Integrated message pulling industry apart

Carol Fisher’s criticisms of integrated marketing may have been brutal, but they have made the old school sit up and take notice

The high profile argument over integrated campaign planning between COI Communications (COI) chief executive Carol Fisher and Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) president Bruce Haines has brought into the open an issue which, observers say, has been bubbling under the surface for some time.

It’s a situation which the IPA, the COI and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) will be trying to resolve over the coming months. Agencies say they are not being paid enough to create integrated campaigns, while Fisher argues it is a cultural issue and agencies need to adapt to new forms of advertising, such as ambient media and the Internet.

Fisher was so disappointed at agencies’ efforts in creating an integrated campaign in a recent pitch that she sent them all away to plan further.

The fact that it has taken an event such as the ISBA conference to bring the issue into the open is cause for concern in itself. Fisher was unavailable to speak at the time of going to press, but told Marketing Week last week that she was surprised agencies don’t challenge the COI’s approach more often.

She says: “We feel some agencies are missing the mark and would expect a robust debate [about it]. I would like to work with passionate people.”

But as she controls a &£192m budget, Fisher is a person agencies can’t risk falling out with. One COI roster source says: “There is nothing I like less than going on the record about the COI.” Another commented: “I’m scared of her.”

But the agencies that did speak accept her argument that the industry has been slow to react to the challenges of emerging channels.

BMP DDB chairman Chris Powell is realistic about agencies’ ability to create integrated campaigns. He says: “It’s probably true to say all agencies are struggling. It’s hard enough to do a traditional campaign. We haven’t got good enough at developing integrated campaigns.”

He believes the old culture is holding agencies back. But he adds: “It is breaking down and there is a much greater acceptance of media neutrality, but agencies are also having to cut corners to create campaigns because of tighter margins.”

HHCL & Partners managing director Nick Howarth agrees: “Most agencies think in terms of television then work out how to fit it into other channels. We need to start coming up with different ideas.”

The signs were there last year when, as part of the COI’s roster review, Fisher appointed eight strategic planning agencies. At the time Fisher commented: “Creative agencies and media planners need to recognise the importance of specialist audiences.”

Derek Morris, managing partner of COI strategic planning agency Unity, thinks that agencies have not responded. He says: “Agencies are not channel neutral because they are still factories that make ads. The creatives think in terms of TV so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

One agency that has shown willing is Publicis. The agency has integrated its non-advertising operations to create a division called Publicis Dialog Group, which comprises both the direct marketing and digital divisions.

Publicis managing director Grant Duncan believes that having the profit and loss of the divisions integrated into one offering makes a big difference to the creative approach. He says: “The senior account manager isn’t worried about turf-war issues, such as whether to give work to the direct marketing side, he is interested in what is right for the client.”

However, clients must also learn to adapt and one issue highlighted at the ISBA conference is that clients are also struggling to come to terms with the digital age and still see a comfort zone in TV and press.

HSBC marketing general manager Ian Ogilvie is supportive of alternative channels, but argues that a level-headed approach must be taken. He says: “You’ve got to start with the basics – who is your target market and what role can each medium play in reaching them? It’s got to come back to the question, ‘What are you trying to achieve?'”

The issue of remuneration also needs to be addressed. Howarth argues that there must be a change in the way agencies are paid. He says: “Agencies need to find a way of tying their success to remuneration. Success is still based on measurements, such as awareness rather than commercial success.”

Jon Wilkins, a partner in Naked Communications, says procurement experts are increasingly driving down agency charges, which is hampering the industry. He adds: “Clients have to be willing to pay for extra skill sets.”

ISBA is planning to get finance directors from client and agency sides to sit down and discuss ways of improving the remuneration structure. Debbie Morrison, director of membership services at ISBA, says: “Six years ago there were about six people doing marketing procurement, now there about 100.”

ISBA is also planning to create a client panel that will meet IPA members to address integration. Morrison says it’s an issue that isn’t going away. She adds: “More clients are searching for ideas. There are very few briefs that just want a TV campaign.”

Agencies have been slow to move with the times, but Fisher is giving them yet another wake-up call. They agree that they need to teach their staff to start creating ideas rather than campaigns. But unless there is some sort of shift in the way clients – or more to the point management – view the value of advertising, agencies may find themselves put in a financial straitjacket. It’s down to the IPA and ISBA to work out a compromise.

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