Integration Essays: Business as unusual

Media owners are best placed to take the role of inspirational team leader and are embracing integration and innovation as part of their day jobs.

One of the things I like about football is that time and again it demonstrates the power of teamwork. A club may have spent millions on a manager, players and a stadium. But if members of the team don't pull together, work for each other and enlist a loyal crowd of fans as the vital "12th man", they run the risk of being turned over by a better organised, if less starred, outfit. Look at the England football team.

There's a lesson here for those of us grappling daily with the challenge of delivering truly integrated campaigns to our clients. Increasingly, media owners - with growing portfolios of branded media - are best placed to take the role of inspirational team manager, motivating everyone to put on their best performance and act as one.

After all, media owners with a range of products and channels have the ability to integrate "on the spot" under one umbrella. The recent restructure of our commercial divisions at News International provides a platform to take integration to another level. This power to deliver will, in turn, attract talent that will ensure our side of the industry is at the leading edge of innovative and strategic communications.

Media agencies have traditionally held top spot here. Yet the most forward-thinking media owners already offer a culture that is more agency-like than some might think - with skills in areas such as comms strategy, account management and insight.

Agencies are often privileged partners to clients' own customer data. But media owners are getting much closer to their own consumers. Indeed, it is vital in order to maintain a healthy brand proposition. Inevitably, this leads to a greater role for the media owner in the planning process. It is the publishers who are best placed to know what fires up their audiences and how the credit crunch may impact their lives.

Moreover, media owners understand the human journey through their media channels; what triggers a reader to move from reading a picture story in the paper, for example, to finding comments and blogs on line. Media owners are best placed to understand effective use of channels for maximum client benefit.

Clients themselves are increasingly acknowledging media owners as the innovators and integrators. Ian Armstrong, the manager of customer communications at Honda, recently noted: "Media owners are becoming much more effective at integrating campaign ideas across platforms given their growth into new distribution channels, thus helping to deliver much more effective activities for brands."

To achieve what a key client like this wants, the structure has to be right. Viacom Brand Solutions has set up a creative services unit at Nickelodeon Networks to create bespoke advertising solutions across TV, web, mobile and live events in another example of a media owner progressing their offering. Advertisers' needs have been listened to and understood and the result is communication that delivers consistently across all available channels.

Closer to home, The Sunday Times and Bank of Scotland teamed up to launch the £25 million entrepreneur challenge, targeting businesses seeking investment to achieve future growth. This co-branded partnership was a first for The Sunday Times and Timesonline. It changed perception of the Bank of Scotland, reinforcing its image as the bank for entrepreneurs, and delivered an exceptional level of high-value prospects which couldn't normally be achieved through traditional advertising.

This tie-up points to another reason that media owners can offer so much more on the hunt to integration gold: the editorial/ad sales divide is no longer such a chasm. At NI, for example, our advertising teams feel aligned to the editors and the content that creates the brands. It's a relationship that has its tensions, much in the way creatives have with the account planners, but, ultimately, it drives innovation and effectiveness. With editors more accessible, clients are more allured to the products and staff are more passionate about what they are selling.

And staff attraction and retention is key. Investment in training and development is essential: not just in media, but in business, and marketing generally - to give staff the best possible understanding of their clients' business, especially in the context of rising competition.

Clients don't want business as usual - they want business as unusual.

And they are, quite rightly, constantly striving for exceptional value and exceptional results. There's great competition for client attention as this can directly spawn conversations and ideas. So it's vital that media owners invest in the talent that can connect with marketers.

The modern media owner has the power to deliver. We can take a central idea and make it more effective across our different channels in a way that maximises value for our customers. Gone are the days of the "one trick pony" sales person.

We all must embrace the media market as a whole and understand what works and why. Collaborating with other media owner colleagues is also on the agenda, in the interest of delivering the best 360-degree result for the client.

Clients don't have time or money to support structures that aren't efficient. Media owners can get on with it quickly, making the end result time-efficient and time-effective.

It's an exciting time for us and it's good to see the industry offering us the chance to tell our integration story. Media owners are entering and winning awards for planning and integration in a way not seen before. And that's because we are increasingly embracing integration and innovation as part of our day job.

- Claire Myerscough is the business intelligence director at NI Commercial.