Integration: Roundtable Discussion - What does integration really mean?

Campaign gathered a panel of experts together to discuss the implications a call for true integration is having on the industry. Suzy Bashford listened in.

There was a time in adland when a wheel containing different segments named things like "direct marketing" and "TV" and "print" existed. It was trundled around agencies and clients and everybody understood it. Until, that was, "integration" reared its head.

"In those days, the 'wheel' charts were very good, but you could say the wheels have now fallen off," Mark Chippendale, the media director at News Group Media, says.

"We have now banned those wheels," the vice-president international sales director at BusinessWeek, Jonathan Foster Kenny, agrees a little forlornly.

In days gone by, he goes on to say, simply having a "tick" in each segment was enough to satisfy advertisers' demands for a multi-platform campaign.

"Now, it's about much more than that," he says. "It's all about having a central theme to a campaign, then looking at how to take it across different platforms." Chippendale agrees. He says: "Just slinging stuff across platforms is not integration."

As Campaign's panel of experts gather for a discussion on the theme of integration, there's a strong consensus that such "platform populating" is still being passed off as integration.

Lucy Jameson, the executive strategy director at DDB, describes this as "matching luggage", which is a somewhat derogatory term for just "shoving a campaign together and making it look exactly the same on each platform".

So, if genuine integration is as far from "matching luggage" as a Primark holdall is from a Prada leather suitcase, what is it? Silence greets this question when it is put to the panel by Claire Beale, the editor of Campaign.

Liz Jones, the vice-president and European sales director at CNBC Europe, is one of the first to venture forward with a definition. "Integration is having an effective idea that starts with the consumer. It's when consumers are affected by an advertising message which has reached them in different ways," she says.

Traditionally, client briefs have started with a discipline or with a lead agency, usually above the line. One of the thorniest issues surrounding integrated ideas is that they must start, as the Ogilvy Group UK chairman and chief executive, Gary Leih, says, with "a problem rather than a particular discipline, or a prescribed way in which you're going to solve this problem". This demands that agencies, in particular, work in an entirely new way.

Behind each other's backs, each of the different disciplines are notorious for giving their tuppence worth about how their particular specialism is best placed to take the lead in the new marketing era. But, rather strangely, as a representative group sits face to face at Campaign's top table, they seem to be skirting around the question of who should own the client brief.

When pushed, the group agrees that planners are probably most suited to spearheading integrated campaigns. But even this answer seems nebulous. Whose planners do they mean? Those found within ad agencies, media shops, direct marketing or digital outfits? And, as the president of TBWA\UK and Ireland Group, Tim Lindsay, says, even within individual agencies, there are different types of planners.

In fact, Lindsay is the first to cut the niceties and deliver a few home truths. He says: "The answer to who leads this process has crucial implications for how we organise our companies. Creative agencies are looking at different ways to put media back into the centre, because it is a vital function in the new digital media landscape.

"It costs me a bit to say that, because we don't have it sorted yet. But most groups - and I include mine again - don't have the necessary basics in place for integration. Like a unified management group. Or one bottom line. Or staff incentivised on group performance. Or being located under one roof. All these factors are unbelievably important."

But while Lindsay's candour is admirable, he is in the luxurious position of being the new hand at TBWA, who is responsible for licking the group's integrated offer into shape.

Other creative agencies present around the table - Ogilvy and DDB - talked about how they are "breeding" an army of media-neutral "uber-planners" to tackle these challenges.

At DDB, the agency is cultivating generalist planners, who can call on specialist planners when they need specific knowledge. Jameson concedes that it is taking a bit of time for this new culture to bed down. She says: "At the moment, planners aren't very good generalists. They don't know enough about other channels, apart from their own."

Ogilvy is also attempting a similar sort of restructure. It has created a single planning function, containing teams of planners from each discipline, from PR to digital, who collaborate on accounts.

Leih, however, admits it was hard to recruit planners who were good at channel planning across all platforms. "None of our people were, because they've grown up for decades without it, so we've had to go outside the group to recruit people," he says.

While both DDB and Ogilvy agree that the planning function holds the key to unlocking integration's potential, Jameson and Leih clash over the type of planners who are best directing campaigns. Leih's experience is that "advertising planners are not the best at being holistic, customer relationship marketing planners are much better", while Jameson contends that "traditional advertising planners are adapting fastest". This is not the only bone of contention among the group. One of the most emotive subjects is the place of media in the mix.

When the media function was first hived off from the traditional full-service ad agency offering with the creation of Zenith in 1988, the creative fraternity was not sad to see it go, perceiving its own discipline as far superior to the slightly grubby world of buying and selling.

Now that creative agencies want media back, it's understandable that media networks, with their new-found confidence and scale, are not keen to run back into the parental fold.

One of the reasons that large creative groups, such as TBWA, believe media should move back in, or, at least physically, next door, is because it would boost understanding between colleagues. "You absorb information by osmosis," Lindsay says. "When I was an account man, I spent a lot of my day talking to media people, and that has gone. There's a huge gap."

But the MindShare chief executive, Jed Glanvill, for one, doesn't think that's the answer. He says: "Media agencies have become big, complex organisations in their own right. You can't just smash it all back together." Instead, Glanvill suggests creating forums in which information sharing is encouraged. Media strategists from MindShare recently ran a workshop at its sister company Ogilvy Advertising about ITV, for instance.

According to Leih, junior creatives are crying out for this knowledge. They have read about ITV and its challen-ges, for example, but don't understand the full implications of what they mean for media strategies, he says.

Nevertheless, although these bridge-building forums are taking place, it is notable the most tension around the table exists between WPP's sister companies MindShare and Ogilvy. At one point, Glanvill reveals he feels "Leih needs to bolt on what we do to his offer more when talking to clients".

This tension, rather than a personal reflection on either Glanvill or Leih, highlights the complexity of the integration challenge, and the fact that groups have a long way to go to iron out their position on the issue. It also shows that, as agencies strive to find their way, they may find themselves in direct competition with their siblings.

Leih describes this situation as "co-competition". "We've got a couple of people that I think Jed would prefer we didn't have, and Jed's got a couple of people I think we would prefer he didn't have," he says.

Media owners, too, are being forced to adapt their structures, as they grapple with the responsibility that integrated campaigns afford them. Jules Robinson, the vice-president, international advertising sales, EMEA at Discovery Networks Europe, believes it's vital to develop better working relationships with agencies. He says: "Media owners are having to get more involved in what creativity can exist around a central idea. We need to be consulted earlier. Then we could do a far better job. After all, we have the understanding of our audience. Working together is the way forward."

Yet, despite the best efforts of agencies and media owners to deliver true integration, there are some obstacles out of their control. And the most challenging of these is client culture.

"How many clients do we, sitting around this table, know who are not siloed themselves in structure?" Stuart Sullivan-Martin, the chief strategy officer at Mediaedge:cia, asks. "Not having a holistic view of how a campaign is pieced together at the client end is a challenge."

Another is the client brief. "We are still receiving briefs by discipline, such as a PR brief or a customer relationship marketing brief, rather than getting brand briefs saying: 'Here's the problem, what's the solution?'" Leih says.

A further obstacle is research - an area in which both agencies and media owners feel they've done as much as they can and need help.

While agencies have set out to develop their own proprietary research tools to measure integrated campaigns, there is still no industry standard.

The IPA's Touchpoints initiative has made an attempt, but the consensus is that, while a valiant effort, it still falls short. "What it did is take a bunch of flawed pieces of media research and tried to find a common currency from them. So all it did was just multiply the inefficiencies of each individual piece of research," Chippendale says. The solution, most agree, is for the research community to take this brief on from scratch and devise a new measurement method. But research agencies are proving slow to recognise and act on this opportunity, the panel agrees.

Yet the biggest question on everyone's lips is not about measurability, but about money. How can we get clients to pay us for our advice on how to blend media for the best results, and not just our execution?

"If a client pays you for your execution, whether that be digital, CRM or advertising, you automatically start from a hard place. Whereas if a client is paying you for your strategic consultancy advice in a neutral way, then it's an entirely different discussion," Sullivan-Martin says. He argues management consultants, research agencies ("if only they realised it") and communications planning agencies are the ones best placed to have these types of "neutral" conversations.

Media owners, in particular, are worried about how they will make this shift. Their systems and profit margins are geared around a spot-buying sales negotiation. "I wonder if we'll be able to bear the cost of moving away from those systems. If integration is what we are going to be asked to deliver, my question is can we really afford to deliver it in our current structures?" Chippendale enquires. Jones shares his concerns. "I can monetise on-air spots," she adds, "but it's hard to quantify things that aren't dots or spots".

Creative and media agencies are more optimistic. They believe that integration opens the door to being able to occupy the much coveted - but so far elusive - position of consultant, finally able to bill for their advice. "There is an opportunity at this point in time to act as consultants, because the landscape is quite scary now. A lot of people, including most agencies, let alone clients, don't fully comprehend it," Lindsay says. And Leih agrees, demanding: "Why should the Bains and McKinseys be sitting at the board-room table on this and not us?"

But to get acceptance as consultants, panellists agree that they need to be talking to the client's chief executive and not just the marketing manager or the director. The idea of needing to have these conversations "upstream" repeatedly crops up. But the very word "upstream" in itself accurately portrays the constant struggle against the status quo.

This struggle is poised to carry on as agencies, media owners and clients continue to experiment with what works and what doesn't.

So while many questions still hang in the air as the debate comes to a close, one thing was agreed as a certainty. There is no single "right" answer, and the future is likely to deliver as many solutions as there are companies positioned around this table.