DIRECT MARKETING: THE REBIRTH OF COMMUNICATIONS - Shaun McIlrath says it’s time traditional agencies changed their strategies and started selling their clients’ products rather than their own advertising

At 3.20am on Saturday 20 September my wife gave birth to an 8lb baby boy. He came into the world screaming for attention and has been responsible for the creation of an inordinate amount of poo. Yep, he’s an adman’s son all right.

At 3.20am on Saturday 20 September my wife gave birth to an 8lb

baby boy. He came into the world screaming for attention and has been

responsible for the creation of an inordinate amount of poo. Yep, he’s

an adman’s son all right.

Of course, it has changed everything. But, at 34, I’m ready for


Late nights spent in the dank taverns of Soho have lost their attraction

and my ability to consume my own body weight in beer and then hold

forth, with authority, on every subject in Christendom, is now only a

dwindling memory in the ale-addled minds of a group of ageing


But I’m fortunate in the fact that this change is of my own


For the birth of anything new brings with it a certain amount of

disbelief. And change, when forced upon people, can create a lot of


It has been thus with the advent of integration.

’An agency only succeeds if it helps ultimately to create new sales for

a client, and does so efficiently and economically. Images and brand

awareness are meaningless if they fail to achieve greater turnover; the

test is the cash till. It’s time for a new kind of advertising.’

I didn’t write that. It appeared in an ad in the Sunday Times on 13

September 1970 announcing the arrival of Saatchi & Saatchi. But, in

spite of the fact it heralded the birth of advertising’s golden era, it

could also be a blueprint for integration.

Integration, as a movement, has been spawned by a belief (long known to

the client community) that advertising isn’t the be-all and end-all of

sales success.

At the moment, however, it exists without definition. So, let’s start

with that. Today, there are three types of agency. First, there are

advertising agencies. They produce advertising. That is all they sell

Regardless of their client’s marketing problem, they will always produce

an advertising solution. So, there is a case to say that they put

selling their own product above selling their client’s product. This

fact has sufficiently eroded client confidence to open the door for

another kind of agency - the integrated agency.

Integrated agencies still sell advertising, they just happen to have a

new device that helps them sell it. They offer direct marketing and

sales promotion. But they are still run by admen, everything still

centres around advertising and integration is seen merely as a way of

making collateral material look like the ads. The only real client

benefit of this form of integration is saving money on phone calls. It

is superficial and will, ultimately, only confirm clients’ suspicions

that agencies lack any real understanding of their sales needs.

The final kind of agency is also described as integrated but let us, for

the sake of clarity, call it a marketing communications company. Its

raison d’etre is to sell its clients’ products rather than its own and

its doctrine is practised - but not preached - in regional and

specialist (financial or pharmaceutical) agencies all over the UK. It is

born of a hard-nosed necessity to create sales rather than advertising

that is ’liked’. And its particular kind of integration could be defined

as the ability to use any medium or combination of media to sell the

client’s product - which means that, depending on the marketing problem,

advertising might not be used at all.

The Saatchis ad of 1970 was prophetic in another way. It was probably

the first and last time an agency really put its money where its mouth

was and tried to use advertising to sell itself.

Advertising is a very expensive and one-dimensional way to sell a


If you don’t believe me, check out how much agencies spend on

advertising themselves these days. There are plenty of new-business

mailers, brochures, telephone calls and frantic schmoozing to get into

the pages of Campaign, but ads are at the bottom of the list - except

when they’re talking to clients - then direct mail, point of sale,

telemarketing and PR suddenly go out the window. If agencies applied the

same ingenuity to the way they market their clients’ products, it would

be an entirely different industry.

The Saatchi ad also talked of the ’dying system’ of agency remuneration.

The illness turned out to be debilitating rather than terminal but,

again, the observation was right on the money.

Until agencies are rewarded for impartial marketing advice, they are

going to keep on flogging advertising when it isn’t appropriate and

agency advice will continue to be a devalued currency.

We have to be able to tell our clients that their product is rubbish,

their sales operation needs revamping and that advertising will be a

complete waste of money - and profit from it - or we will become no more

than frivolous dandies at the courts of the marketing kings.

This does not mean we have to start buying management consultancies but

we do have to elevate account men from the role of well-meaning toady to

that of a valued adviser. Again, the 27-year-old ad talked of

eliminating ’the middle-man between the advertiser and the people who

are paid to create the ads’. The principle is correct, but if you

consider that clients should be coming to us for marketing solutions,

then there is no middle man. Everyone is creative, or at least they

should be.

Change comes to us all. Just as I knew that one day I’d be swapping

midnight bar-hopping for late-night nappy-changing, the ad industry

needs to acknowledge that it is time to grow up and do what it has


For adland’s pampered princelings, the world I describe may sound very

dull. But it shouldn’t. It offers the potential to create genuinely new

ways to communicate - to invent from scratch rather than copy from


A healthy new-born babe has been born, it’s better looking than its dad

and it’s getting smarter every day. It’s time to have some fun.


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