Feature

Integration: Easier said than done

Don't harbour nostalgia for hierarchies and work with a collective team to deliver your ideas.

At the end of the day, integrated communications is really only about one thing - more effective ideas. Assuming that we are all in the business of producing more effective work, who then doesn't believe in integration? The fact that this is still the source of so much debate, angst and confusion simply shows that integration is obviously far harder to accomplish than perhaps we care to admit.

Sitting inside a communications planning agency, the issue is all the more acute. By the very nature of what we do, we come into contact with every type and breed of agency imaginable. As rosters get longer, so things get more complicated; an all-agency meeting at MindShare can attract up to seven or eight agencies. We have been at the sharp end of integration for several years now, and have had no option but to think through the issues from all sides, develop inclusive solutions and learn how to work in new ways.

The barriers

The truth is that integration is difficult - it doesn't "just happen", and it's not simply just about chemistry. Worse still, it is only getting harder. Marketing is becoming ever more specialist, which means everyone's an expert, and everyone's got a (conflicting) point of view.

So why is integration so difficult? And what can we do to make it work? In our experience, there are two main barriers to delivering more effective joined-up communications.

First, the obsessive need for most agencies to want to own the big idea. And second, a failure to understand that sometimes even this isn't enough.

The Big Idea

The easiest way to deliver integrated communications is to find some common ground that everyone can agree to work to - the so-called big idea.

There is no doubt that belief in the big idea is strong and getting stronger. Indeed, we've yet to meet a client or agency of any description that wasn't in favour of a big, generous, rich, fat, broad, deep, fertile, potent, contagious, rounded, resonant, 360-degree, good old-fashioned "through-the-line" blockbuster of an idea.

The trouble starts when you have a media environment that disrupts the old hierarchies, and suddenly every agency starts to exhibit an almost pathological need to be the originator, owner and proprietor of that big idea.

Who owns the idea? Who cares - just as long as there is one, then at least we can all get on and work with it in whatever discipline we specialise. The big idea is just the stimulus to inspire the myriad of communication ideas that make that idea tangible.

Open-source planning

But the big idea is not the only bit of common ground necessary for developing integrated solutions. A common business objective, a relevant insight that's useful (to all), an agreed strategy for communications and an understanding of the different role each discipline needs to play. This is what an integrated planning function must provide for clients and agencies alike.

But, again, it's not about proprietary planning processes, but about collaborating. Which is the primary reason why we have pioneered the development of an open-source approach - Destination Planning - that allows agencies to contribute and collaborate freely, and that is flexible enough to cope with both "big-brand ideas" and the myriad of smaller "communication ideas" they inspire.

Destination Planning is an approach that prioritises behaviours over process. It provides a framework for clients to work with multi-agency teams in order to agree common goals, business objectives and team key performance indicators. It encourages all agencies to work together to reveal behavioural and attitudinal insights that can shape their work. It elevates the role of a strategic platform that can act as a catalyst for creativity. Throughout, it places a premium on ideas, ingenuity, accountability and collaboration - beliefs that underpin our collective approach to communications.

Organising for integration

Unfortunately, having a big idea or being willing to collaborate is no longer enough these days. Integration is getting harder, not because agencies can't think outside their corridor of expertise, but because the business of marketing is itself becoming more complex and specialised. Making integration happen means overcoming formidable organisational challenges.

As Jeremy Bullmore points out, at the very point clients most need integration, agencies have disintegrated. To such an extent that we have found the need to develop a new function at MindShare - "integrated communications management" (ICM) - which can effectively take on responsibility for managing the process of co-operation and address the way people work together. The team understands communications planning, but isn't responsible for it. It focuses on identifying silos - the elephant trap of integration - between above-the-line and below-the-line specialists, and on easing pressure-points such as the sharing of ideas and data, the sequence of briefings and responses, and so on.

Reintegration

Innovations such as ICM and Destination Planning have come about because the role of the media agency has changed. We now sit as the point of connection for ideas, brands, consumers and agencies. It is our role to be experts in this process of reintegration.

As we shift into addressable, interactive messaging, the old habits and hierarchies are increasingly exposed as not fit for purpose. The idea of a "lead agency" must give way to a collective, best-in-class team, which is prepared to work together to develop ideas, share common objectives, be evaluated together against shared KPIs, and is prepared to be remunerated together based on their results. These are the principles that MindShare's approach aspires to. But to make it work, we need our partner agencies - and our clients - to embrace this new spirit of integration, and not harbour a nostalgia for old-fashioned, full-service hierarchies. Our experience suggests that that particular parrot isn't resting, but is well and truly dead and buried.

- Richard Armstrong is the head of strategy and Simeon Duckworth is the futures director at MindShare. Alan Wilson is the client director at MindShare ATG.

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