They can join together work from separate agencies but they should be cultural and social ideas.
Integration might be a dirty word - for many clients it means Jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none. But "being integrated" is absolutely critical to creating innovative platforms for engagement.
So I was in the room with four other agencies recently - a combination of advertising, media and digital. We all introduced ourselves to a new client as being in the business of activation ideas.
What? It's like some collective realisation that the business we're in is to engage individuals - and culture - in a conversation about, and through, the different sorts of things that we make.
And that conversation takes place on a platform. Platforms are a trendy concept these days. A meme. But I'm not talking about putting a brand on Facebook, or this week's term for a media channel.
A platform is a construct that other things can be built on, and only sometimes is that advertising. Platforms are schemes of brand activity that can support product launches, promotions, social media campaigns, public spectacles, or whatever.
Platforms are the glue between disparate forms of activity, or they can tie together different stuff being produced by different agencies. Platforms should be about interesting things happening in the real world. And how we can use cultural and social ideas to make those things happen.
Activation platforms are ideas that people can get involved in. They should be built for people to explore, interact with, pass on, and come back to in the future. They are likely to be built at the place where an audience insight meets something the audience likes doing. Because of that, if they're good, they last.
The very best ideas enter the culture. DNA never dies, and the things we make - activities, ads or assets or whatever - should be like bits of DNA that endure in our popular cultural gene pool for generations. Why not?
Platforms should be ahead of their time. And that's a lovely aspiration for all our work.
The problem is, creating platforms has very little to do with how agencies are normally organised. The traditional construct of departments, the usual skill-sets, and processes, militate against building great platforms.
Building something interesting takes an integrated way of working. In fact, it takes an integrated way of thinking, first.
As my opening statement, well, opened, it's important to distinguish between "being integrated" and "integration". This isn't about 360-degree matching luggage, after all.
Being integrated is being able to flex around tighter timescales without sacrificing quality, through adapting processes, people and place - and not being hidebound by How Things Have Always Been Done.
Aspiring to such innovative thinking can feel like managing at the edge of chaos - or as Dan Wieden said, "building a friendly relationship with chaos". In other words, recognising that sometimes the best and freshest platform ideas, and the way to execute them, come from challenging or re-writing the playbook for how you normally do things.
Traditional ways of working are like relay, not rugby. While doing some research once, somebody said to me that "the world of work today was an idea being handed on from one person to the next, like a baton". That's crazy. How does that make the best use of the brains available, or help one part of a team understand what's important to others, or how they can best build on it? Where's the anticipation, or the agility in it?
This isn't anything new to some (oft-times digital) agencies, but it may be very new to others; for instance, agile software development contains many practices that enable a more integrated way of working. There are some specific processes like scrum (to shape and optimise resource against the next few days of a job), to looser ideas of self-organising teams. We might call them pods at Inferno, but the idea is the same - coalescing a wide range of specialised abilities temporarily around the platform idea, with planners determining the process and orchestrating talent to deliver each step of the project.
The talent doesn't always have to come from within either, but can be open-sourced. For instance, creating a talent neighbourhood is not the same as drafting in freelancers or even just sweating the Rolodex. It's about creating a collaborative network of talent that is visible and connected to one another, driven by the core team and agile process.
The result of this more open and collaborative approach should be, not just a more engaging platform, but more enduring "assets" - those bits of content I mentioned earlier that stick in culture because they are good.
Then, for every asset we make, we have to consider what happens next. The development of transmedia and touchpoint planning - that distributes ideas across multiple channels or stages of a campaign - requires genuine coordination of messaging and creativity, and an integrated way of working. If people are going to act/interact through the platform, let's think about the chain reactions. And how do they inter-relate? By being integrated, we can originate it all, so we know how it should all fit together. More channel-specific agencies usually do their thing in (relative) isolation, then hope it can join up in the consumer experience (or just try to make it look the same instead), but it rarely works.
So if the platform is the best vehicle for brand engagement and best delivered through being integrated, then integration can safely be redefined as "the best possible solution to my business problem, without any media bias whatsoever". Be that an event, a customer marketing programme, a social media plan, an ad campaign, a TV show, or dozens of different combinations of the above, plus other tactics and strategies plugged and played throughout the life of the platform. It isn't rocket science.
Being integrated is how we meet today's communication challenges
- Being integrated is critical to creating innovative platforms
- Platforms should be ahead of their time
- The best ideas should enter culture and stay there over time
Robin Jaffray is the executive planning director at Inferno
(From Campaign's "What Next in Integration" supplement, December 2010)