Take integration at its very basic level: the integration of creative and media thinking. Surely this is about as fundamental as it comes - combining the conception of the message with insight into where and how it will be received. Well, you'd like to think so, wouldn't you. But at a lunch with one of the UK's most successful creative agencies recently, the creative director was challenged to name three media agencies. Shockingly he struggled and only after much sweating managed to scrape two names together.
So then I called another couple of creative directors and asked them the same question. One only managed to name his own group media company.
The other strangely couldn't name his sister media agency but did manage to come up with two others. None of them could name three media agencies.
Just to satisfy myself that this wasn't simply a disease affecting the industry's creative elite, I called the broadcast director of one of the UK's biggest media agencies and asked what he thought about a couple of new ads from some of his bigger clients. He hadn't seen them, though the airtime they were running in had been negotiated and booked by his department.
So, integration phooey. Yes, there are more and more examples of creative, strategic, media, DM, digital and PR agencies all sitting round the same table working on comms strategies for some progressive clients. But on any meaningful, industry-wide level, there's clearly an awfully long way to go.
Yet some big clients and the big marketing services groups are determined to make integration a fully functioning reality. Last week, the Wall Street Journal was marvelling over the introduction of the job title "chief holistic officer" at Publicis (no sniggering ... after all, adland Brits now boast titles such as "director of difference" and "head of freshness").
Ridiculous as the Publicis job title sounds, it is a reflection of attempts to move beyond traditional agency silos and find new ways of signalling an integrated approach that does not obsess about TV ads as the ultimate solution. And it's an inevitable trend.
Omnicom has already outlined its intention to transform each of its agency networks into mini integrated holding companies. It's John Wren's response to the holding company approach taken by WPP, where WPP has become a shop window for an array of services. Wren wants his networks to operate in the same way, but with Omnicom remaining in the background. The process has been quietly underway for some time and this week's appointments of Cilla Snowball and Chris Thomas in group roles embracing above- and below-the-line creativity is simply the latest example.
Meanwhile, in New York Ogilvy & Mather is bringing all its internal P&L divisions under a single structure and the UK operation is expected to follow suit.
But it's impossible to over-estimate the human barriers that integration must overcome. Not only are there plenty of fiefdoms, egos and salary structures that mitigate against true integration. But the fact remains that many advertising practitioners have very little interest in the world beyond their particular discipline: ask your average creative director or TV buyer.
And even once these barriers have been overcome, a bigger challenge awaits.
As anyone who worked in the old full-service agencies will acknowledge, being under one roof does not necessarily a happy integrated team make.
Until there is real respect for what each element of the communications process has to offer and an end to the latent snobbery against, say, media or DM, integration will remain simply an ambition rather than an accomplishment.