Integration Essays: The integration how-to

By Debbie Klein and Alison Wright, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 04 December 2009 12:00AM

Still bluffing your way on integration? Let our step-by-step guide show you how it's really done.

Most agencies talk a good game about integrated marketing communications but few actually deliver. With marketing directors under daily pressure to deliver more for less, surely the time has come to move the debate on from the sterile semantics of what integration means, to how we actually achieve it in practice. So let's cut the philosophising - here's our practical guide to how we deliver effective integrated campaigns, efficiently.

1. Get everyone under one roof. Think about the high-functioning teams you have been part of. The people in those teams know each other and trust each other. They work together, as a team, to solve problems. They work iteratively, they don't just do their bit and then pass the baton and wait and see. The best way to achieve this is to have the members of the team in one building, where they get to know each other and meet informally all the time. Many of the best ideas appear when you least expect them. Teams scattered around town, united by the weekly status meeting, just don't cut it.

2. Develop T-shaped people. In the days when communication channels were simple and defined, the idea of the generalist communications advisor made sense. But the past few years have seen such a diversification in consumption habits that it simply isn't possible for generalists to have an in-depth knowledge of all the opportunities brands now have to engage with their audiences.

As a brand owner, you wouldn't want to take advice on your eCRM from your sports sponsorship or social media expert. But you would want them to join up and reflect a consistent image of your brand. To achieve that, you need to develop T-shaped people. People who combine a depth of knowledge in one marketing communications discipline with a breadth of understanding of the full spectrum of disciplines and how each discipline can be blended with others to deliver one integrated campaign. Moulding that T-shape takes time, training and first-hand experience.

3. Every orchestra needs a conductor. Every member of your "orchestra" - your specialists - may be a genius, but unless you have the right conductor overseeing and leading their performance, all you have is noise. Some clients choose to act as conductor themselves. But, increasingly, they want us to do it as it is a skilled and full-time job that doesn't usually sit well with the other demands placed on the time of marketing directors.

Good conductors combine an understanding of the client's business problem with an ability to see the whole communications landscape. They start from the problem and work out the combination of skills required to solve it. Unfortunately, people who can do this well are thin on the ground, because most people in our industry have only worked at traditional, single-discipline agencies. The answer is to combine a short-term strategy of investing in bespoke training programmes for senior staff with a longer-term vision built around recruiting the brightest graduates and multi-skilling them from day one.

4. None of us is as strong as all of us. You can put everyone under one roof and build T-shaped people, but if there's a caste system between disciplines, then you are no further forward. Too often, the reality of "integrated agencies" is that they are advertising agencies with a few satellites added on.

Integration requires that there is no hierarchy of disciplines. A fundamental belief that none of us is as creative as all of us. If a problem requires a digitalor PR-led approach, then so be it. Respect comes from the experience of working together and the knowledge of each other's work. As well as a shared belief that if we start off by looking for ideas that can be advertised, rather than advertising ideas, then we never know where they're going to come from.

5. Love change. JK Galbraith said: "Given the choice between changing and proving that change is not necessary, most people will get busy on the proof." Nowhere is that more true than when applied to marketing models and to agencies themselves. Most client companies have changed far more than their agencies.

Marketing directors know their customers have changed and that the ways they're communicating with them are getting less effective. But getting a roster of single discipline agencies to act on that fact, against their own self-interests, is an uphill struggle. Escaping the "same-as-last-year" rut can be difficult.

Marketing directors need advisors who live every day in the new communication environment. Who see change as an opportunity, not as a threat to be denied or deflected. Who don't fear change, but love it. The proof of this is whether they have reinvented their own agency structure; one invented ten or 20 years ago is unlikely to be right for now or the future.

6. Find ideas that fly. You can have the right people, the right structures and the right culture. But, in the end, the strength of every campaign comes down to ideas. Successful integrated campaigns require a particular sort of idea. We call them "ideas that fly". Here's why. In the past, communication campaigns were a bit like jumbo jets: big, expensive things that required a lot of fuel, in the form of media budgets, to connect with their audiences. Today's successful campaigns are more like gliders. If you choose the right idea, and launch it properly, it will glide on the upswell of consumer interest and opinion. Less controllable perhaps, but more effective and certainly more efficient.

There you have it. Our six-point guide to delivering effective integration, efficiently. No, none of it is rocket science. Which is why it's surprising that so few people are doing it well.

- Debbie Klein, joint chief executive and Alison Wright, strategy director of Engine.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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