It's that time of year again. Not only is Christmas upon us, but the hoary old issue of integration is up for dissection again in Campaign's book of Integrated Essays. You may think you've heard it all before, but while you're stifling that yawn, ask yourself truthfully: can you do it? Or, if you are a client, do you know someone who can? I suspect that even if you allow yourself to answer "yes", if you're honest, it'll be followed swiftly by a "but".
Because, whatever your definition of integration might be - and there's a whole essay to be written about that - it's likely that its execution will involve more than just one executor. And we all know what that means. While your skills and systems might be brilliant, others' might not be. The integrated process and, indeed, its end-product, is at risk of being blown horribly off course, beset with bickering among all the agencies involved along the way.
Perhaps it doesn't have to be that way. But in a risk-shy world of constricted budgets and unemployment fears, I'll bet my bottom euro that it will be for the foreseeable future.
One of the most incendiary points of conflict is the question of who is paid for what and who takes charge. If an integrated campaign is mainly direct marketing, but includes an online game, created by a digital specialist who comes up with the killer campaign tagline, which agency has the greater ownership of the project, the greater responsibility for it and, ultimately, the greater fiscal reward? And what about any other agencies also involved?
Then there are those, such as Nitro, whose view of integration is not centred on the meshing of a communication through different media channels, but on entwining consumers in a brand experience. This is just as likely to entail developing a new product or service for a client than a campaign.
It would seem that clients are no more decided than agencies on how an integrated comms plan should run. Indeed, some (quite sensibly), gather all the agencies they'd like to use, and leave them to come up with an idea and a strategy for execution between them before reporting back.
The integration debate has certainly moved on as the years have rolled by. But, just as at Christmas there's a will to co-operate for the good of all, so there are also often still those flaming family arguments. Happy integrating!
- Suzanne Bidlake, associate editor (reports), Campaign.