Close-Up: Does the UK deliver on integration?

Are agencies failing in their promises of integration, or does blame lie elsewhere?

Every UK agency is integrated, isn't it? At least, that's what they all claim.

But a quick glance at any recent global awards show demonstrates a complete lack of gongs heading the UK's way for integrated campaigns.

At The One Show, the most decorated integrated campaigns came from the US, for Haagen-Dazs' "help the honey bees", and Australia, for Tourism Queensland's "best job in the world".

Now, this could be because the world is so envious of the UK's brilliance that it's deliberately ignoring the terrific work that's being created. Or, just maybe, agencies in this country simply aren't delivering on their integrated promise.

So what's gone wrong? Perversely, some believe that the problem could stem from the heritage that UK agencies have in the traditional (siloed) disciplines. Past successes have ingrained proven structures that are now working as a barrier to producing effective integrated campaigns.

Shaun McIlrath, the executive creative director of the integrated agency Iris, says: "To appeal to prospective clients, you have to sell your own product. So rather than become integrated, agencies with pre-determined disciplines just define integration to suit their needs." This, he argues, means that a lot of UK shops aren't actually as integrated as they say they are.

Meanwhile, Yash Egami, the editor-in-chief of The One Club, believes that overseas agencies in smaller markets are thriving in this area because they have been naturally set up in an integrated fashion and are more inclined to start with the big idea. They never disintegrated in the first place.

This integrated mindset outside of the UK is also aided by the attitudes, and often smaller media spends, of the advertisers. Clients who are themselves not used to working in silos and controlling their own slice of the total marketing budget are more likely to drive an integrated approach from their agency partners.

Tim Bonnet, the chief executive of Tequila\London, says: "In the UK, we still have individual clients who are responsible for specific brands. This means that agencies are being briefed in disciplines, which immediately cuts down on the ability for a truly effective integrated campaign to emerge."

So when agencies do manage to get integration right, what's the secret of their approach? Well, a good client seems to be key.

Chris MacDonald, the chief executive of McCann Erickson, credits the agency's clients with helping propel integration on work for its Halo 3 "Jake Courage" campaign for Xbox, and its "Computer- Tan" integrated campaign for the charity Skcin.

"Those campaigns started with a great idea, and we were lucky enough to have clients who allowed us to go off and develop it," he says. "There was no baton-passing between agencies, which goes on far too much in the UK industry."

It seems the issue is not that UK agencies can't deliver on integration, it's that they don't deliver on a consistent level.

The circumstances on both the client and agency side have to be just right, and this is a relatively rare confluence. Both advertisers and their agencies need to focus on breaking down ingrained silos and historical media biases. Until that happens, there's a real danger that UK agencies will continue to simply talk about integration rather than achieve it. And in the process get left further and further behind the rest of the world.

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CREATIVE - David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer, BBDO North America

"The Brits are some of the most brilliant creatives in the world, they can do integrated and they will eventually do it better than anyone. But the integrated way of thinking, which is completely different to conventional advertising, may not have fully been embraced as yet.

"Whereas before you thought of a script and then surrounded it with everything else, you now have to come up with a big idea, and then decide where best to put it.

"This requires creatives to be completely open to all sorts of media, and really be willing to think outside the box, and it does take a while for everyone to fully adopt this."

AGENCY HEAD - Jonathan Stead, chief executive, Rapier

"Most agencies start with some kind of inherent media bias, whether they admit it or not, and that's what ends up delivering a mixed quality of output and thus frustrating clients. Of course, agencies can 'collaborate' with each other but still today that's far from perfect.

"UK agencies need to be more intensively looking at the fundamental changes in consumer behaviour, how consumers are making purchase decisions today and how you can best influence them. This is what needs to drive an agency's recommendation, not its desire to sell the media specific creative skills that it's chosen to invest in, or offering a one stop, pay less, consolidation deal."

CLIENT - Jo Haxley, senior marketing manager, British Gas

"Getting a good integrated campaign is as much the client's responsibility as it is the agencies'. You need to be rigorous in ensuring it's a collaborative effort. We make sure, for example, that we conduct all our meetings as a round table with all our agencies involved, as it just wouldn't work if you briefed them individually.

"I'll be honest in that it took us a while to get here, but we saw with our 'planet home' integrated campaign that by getting all our agencies pulling in the same direction, then you can create some really effective work."

AGENCY HEAD - Chris MacDonald, chief executive, McCann Erickson

"It always worries me when the word integration is bandied about, as if it is an end in itself. For us, it is all about the idea and its ability to work across any channel. Integration is all about exploding an idea, whether that be with other partners or just through one agency team.

"The challenge is to ensure that there is ownership and collective responsibility; rather than silos, self-interest and fragmentation which limit ideas and their delivery across touchpoints. It is amazing what can be done with a brilliant idea, as the Australians have shown and what we like to think we have done with Xbox and"