Integration is one of those polysyllabic "management" words like "synergy" or "solutions"; it seems to mean less than it promises. I prefer short, simple words: words that mean something, such as "truth well told", our motto since 1912. The reason it has endured is that it’s as clear now and means as much as it did 100 years ago.
Integration is, as anyone in this industry knows (client or agency), a 20-year obsession. Today it is more relevant and meaningful than ever as consumers engage with brands in a multi-channel way, making it the most important operational and creative challenge facing us today.
The channels consumers use have converged. Nearly 60% of search is mobile – frequently through social channels. And if all our brand interaction is in one place and we want that interaction to be in real time, interactive and smart, both brands and the people who communicate on their behalf have to be integrated.
If the brand isn’t speaking with one voice it’s immediately and embarrassingly obvious. If the brand experience or user journey isn’t smooth and engaging, the informed 21st century consumer goes elsewhere – it’s a huge reversal of power.
Crucially, our clients understand this well. Forbes reported in 2015 that 68% of chief marketing officers put integrated marketing communications ahead of "effective advertising", and in an IPA study 72% of UK CMOs said "a joined up customer experience" was what they wanted for their brands and from their agencies.
However, many client marketing organisations remain structured by discipline. This makes the role of their agencies and their partnership with their clients all the more critical in guiding them through the integration journey.
There remains a strong learning curve for agencies too. We know we can no longer rely on the traditional starting point – the advertising campaign – to inform the overarching communications strategy. A deep understanding of consumers and how and where they choose to be most influenced is required.
But for true integration there is another level of understanding we need to embrace, and that is of each other’s capabilities and skills. A level of convergence is needed to ensure cross discipline fluency, this comes from an equal partnership of specialists, who approach the brief together from the start.
Empowering people to champion integration and building a common culture with a shared ambition is imperative. In this industry internal belief must be built from the beginning. Putting this in place will produce tangible results.
The current renewed focus on integration may come just in time to save our industry from irrelevance. The clue to the importance of integration is in the antonym. It’s hard to imagine anyone opting for "disintegration" but that is effectively what the ad industry did in the 1980s.
The agency landscape is changing. Future leaders will no longer be defined by discipline, but by their ability to holistically engage consumers in meaningful, enduring and relevant ways.
Integration is not easy, even when you share clients and a parent company. It can be hard for networked agencies to know as much about what they are each capable of and what’s possible. And frequently a degree of worry exists about whether the different companies and disciplines are complementary or cannibalistic.
The Xbox Survival Billboard’s creative success at Cannes has literally become the posterchild for McCann Worldgroup and how integration boosts creativity, with McCann London, MRM Meteorite, Momentum Worldwide and Craft all involved in its success. Bringing in specialist skills and capabilities allowed the campaign to evolve far beyond the original concept. Even more impressive is the fact that these agencies genuinely enjoyed working together.
This would also be true for Bartle Bogle Hegarty and the success of their "FU2016" campaign for House of Cards; they worked really well with their partners to create a truly integrated campaign for TV, social media and PR.
Behind this kind of approach are some eternally human considerations. You need to make the things that unite people more important than the things that divide them. It’s human nature to look for comparisons and to compete with those closest to you, but these are also the people who will help you – and ultimately they will make what we are capable of, as a whole integrated team – greater than the sum of its parts.
The unifying principle for all of us must be to build a level of cross discipline fluency – starting with our own organisations – to engage with each other in a more meaningful way for our clients, our people and our future.
If we have to call it integration that’s a price worth paying.
The Xbox Survival Billboard campaign
AJ Coyne, global account director, McCann London:
The challenge was to launch the new Tomb Raider game during the busiest launch weeks in 2015. We had to do something to stand out, so decided to turn the channel on its head and transform a billboard into an entertainment channel.
Installed as part poster, part interactive reality show, eight gamers stood on the Survival billboard and faced harsh weather controlled by the public. The winner, Adam, remained on the billboard for 20 hours, 45 minutes.
The idea originated from McCann London – which led the campaign development throughout – and called on key McCann group agencies throughout the process, including Craft, Momentum Worldwide and MRM.
McCann London acted as guardian of the campaign and overall plan, with each of the co-collaborators leading their areas of specialties with clearly defined roles. Each agency appointed a key lead who in turn were responsible for helping to enhance the idea. This made sure that the integrity of the idea was kept, whilst maximising every possible opportunity.
For true integration to work, you need to empower everyone to be a leader and decision-maker in their own specialty, ensuring you all have clearly defined roles and are working towards the same goal. The key is to over communicate and see each other regularly to stay completely on track. Lastly if you’re braving something that has never been done before, make sure you have prepared for every eventuality and that you’re ready to act (no matter how ridiculous it may sound!) Whilst a contestant contracting hypothermia might seem unlikely – it may just come true!
Mark Lund is the chief executive of McCann Worldgroup UK.