Here we are again. Yet not quite in the same space. When Imagination set up shop 30 years ago, "integrated agency" wasn't a term that existed. It's just how agencies were. Integration was about schools and neighbourhoods, not marketing.
For marketers, life was a lot simpler as channels of communication were limited and consumers more accessible. People actually did drink martinis at lunch back then.
But then something changed. Agencies realised that there was benefit (and profit) in being able to provide deep expertise in a particular communications technique. Direct marketing agencies popped up and media agencies broke off and left their ad agency homes. Everyone jostled along until a revolutionary force arrived upon the scene - digital.
We witnessed digital not only changing agencies, but also people's behaviour. No longer were we watching our 4.2 hours of television every evening and reading our direct mail leaflets over tea. We were fragmenting our media habits - flipping through Hello! on the settee while taking calls on mobiles and surfing the internet - and, every so often, taking a moment to peek over the laptop to catch the latest episode of CSI. Consumers became undeniably harder to reach, but certainly not untouchable if we worked across channels.
We realised that to connect with people today, we must integrate, not force, our message into their lives. People don't want to be marketed to. Rather, they will align themselves with brands based on a set of shared values and aims.
And so we've evolved over time to create an environment at Imagination that aims to generate the best ideas that meet the targeted audience in a spirit of mutuality, wherever it is.
It starts with our Insight offer. Only through a deep understanding of the target audience can we create messages that will optimally resonate.
This was recently exemplified in the world's first ever user-generated online soap we produced for Ford - the "Where are the Joneses?" campaign. This was a digital comedy series in which we provided the characters and initial storyline and then let people determine how the saga would unfold, using digital as the forum for discussion and distribution. While Ford products were subtly integrated into the stories, we gave the audience entertaining reasons to collaborate with the brand in ways that had never been considered before.
So, we've found that to be effective, communication must do one of two things (and ideally both) - it must inform and/or entertain the target audience. This offer of information and entertainment then gives us permission to start a dialogue - and this is the premise of our integrated offer today: mutuality. We have to give to get.
However, to forge deeper dialogues and turn people from acquaintances into fans, we need not only insight and creative expertise, but people who also understand how to get that message out there. And this requires a multi-disciplinary approach.
It goes beyond the current accepted definition of integrated skills. At Imagination, we've got architects sitting next to business experts, advertising specialists working with brand consultants, interior designers working with logistics professionals and CRM consultants talking to retail and digital specialists. We like to populate our community with multi-skilled individuals capable of delivering against more than one discipline - all under one, independent roof.
But delivery of this thought is not just about having talented, multi-disciplinary people on the payroll; it's about providing a home where they can be collaborative, think big and not have to be overly concerned with what "can't" be done. Insight is precious, but inspiration is priceless.
It ensures we have people at all levels who think and do, facilitating a culture of collaboration.
We call all this Liberating Creativity and we find it helps get the best idea delivered seamlessly every time.
We've also taken steps to put into place the appropriate recognition and collective remuneration systems to make sure that the success of the idea is celebrated, not the individual.
But perhaps one of the biggest challenges of an integrated offer is having a structure that complements a client's organisation. Having a fluidity to our approach means that we are continually refining and realigning our structure and people based on the marketplace and our clients' ever evolving needs.
We find clients get the best out of a company that can think big and act selflessly at the same time. Time consuming, distracting, inter-agency politics are eradicated, and independence of ownership allows for agency time to be spent on the real job, not answering the call and compromise of any network loyalties. Boutique service, integrated with a global reach, is what we deliver.
The critical success factors for the integrated agency of the future seem clear. It needs to attract multi-disciplined talent, be creatively-led and independent in nature. It is required to be fluid and mobile in attitude and structure while paying even closer attention to the development of deep insight and idea generation. It will have to listen even more acutely, adapt more rapidly, and, above all, collaborate more measurably than ever before. And in areas that go far beyond marketing and branding - thinking, creating and delivering. All under one roof and aligned to just one profit and loss account.
It'll be an agency that'll be required to deliver imagination every second of the day.
- Mark Hewitt is the communications director and Douglas Broadley is the chief executive officer and creative director at Imagination.