Feature

Integration Essays: Get the attitude

Integration needs agencies to think and act like entrepreneurs. It means reinventing not just what they communicate but also how they communicate it.

Albion...(l to r) Nick Darken, Liz Wilson, Glnn Britton, Jason Goodman
Albion...(l to r) Nick Darken, Liz Wilson, Glnn Britton, Jason Goodman

Agencies can learn how to be integrated by drawing inspiration from the entrepreneurial attitude of modern business pioneers.

At Albion, we've been lucky enough to work with some of the entrepreneurs who are redefining the way business is done. Brands such as Innocent, eBay and Skype, which have disrupted categories as varied as soft drinks, shopping and telecommunications, but share a common approach.

How they've done that is now well-documented, so we won't labour it here - but it's to do with making brilliant products; being completely customer-centric; making communications useful, not annoying; having a strong culture; being transparent; building a community of fans and being naturally integrated in how they communicate.

This approach to business, considered so radical only five years ago, has now infected the business mainstream. That the agency world is still having the debate about integration just shows how inward-facing and anachronistic much of our supposedly innovative industry still is.

A quick scan of last year's Integrated Essays shows that there was a broad consensus about how to achieve integration. The key themes were:

1. It's about co-operation between agencies.

2. It will be led by a new breed of generalist planner.

3. The major barrier is the battle over who owns the big idea.

4. You need a proprietary integration process.

The problem is that tinkering like this will change very little. Worse than that, some of these measures could be seen as a signal that you're in trouble. Rolling out Super Heavyweight Integration Tool(TM) says "we find it quite hard to do integration".

Media myopia is hardwired into many advertising and media agencies. But rewiring a big agency is really difficult. And being integrated requires not just a different structure, but a different attitude - the attitude of modern business. But what is that?

Ego-free

Integration is friendly and open. It's about getting on with people, working together for the common good. It's about putting the work and the business objectives before your own ego.

Because of this, integration is unassuming. If you're working for the common good, then you can't battle over the big idea. As the cheesy motivational poster says: "It's amazing what you can accomplish if it doesn't matter who gets the credit." Learn to get your kicks another way and integration becomes easy. But this feels like quite a change for an industry famous for Mad Men arrogance and "names above the door" self-absorption.

Finding people who are brilliant, but humble is one of the keys to being integrated. Modern business is full of them, but they're precious assets in the marketing industry.

Entrepreneurial

Entrepreneurs are driven, ambitious and focused on results. They have a strong work ethic, will take calculated risks and have the agility to change direction if it delivers ROI. They understand people, lead and inspire them, but don't suffer fools. These are also essential attributes to being integrated. It requires flexibility, imagination and, most of all, business focus - doing whatever it takes to sell at a profit.

But it's more fundamental than that. Being integrated means having the entrepreneur's relentless drive to reinvent and disrupt. In communications terms, it means being hungry to reinvent the media, not just the content that goes inside it.

Our integration heroes are Thom Yorke and, whisper it, even Simon Cowell. Radiohead's genius marketing blurs the lines between product, communication and business model. And what is The X Factor if not a clever, extended, insidious ad for Sony BMG's latest acts?

So a truly integrated agency needs to be fluent in business models, and have the scope, hunger and ability to build product and service experiences in response to communications briefs.

Digital

Integration is all about doing. It requires mostly practical application rather than theoretical navel-gazing. Delivering a complex integrated campaign requires superb execution. Media-savvy consumers increasingly use a sixth sense that allows them to "smell" authenticity to filter what gets their attention, so production takes on critical importance.

The importance of doing means that there's strong correlation between integration and digital. Digital democratises doing. Digital means that almost anything is possible, and that anybody can do it. Only five years ago, making a broadcast TV ad required an expensive Soho edit suite. Now it only requires a geek with a Mac and headphones.

In our experience, people who "get" digital also "get" integrated. They understand that digital underpins a new business model. Not just a few new channel boxes to tick, but a genuine transformation of how business and communications work.

Being integrated

Ego-free. Entrepreneurial. Digital. That's the attitude of modern business, and the attitude needed for a modern, integrated agency. But so much for highfaluting words. If you're creating a modern agency, what steps can you take to hardwire in this attitude?

At Albion, our experience has taught us four things that we think are absolutely fundamental:- Remember the struggle. It's the reason that most innovation comes out of start-ups based in a garage. And the reason why Albion was integrated from the start - because we had to be. Six years later and a lot bigger, we still try to behave with that start-up spirit.- Second, ask candidates in interviews how they'd find a phone number. If they say "Google", hire them. If they say "the phone book", let them go.- Third, the seating plan really matters. We're not just open plan, but we're seated randomly, and move around regularly. It's amazing what you can learn by sitting next to someone who does a different job. - Most of all, keep learning and be nice.

- Nick Darken is the creative director, Liz Wilson is the client services director, Glyn Britton is the planning director and Jason Goodman is the managing director at Albion.

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