Why does the word integration conjure up images of mediocre work and
mediocre people? Probably because, in most cases, it’s the truth.
Integration requires the commitment of an expert group of people with
real experience in all areas of communications. It can be delivered by a
group of companies or a single agency.
However, in the case of groups of companies, the onus is on the client
to police the process - to carve up the budgets, co-ordinate the
creative work and so on. And this can mean dealing with considerable
conflicts of interest.
This is not just a hassle, it’s a risk. If agencies are about providing
a service, it’s often not a very good one. So why isn’t everyone with a
one-stop shop? Because clients are not convinced they’ll get the quality
of product. Agencies with an above-the-line heritage don’t understand
the mechanics of a big direct marketing programme. Conversely, those
with a below-the-line background rarely produce top-flight creative
work, by which I mean good enough to rival your Abbott Mead Vickers or
Bartle Bogle Hegartys.
It’s only when you merge the two ‘sides’ from top to bottom that you
will get a genuine integrated agency. Ad agency people find it hard to
grasp the concept and revert to snobbery. Direct people feel threatened
and head off for the comfort of something they know.
People don’t like learning something new, and we’re very conservative.
That’s why it takes blood, sweat and tears to achieve proper
I should know - I’ve been doing it here for the past three years. It’s
taken that long to find people with the talent and the commitment to
embrace a different vision. Once the mistrust between disciplines has
disappeared, people see the possibilities.
Direct marketing experience brings you closer to the client’s business,
and of course to actual results. Combine that with top creativity and
you get something very interesting - a more effective, but just as
creative, approach. In my experience, the best above-the-line creatives
love product-focused briefs and hate waffle. Integration gives them
access to a raft of media that were previously out of bounds. Account
managers have a similarly increased repertoire. And soon the account
director who has no knowledge of direct media will look very silly in
front of clients who do.
To the client, the agency should be steward of the brand. It should have
the expertise to look at any marketing issue and apply the appropriate
solutions. And that can happen only when your agency team understands
strategy, the role of all media, the importance of creativity, research,
database and your business.
Integration is about the team of people as much as the work. It’s kind
of how an agency would look if the advertising business were invented
Jonathan Stead is chief executive of Rapier Stead and Bowden