The Online Essays: Ciaran Deering

Ciaran Deering from Tribal DDB argues that changes need to be made at the agency briefing stage to allow the best collaboration between the on- and offline worlds.

Offline and online, and how best to make both work hand in hand, is a frequently debated subject for those of us in online. We've learned from our experience of developing campaigns that have got it right and some which have got it wrong.

In discussing these campaigns and learnings with American colleagues, they have always rightly questioned our "above", "below" and "through-the-line" terminology. For them the idea is king, not the channel. Their point to a certain extent has manifested itself in the current vogue in the UK marketplace for media neutrality.

But rather than espouse a removal of the line or media neutrality and risk appearing the evangelist (personally I've had enough of online evangelists), I see things more simply. A few very simple changes in the way agencies are briefed can have an extremely encouraging effect on the quality and impact of an advertising campaign, regardless of its objectives.

These changes do not impinge on the fundamentals of developing effective marketing solutions; these remain the same regardless of the channel: develop a consumer insight, an understanding of a brand and its business objectives and apply that to your understanding of media channels.

So what are the changes we need to make to ensure a better offline-online integration? They are fewer than you think. In my view there are only two.

The first is the importance of establishing a role for online media.

I have a memory of television ads which consisted of a static board and a voiceover. Maybe I grew up watching particularly underdeveloped television channels but the point is that this was lazy advertising. It gave no consideration whatsoever to the strength of television as a medium.

Consider the most compelling TV ads today. They utilise the talent, production values and experience developed in a wider programming environment to create effective and emotive ads which harnesses the communal viewing experience.

In a similar fashion, a direct translation of an offline ad for use online is often entirely the wrong approach. Simply taking a line, a logo and an image and adapting it to an online advertising format adds little value to a campaign or consumer (and is tantamount to applying press and outdoor principles to television advertising).

The key is to establish what the role for online is at the early stages, or to rephrase, where the online channel can add value (if it doesn't add value it shouldn't be included in the marketing mix to start with).

We need always to ask the question: "How can online contribute towards the delivery of our advertisers' business and marketing objectives?"

Once this is established and agreed, online agencies can contribute to the development of a big idea, or work with one that has already been developed. Rather than "translate" it, they can "interpret" its use for online.

This is why at Tribal, we employ specialist digital planners and creative teams. A clarification of the role for online will inform the direction in which these planners and creatives will take a piece of online communication.

Thus we ensure that we play to the strengths of the medium, whether extending reach, engaging users, capturing data or developing a consumer dialogue.

The end result could be any of a number of solutions: a website, microsite, eCRM, online advertising, sponsorship or promotion - the list goes on.

Rather than retrospectively adapting an idea for online communication, establishing a role for online should take place at the early stages of the planning process and is best addressed within an integrated forum involving the client and their agency partners. This leads me to my second key point; involving online agencies at the briefing and planning stages.

This simple step is not heeded as often as it should be. The reasons for this to a certain extent are obvious. Their roots lie in the way the advertising and marketing industry is structured, the nature of client-agency relationships, remuneration structures and the inevitable agency political agendas.

As these are deep-rooted industry traits, and we can safely assume that they are not going to change over night, we need to have the resolve to work around these barriers. In doing so we can move towards a more effective "integrated" means of working.

The means of getting round these barriers lie in a fundamental element of our business - relationships. Ours is a relationship business, and the more collaborative and discursive relationships are formed between the various agency and client teams, the more enjoyable and successful the work produced is likely to be.

In order for this to happen, there needs to be a will on the part of a campaign's stakeholders to develop these more constructive relationships, the root of which has to be a shared desire to produce great advertising.

At DDB, we work in numerous integrated forums, because our clients need us to work in this way. All agency partners are present at the briefing and assimilate the same information at the same time. Separate planning sessions are conducted which again involve agency partners and in which the role for individual media and agencies is clearly defined. It is then up to those agencies to develop the most impactful solution to address the client's business and marketing objectives.

The end result is, in the main, a campaign which resonates in the correct way with the consumer regardless of channel. Additional results, and no less important, are more successful working processes and better working relationships.

My belief is that this means of working will become more pervasive with time, though granted, it may be a slow process. Rearranging the briefing and planning process can be a slight logistical headache, but the benefits and results more than compensate for the effort put in to instigate change.

Ciaran Deering is the managing director at Tribal DDB.


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