set up that runs across agencies, and how well those working on a campaign are able to communicate, is a vital factor in an agency’s success.

“I don’t think anything works as effectively as coming up with one big idea and having the whole team work on it, which is how we’ve always operated. The big idea has to work across everything and, if it’s a good enough idea, then it can.”

Jonathan Shinton, managing director of Newhaven says that integration is not about an expanded business model that focuses on delivery across channels, but it is about “a way of thinking, collaboration in the creation of a powerful idea or thought that can be rendered in a variety of communication channels.

“This has been going on for decades,” Shinton continues. “Integration is also just as importantly about attitude. The ability to listen, keep an open mind allied to a respect for all partners and contributors in the communication process.”

Alasdair Chisholm, creative director at Avian believes that while the idea is still considered a vital part of the process, at times the route to market can muddy the waters: “I have spoken to clients who think that the simple presence of a website will bring in business and there’s no real need to do any kind of marketing,” says Chisholm.

“What they forget, of course, is that on-line they are a small fish in a very big global market pond. So the reality is that you still need the big concept and a broad marketing strategy, including media, to give you any kind of stand out.”

Chisholm continues to express his opinions that “done right, integrated agencies work!

“It means you can work in a creative environment where differing disciplines will, and do, challenge your thinking. It leads you down routes you would not have thought of without cross-fertilisation.”

Peter Clayton, managing director at Clayton Graham also makes his case for the positives that the integrated process can have for both agencies and clients: “The biggest asset Integration has is that it works for both client and agency. The client should get more for their money due to lack of paying for duplicate services and overheads, like several receptionists and other support staff, rent, rates and all of the other things using several companies brings with it.

“The agency gets a bigger slice of the client pie and an increases margin, yet it offers the client either more materials for the same price of using several companies, or the same amount of materials for a better cost. This isn’t being clever, it’s down to economies of scale and better integrated planning.”

Clayton is also realistic that the integrated solution also has its pitfalls, saying that agencies can rush in with an integrated offering in an attempt to protect against business going elsewhere, which can be wrong for the client.

Brian Crook, managing director of The Bridge believes that the word integration alone is “one of the most dangerous words out there,” due to the numerous meanings that it has.

Crook explains that at a recent conference he attended, which examined exactly what the term meant in advertising, two examples were used: “In one of them, everything looked the same. The argument was that it wasn’t an integrated campaign because all it did was, look the same, but none of it actually leveraged the core brand essence of the different target audiences. With the other campaign it didn’t look identical, but was a much better integrated campaign because it took the brand essence and did the best possible job against each of the different target audiences through each of the channels.”

Most would agree that, if structured correctly, the integrated advertising offering should not affect the core idea of a campaign but, at times, along the way agencies have been known to look to protect themselves and their own bottom line, which can only be to the detriment of the reputation of all agencies which aim to be multi-service competent.

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