Integration Essays: Creative about business

Integration cannot be achieved by channel planning alone, but through thinking commercially.

If you are reading this Campaign supplement, you probably believe that integration is, at the very least, something worth thinking about. And as you read the essays, you'll probably find that most in the industry believe that the answer is a resounding "yes" and that the only debate to be had is "what constitutes good integration?", "what perspective should inform the delivery of integrated creative work" and so on.

Let us help you gain an hour of free time by summarising the sorts of arguments you are likely to see. Some will argue for the supremacy of the "big idea"; don't get bogged down in the detail, they will contend. In the end, it is all about the ability to engage and entertain the consumer, to get his or her attention and to transmit a branded message. "Branded content" is the term used these days. It appears to be alive and kicking as a mantra and you can see great examples such as Cadbury's "gorilla". However, we would contend that "content" is something our industry has always done. Take a look at some of the old great Silk Cut work and you'll see what we mean. Content is the bread and butter of our business; we have always delivered it and we will need to keep doing so in the future.

Others will argue that the way to integration nirvana is through channel planning. Understanding all of the consumer touchpoints, having strong insights about the moment of interaction and delivering the branded message in an appropriate way.

Not satisfied with those options? Try a third. Integration is all about using media in an innovative way. Stunt media that literally brings the creative idea to life. Or "viral" work that uses the power of sharing to transmit your brand message to a broad audience.

All of these methods of delivering creative integration are valid. All of these approaches to integration can act as a lead methodology, or can be used in combination to create great campaigns. All valid and all irrelevant in setting an agenda for the future of integration.

You see, as practitioners of integration, we limit our impact on client business when we limit the debate to delivery of creative work. Appropriately integrated creative work is the "table-stakes" of our relationships with clients, but to become true business partners, we need to move the debate, and our role, on. Yes, we are in the business of creativity, but isn't it about time we got creative about business?

In a tough economic climate, we have the opportunity to forge stronger partnerships with our clients by using our creativity to build better integration into their business model, from suppliers to manufacturers, to customer. Take, for example, our work on Mars.com. Yes, we created a digital platform that allows the company to showcase its products, talk about its history and spell out its principles, but, importantly, we have also created an online recruitment tool that enables Mars to have access to a worldwide pool of talent. In effect, we have created better integration for Mars with the future leaders of its company, the basic foundations of continued commercial success.

Equally, when we were approached by Wizz, an ultra-low-cost airline in Eastern Europe, our commercially focused approach to creative output was informed by our desire to deliver a fundamental commercially integrated solution. We created a press campaign that was flexible enough to vary messaging by price and destination and which integrated its digital platform in a broader commercial manner. Our creativity helped Wizz to look at its site as a conduit not only for low-cost ticket sales, but also for sales of ancillary products (car hire, hotel bookings etc.) And, perhaps more importantly in the longer term, by capturing data in the form of a user profile, Wizz was able to create a database for future CRM activity. By integrating the component parts of a holiday, Wizz was able to boost revenue and integrate customer need with products, thereby building its brand, building sales and creating consumer advocacy and repeat business.

Think of this approach as the next chapter in integration. Not creative integration but commercial integration. Commercial integration starts with the question "What are the potential bottlenecks to achieving commercial success?" and seeks to find creatively driven solutions that can help manage these. If creative integration is about the customer journey, then commercial integration is about the client journey, from imagining a product to getting it in front of the customer.

Thinking like this starts to position creative agencies as true business partners and puts the relationship on a longer-term footing. How many times have you sat through a media agency presentation where they have talked about creating an intranet for clients as a management tool? As a creative business partner to our clients, shouldn't we be able to offer broader integrated solutions like this?

Commercial integration forces us to look at the client business challenge in a fundamentally different way. And, in turn, it might force us to examine our own business models in a fundamentally different way too. Integrated agencies have to a certain extent been a mirror of their above-the-line counterparts: account handling, creative resource, planning and production. Going forward and in order to become a true commercially integrated offering, we might need to add marketing innovation back into the mix; not in the sense of duplicating the client marketing department but in the context of understanding what the commercial implications and opportunities of customer behaviour might be.

So let's go back to the beginning of this essay. Does integration matter? Yes and no. Creative integration is something we already offer clients and we need to continue to deliver. However, in order to become true business partners, we need to engage with our clients in the real opportunity: commercial integration.

- Bobby Hui is the executive planning director and Kate Howe is the managing director of Nitro.