United Front

Many companies are waking up to the power of integration, but how can they ensure they’re getting seamless solutions?

Chris Parry, chief executive of Impact FCA!, is the Jimmy Hill of marketing services. His neat commentary on integration effectively sums up the ideal scenario: “A football team is made up of 11 players, all given specific roles to achieve through the course of the game but with one objective – to score goals. A defender defends, an attacker attacks and a sweeper sweeps but each is expected to have an excellent understanding of the roles of his team mates. Together they are a team and operate as such.

“And so it should be with integration – whether it is direct marketing, advertising, sales promotion or public relations – all players should be working together to achieve a common goal.”

But all too often clients are offered a poor substitute and end up as the marketing equivalent of a floundering Manchester City rather than a triumphant Manchester United.

There is no doubt that integration is currently fashionable. Some clients have embraced the concept warmly – after all, on the surface it offers considerable benefits including heightened brand awareness, closer, more accurate dialogue with consumers and cost and time savings. However, others have been slower to go down the integrated road.

Richard Bainbridge, managing director of Ogilvy & Mather Direct, says: “While few would argue with the need to harmonise approach and strategy through the line, not all companies do. Most advertisers spend a lot of time and money above the line but do not stick to their brand strategy below the line – it is madness not to build on the consumer franchise you already have.”

Bainbridge adds: “Integration does not mean slavishly adhering to an above-the-line campaign in every activity – by using the same TV personality on every piece of direct marketing or sales promotional material, for example. But it does mean focusing on a central strategy that can then be applied and adhered to by every company working on each aspect of the campaign – from advertising to direct marketing, from PR to point of sale.”

That is Bainbridge’s definition of integration and one that would find favour with both marketing services companies and clients. Synergy between all the disciplines is the key factor. Integration is also especially beneficial to clients for whom customer loyalty is essential, such as airlines and car companies where there is a long lead-time between purchases. It can also help international brands which need to consolidate a local presence in different markets while maintaining core brand values.

But it is how this level of integration is achieved that is a matter of endless argument. Matthew Hooper, managing director of Interfocus, which was recently bought by the Lowe Group, says: “There are a lot of agencies out there describing themselves as integrated and that is because the market is moving that way – it’s what clients are demanding. It can make for much closer working relationships and it is cost effective because clients don’t have to pay three different sets of fees.”

Unfortunately, every marketing services company, whatever its specialism, has its own definition of what makes an integrated agency integrated and this is often widely at variance with that provided by another. For example, in the course of researching this piece Marketing Week was inundated with press releases from companies all claiming to be fully integrated even if they are just a small sales promotion or design company dabbling in a bit of PR on the side and working completely in isolation on brands that are clearly struggling.

And stuck in the middle of all this are the clients, caught in a semantic exercise when all they want is a way of building and sustaining the success of their brand.

Perhaps the easiest way of defining integration is by separating those agencies that claim to be integrated into two.

Firstly, there are those that operate across all disciplines within one agency with one profit centre and one creative, account and planning team working on the brand using a mix and match approach including TV advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion and even Internet sites. Secondly, there are those that offer clients an integrated solution but work closely with separate companies to achieve the end result. It is an intra- versus inter-company debate and much depends on the client’s point of view.

Steve Barton, group account director at Ogilvy & Mather Direct, working on IBM, says that a client’s attitude to integration depends both on its own structure and corporate personality and that of its advertising agency.

“Some companies recognise the benefits of an integrated approach,” he says, “others have separate departments to oversee different aspects of marketing and prefer to work with a number of different agencies on each aspect of the campaign.”

In the former category – those that work across all disciplines for clients – is HHCL & Partners which offers clients what it terms a 3D approach. This reaches its apotheosis in a brand such as Tango for which HHCL has created the anarchic TV commercials, together with radio advertising featuring a direct response telephone number.

The agency has also been involved in sales promotion – for example creating a Tango doll – direct marketing, public relations – including a number of stunts such as getting Tango characters into live news broadcasts – trade marketing, including ads in Urdu aimed at Asian shop keepers, live events and the creation of an Internet site.

It is a policy that HHCL is extending to other accounts including Golden Wonder’s Pot Noodle which centres on its cultish hero, “gorgeous” Terry, and his campaign against “faffy food”.

The DMB&B Communications Group, which comprises D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, IMP and the Media Centre, is one agency that claims to be the only UK operation to offer “a top-five” specialist business in each of the core disciplines – above the line, below the line, and media buying and planning.

Chairman John Farrell defines integration as “both a concept and a process”.

“At the conceptual level, it’s about capturing a single thought which expresses what we wish the brand to really stand for and ensuring that this thought is expressed, whatever the medium.

“At the process level, it is about ensuring that the development and implementation of communications lives up to that brand thought, and drives forward the relationship between the brand and the consumer,” he says.

Impact FCA! is also taking a fully integrated approach. Parry says: “Clients do not have the luxury of time – or money – to spend on a multiplicity of agencies working to satisfy a number of different marketing requirements. Our approach supplies the solution since all the various needs are met under a single marketing umbrella.

“The client can benefit from the shared history of the disparate disciplines working together on a regular basis.”

The way this works in practice, he says, is that “the client has dealings with only one cost centre; the client has contacts with a single planner across all the disciplines and the client communicates with only one creative and one account director”.

However, he adds that clients do not have to use all the disciplines contained in the agency and that for some clients direct marketing or sales promotion may be a better approach than a full-blown TV advertising campaign.

Shaun McIlrath, joint creative director of Impact FCA!, adds: “Integration is not about having a couple of teams in the basement folding up the ad concept and putting it into the envelope – it is about using each discipline to deliver the campaign message in the most powerful way possible. It means quite simply that the TV campaign is not always going to be your creative starting point. “

Impact FCA! has applied the integrated approach to the launch of a new home insurance company called Help. McIlrath says that while brand-building above the line is designed to create desirability and below the line attainability, an integrated approach was the only way to ensure the launch struck the right balance between the two.

The other approach to integration is to use separate companies or those that are part of a group but have separate profit centres. Ogilvy & Mather for example, takes a totally integrated approach to the IBM and American Express accounts, although works through different profit centres. Both accounts are huge and demand synergy across not only different disciplines but also widely diverse local markets.

Some clients prefer this approach often because they do not want to put all their eggs in one basket. Others like it because they have already established good strong personal relationships with a number of different companies and would prefer to use their specialist knowledge while at the same time demanding that they work closely with the other companies they have also selected to work on a given brand.

But despite the arguments about what exactly constitutes an integrated agency or which approach is the most practical, inevitably, says Bainbridge, “clients want seamless solutions. They want to ensure that all elements from advertising to point of sale to direct mailings link the core brand values at every level”.

“Get this right and the rewards can be great. They are not interested in ‘lines’ or who does what. It’s our job to deliver an integrated team of people with the appropriate mix of technical skills. Every penny spent, whether above or below the line should not only deliver results but build the brand.”

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