Integrated marketing has become ubiquitous in the 90s. Like
electric windows and central door locking on cars, it’s now considered
standard rather than optional. So far, ad agencies have benefited from
this through-the-line focus.
Despite early fears about below-the-line barbarians at the gate, ad
agencies have survived the period of transition relatively unscathed.
Indeed, their psychological importance as lead agency is still pretty
much intact, so that even if they’re not providing a fully integrated
service in-house, they are at least able to influence the look and feel
of the work produced by their below-the-line counterparts.
But as we approach the end of this integrated decade, storm clouds are
gathering on the horizon. Ad agencies may have survived so far, but key
clients are asking: have they really adapted?
Niall FitzGerald, the head of Unilever, has emerged as a high-profile
sceptic in recent weeks, having aired his doubts about the ability of ad
agencies to keep on top of technological change. And at a recent
Incorporated Society of British Advertisers conference, 30 of the UK’s
biggest advertisers said they wanted to see more integration skills from
Then there’s the Cable & Wireless decision earlier this year to give its
pounds 50 million account to a direct marketing agency, which pitched
against several ad agencies. C&W’s focus was integration and it had
clearly cut its emotional ties with the concept of ad agency as lead
Helen Burt, C&W’s acting marketing director, says: ’Integration has
opened our eyes to new ways of working with agencies. We used to put
everything into boxes, which meant using agencies for specific things.
But now we feel much more confident about our ability to pull together
the best resources from wherever they may be. The old way of thinking
has definitely gone, we’ve taken the blinkers off.’
Rover is another UK advertiser tugging at its blinkers. It appears
unhappy with its ’integrated’ ad agency, Ammirati Puris Lintas, and is
considering shifting its below-the-line work into a specialist agency
such as Evans Hunt Scott or Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, which
already handles the Land Rover account in partnership with WCRS.
Industry sources claim growing discontent among the below-the-line staff
at APL. Three have defected to Evans Hunt Scott in the past three
months, apparently because they felt ghettoised and unmotivated.
Rover’s new marketing director, Martin Runnacles, formerly with BMW, is
keen to build stronger brand cohesion as the company adapts to new
media. He is reportedly impressed by the integrated work on Land Rover
but feels the Rover campaigns have been too focused on vertical
integration - ie, starting with ads and making sure that everything else
follows suit - at the expense of a more broadly based integration.
Perhaps, like a growing number of marketing directors, he believes it is
best to start the integration process from the bottom up, as it were,
rather than from the top down. There is a growing consensus that today’s
branding must begin with relationship building rather than mass
If this is so, then ad agencies have a major rebranding job on their
hands. To be fair, many of them have already woken up to this, although
they are still having trouble getting the message across. Leo Burnett
has been plagued recently by bad publicity, which it attributes to a
’totally inaccurate’ article in the trade press. This helped give the
impression that the agency had a ’start-stop-start’ approach to building
its below-the-line resources.
Nick Brien, the Leo Burnett chief executive, admits there is ’an element
of truth’ to claims that ad agency culture is hostile to below-the-line
work, but asserts that his is not an ad agency. ’We are a communications
agency and have been so for the six years that I’ve worked here. We have
a serious commitment to and capability for providing integrated
communications,’ he says, adding that the C&W appointment of Rapier
Stead & Bowden ’showed there is no preserve on good ideas’.
HHCL & Partners has also suffered from perception versus reality
problems. Six months after it won a huge integrated account from the AA,
the motoring organisation gave a slice of its direct marketing work to
the below-the-line giant, Wunderman Cato Johnson. But Rupert Howell, the
managing partner at HHCL, protests that rather than being a sign of his
agency’s failure to deliver the goods, the Wunderman appointment was
encouraged by HHCL because ’we simply didn’t have the resources to deal
with such a big customer database’.
Although Howell stresses his ability to offer fully integrated services
for clients such as Guinness Ireland, Pearl Assurance and BA’s new
low-cost airline, he has ’no problem’ with ad agencies working
hand-in-glove with below-the-line agencies. And he thinks the fact that
the integrated issue is now being much more actively debated by clients
than was the case just a couple of years ago is a ’very healthy
The outcome of Rover’s review will encourage this debate. If it results
in a ’back to basics’ decision to keep ad agency and below-the-line
agencies separate, it will act as a reminder to ad agencies to think
before leaping into the unknown.
But if Rover ends up doing a Cable & Wireless, then advertising folk
will have genuine cause for alarm.
And if that one swallow heralds a summer, might it also mean the
beginning of the end for the traditional ad agency?
With that eventuality in mind, ad agencies which don’t start to present
themselves in a fresh way to today’s discerning clients may soon feel
that integration has been their undoing.