Mark Ritson: Only integration can wrestle us from our social media obsession

Ok, I have to be honest. I had never heard of R3. Apparently in its day job R3 helps companies maximise their agency reviews, remunerations and relationships – hence the name. I have no idea if it is any good at any of those tasks, but it surely has done every marketer a favour with its new report on marketing communications published this week.

Ritson featured image

Entitled “Integration 40”, the report has sifted through the various big brand campaigns of the last 12 months and selected the forty that it believes represent the very best in integration. As R3 themselves accept at the outset of the report, integration means many different things in marketing these days. But its team have done a skilful job of looking across global campaigns to opt for those that demonstrate both the right process for integration and, ultimately, the most impressive results.

I am particularly passionate about integration because I believe it is the only way we can get out of the current social-media obsession with the least amount of egg on our disciplinary faces. While it’s clear that the whole raft of social media tools that have emerged in recent years augment and extend our marketing toolkit, only a moron would isolate them at the expense of the bigger strategic picture and the other equally appealing tools of the trade. It appears our discipline has forgotten pretty much everything it should have learned during the communications tussles of yesteryear.

Twenty years ago, for example, was a fascinating period in marketing history. The traditional commission based models of advertising remuneration were breaking down and forcing many to question TV advertising’s hegemonic control over most big brands. Meanwhile the PR industry was flexing its muscles and attempting to assert its place as a genuine contender for client investment. At the same time, the era of direct marketing had ushered in a range of effective tools that could not only prove their worth but did so with almost immediate ROI calculations. Finally, sales promotions had begun to demonstrate the power of a simple discount versus fluffy above the line approaches.

Just when it looked like it was going to get very messy, a bunch of smart Americans – most notably Professor Don Schultz from Northwestern University – started to build a new school of communications planning that became known as “IMC” or Integrated Marketing. IMC was cool stuff because it started to espouse genuinely interesting models for marketing planning like zero based budgeting and media neutrality that could end the internecine battles driving clients to distraction and provide a path to better marketing communications.

But before you knew it the internet arrived and everything went a bit mental again. Then came search and social and it got even more bonkers. Marketers became obsessed with tactics rather than strategy and the broader drivers of communication success. Run a Google search for “Integrated Marketing Communications” these days and you get a bunch of MBA courses and a lot of book chapters. In other words it never really bit into managerial communications planning practice.

Until now. The reason R3’s report made me so happy this week was that it seemed to literally take up where Schultz and his colleagues left off. The report presents a complex and very nuanced overview of what drives the most impactful integrated campaigns. Yes you need a big idea. But equally important you need a structure to enable great campaign design to work.

In R3’s analyses of the forty best examples it spies six different alternative approaches to integration success (below). No one model necessarily spells strategic success but a lack of clarity on what model the client and agency are applying, and indeed who is in charge of the integration process spells disaster.


For R3 the ingredients for success are simple. Make sure your marketing team are well trained even if that means spending up to 10% of your budget each year to get there. You need a big idea more than ever to drive and integrate the disparate executional elements. Then you need the right process with clarity of roles and responsibility. Put the right incentives in place and you have a recipe for long term communication success and, equally important, an answer to the social-media-solves-everything stupidity that currently haunts our profession.



There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Geoff Mann 16 Apr 2015

    Dear Mr Ritson, Although I believe you to be correct in your standing regarding social media and its proliferation of global industry media, it has unfortunately and ironically led to the majority of your otherwise engaging musings to be led by the topic, like a dj at a wedding playing cheesy 90’s pop interjected by the odd blast of hip hop. How do you conduct research on what your loyal audience wants to hear about?

    • mark ritson 19 Apr 2015

      Hi Geoff

      Yeah I do take the point and I dont, unfortunately, disagree. I have been trying not to write about the vacuous world of social media as much if at all because I have become a bit of broken record. In this week’s instance however please feel free to disregard the same old crap from me on socal but do look hard at the R3 stuff on integration. I appreciate the title makes it look like this week is all about ‘integration will save us from social’, but in truth I was actually trying to talk about the return to integrated marketing (which I do think is a huge trend just wait and see) and all the big advantages it bestows on marketers. One of them is stopping us going mental over social media tactics versus thinking harder about marketing strategy (there I go again) but there are others big wins here too:

      – efficient comms planning
      – the role of the big idea to not only differentiate but unify a campaign
      – zero base budgeting
      – agency / client optimisation

      so yes you are right and thanks you the punch in the balls. But there is more than one string to the IMC bow….

      • Geoff Mann 19 Apr 2015

        Thanks for the reply Mark. Your articles are always great and they are the one shining beacon in amongst the bland social commentary. Keep it up!

  2. Al King 16 Apr 2015

    Inspiring stuff. It does indeed seem to take up where
    Schultz et al left off. One has to be strategic, embrace the complexity and put social media in a wider context to drive truly integrated campaigns. I’m a big fan of
    the lead agency model by the way (SMV & BBH if you’re interested).

  3. Your point about us forgetting a lot of powerful marketing lessons strikes a really strong chord with me – there’s increasingly a lot of talk about the ‘digital skills gap’ and the need to train marketers on the nuances of digital, but there’s a bigger worry that a new generation of marketers might come through knowing all the details of these shiny toys but without a view of how they all fit together… Or the power of some of our older tools.

    Though social media, when approached as a serious media channel, is a pretty powerful toy 😉

  4. PR Smith 20 Apr 2015

    Mark – excellent stuff as always. However, isn’t IMC now replaced by UX which forces us to empathise & integrate even more rigorously than ever before? Incidentally Donald Schultz told me (10 years ago) that he felt the UK was way ahead of the USA on database marketing (I think he was impressed by Dunn Humby, Tesco et al). Interesting whispers that UK marketing automation, clever algorithms & new personalised targeting are ahead of USA?
    Coincidentally, I’m changing my Marcomms book subtitle from ‘integrating offline and online with social’ (2011, 5th ed) to: ‘analyse engage integrate: offline & online’ (2015, 6th ed). Any examples are welcome for inclusion in the book.

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