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The Gravitational Pull of Integration

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The debate about integrated solutions is far from over particularly now that the lines between social, advertising, PR and activation have been blurred, writes Jimmy Murphy.

I was out for dinner with a senior client from one of the country’s biggest advertisers the other night. Not a client of mine I might add so felt safe in ‘hopping the ball’ on something I’ve been thinking about recently. I asked her, ‘how would you feel if your creative agency hired a media director?’. I expected an open mind (she’s a progressive client) but I didn’t expect the response I got. To say she welcomed the idea is an understatement. She took it and ran with it, imagining the pleasure of dealing with one strategic source, the benefits of a short communications chain, the cost efficiencies, the daydream went on.

Now I’m not suggesting that media and creative agencies are about to embark on a wave of re-integration but what I have observed, in both our world in any market, if the consumer wants something, there is gravitational force exerted and eventually suppliers will fall in line.

This gravitational pull has already seen a raft of integration between digital, above the line and below the line disciplines in creative shops. The agencies with separate P&Ls for separate disciplines have struggled to appear media neutral and this can be a source of frustration for the clients I speak to.

Digital, and particularly social, has meant that the lines between advertising, PR and activation have been blurred. We now have PR people working in ad agencies and PR agencies making what would once have been classed as advertising. Calling the output ‘film’ or ‘content’ smooths some feathers but if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…..

For me, this is an inefficient market. Inefficient markets attract ambitious competition. When the rules change and a market is slow to react, new entrants can exploit the gaps.

The need for integration has been amplified by digital. Powerful as it is, it’s hard to get away from the fact that it’s complicated as hell to serve multivariate copy into programmatic campaigns and monitor the results in real time. We make out like it’s a seamless, automated process but in reality there’s a little too much human input required; and this means balls will get dropped.

For me, this is an inefficient market. Inefficient markets attract ambitious competition. When the rules change and a market is slow to react, new entrants can exploit the gaps. In our industry, these new entrants are the consultants. They are masters of adapting their offerings to match the needs of clients. They will emphasise the need for design oriented, born-in-digital communications strategies that integrate with the clients own internal systems. They preach the gospel of true integration and they have brands that clients trust (and can sell upstairs). Creative agencies will say ‘yeah, but do they have a creative culture?’. The answer is often ‘no, but they can buy one!’. Witness Accenture’s purchase of Karmarama. A consulting blue-blood paying eye-watering multiples for a creative middle-weight. As Scott Galloway memorably yelled from the stage of the Lumiere Theatre in Cannes this year, “Wake up people, they’re on your F**king Beaches”

So. What to do. Double down on creativity and wait for the Accenture chequebook to come knocking? Could be a plan if you’re an independent agency but it strikes me that the gravitational pull could topple you before pay-day. Or do we beat them at their own game;  give up the petty turf wars, fully integrate all of our current disciplines and deepen our expertise in digital transformation. Are clients in a place where they’re willing to hand over a business critical digital transformation to an ‘advertising agency’?

I don’t have the answer. I’ll defend either strategy of you want to debate it. I just enjoy a good row.

I don’t understand the first thing about physics. People who do have explained to me how definitive it is. There is no debating with a black hole. You either find a way to deal with it, or you will disappear.

Live long and prosper.

In association with APMC

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ September 2017)© to order back issues please call 016611660