True integration is a rare and beautiful thing. All too often mistaken for a multi-platform campaign, which also delivers a consistent look and feel across a variety of communication channels. True integration guides people on a brand journey across platforms, rather than simply delivering a common message whenever a consumer alights serendipitously upon the advertising. A posting on Wikipedia tells us that integrated communications should "permeate every planned and unplanned communication at every contact point where the customer or prospect may receive an impression of the company". True integration is teamwork; multi-platform is a bunch of individuals wearing team colours.
The need to integrate is driven by the consumer, and enabled by technology. It is underlined by more random and promiscuous behaviour than ever before in a fragmenting media landscape. Over the past decade, the personal media repertoire of the average consumer has changed beyond recognition, fuelled by new entrants into the media market and existing brands exploiting new platforms to extend the reach of their products.
As a media owner, we at News Group have embraced integration as a way of increasing the reach of our brands. We obsess about the look and feel of the three platforms we serve content to: paper, online and mobile. However, integration offers so much more than just breadth of reach. An integrated message, moving people across platforms with the promise of an enriched experience because of engaging in a different environment, brings a depth of relationship, which feeds brand loyalty in a way that singular platforms struggle to do. Our newspapers refer readers to more content online and on mobile and vice versa.
Dream Team, our fantasy football service, is a prime example of true integration. Of the 450,000 players who read either The Sun or News of the World, more than 90 per cent manage their 765,000 teams online. Moreover, we communicate with them with countless thousands of opt-in texts and expect a large proportion of them to sign up to 24/7 Football, our FA Premier League live goals on your mobile service, in partnership with Sky.
We have dismantled the old vertical silos in the sales team of display, magazines and digital, and introduced multi-platform hubs to deliver integrated thinking where and when our customers require it.
But I worry that integration is not something which is easily delivered in the current climate. For the past 20 years or more, specialism has been the fashion. The demise of the full-service agency has seen clients address each agency discipline in an a la carte fashion, picking a mix of specialists to deliver their communications strategy; oh, and a media auditor to make sure the price is right.
This structure does not lend itself to easy delivery of an integrated campaign. The question of who owns the sovereignty over the brand, the objectives and the planning and execution is something that is fought over between agencies and often within networks. It is becoming more common for the client to be the owner of the overall strategic vision, a position previously the preserve of the creative agency account planner. The business possesses all of the relevant skillsets to deliver on integration, it is just that they are spread across too many places; there are too few generalists to conduct what is an increasingly diverse and dispersed orchestra. Little surprise, then, that COI is looking to consolidate its roster into fewer agencies in this period of integrated thinking.
Research, too, struggles with integration. It is probably the area with the most silos of all, and silos are the enemy of integration. Each medium has its own research body or bodies. Readers, users, viewers and listeners are measured in a plethora of ways by a variety of companies. There is no consistency of measurement or reporting, and no single way of combining data across platforms. IPA Touchpoints has sought to take this bunch of previously mutually exclusive sources and provide a common currency, a kind of exchange rate mechanism for the industry. However, the mechanism is fuelled by the metrics of the old world, derived from individually flawed methodologies. Most of these rely on claimed behaviour of the consumer, where recent and habitual consumption gains greater prominence in the memory of the respondent and skews results. A common currency would be a way of assessing how many people had seen multiple messages, when, where and in what order. I fear that there are too many ingrained practices and systems for this to happen. It needs too much change, and change costs too much, in an industry struggling to make a buck.
However, the old metrics of "how many?" do not provide everything we need in the measurement of the added power of integrated communication.
The challenge for media owners and agencies is to provide insights into how exposure across platforms enhances the message and changes consumer behaviour. My worry is that the obsession with price versus the average market rate will prove an insurmountable barrier. I am not saying relative price should be ignored. We all have to ensure we are competitive in what we do, but price is just a part of the value equation where an integrated communications plan, dovetailing advertising with PR and promotions, seeks to deliver more than an average change in consumer behaviour.
Metrics aside, there are other qualities which bring a truly integrated approach to life: judgment, courage, intuition, experience and an instinctive feel for the consumer are money-can't-buy attributes. I believe these have to be present, in the first instance, at the client business, and should permeate throughout its agency network.
Brave clients deserve great results, and brave clients are integrating.
- Mark Chippendale is the media director at News Group Media.