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Opinion: What Do You Think About Integration?

Integration is a word that has been bandied around with abandon in the advertising industry for a long time, often to win new business or to placate clients. However, Steve Connelly, President of Connelly Partners, questions whether or not true integration actually exists in adland.

These days the word “integration” is the promise of the moment, the hypothetical birthplace of better, the word to drop at advertising parties and award shows to make you look smart and progressive.

But what does the word actually mean?

“What do you think?”

Many agencies think that by having all the skill sets and putting them under one roof, be it a literal roof at a hybrid agency or a metaphorical roof at a virtual agency, makes you “integrated.” But what if the skill sets are next to each other but don’t talk with each other? What if they exchange the obligatory pleasantries but spend most of their days head down in their own worlds? Desk neighbours will always ask “How ya doing?” But they don’t necessarily ask the more important question.

“What do you think?”

Integrated agencies that have all the parts but don’t work together are not really integrated. They are just garages of different kinds of cars. Under one roof but never firing on all cylinders.

And unfortunately for the clients they serve, that’s the reality. They have all the stuff, but it’s a collection of pieces rather than one machine.

See, here’s the thing. To do integration right, to add value to an agency’s ability to solve client challenges, it takes two things agencies that don’t want to spend: time and money. Especially holding company agencies, because for them time literally IS money.

“What do you think?” is not a question you ask a stranger. Well, you can but the reality is that’s generally lip service. To ask the question with an honest and sincere desire to hear and consider the answer requires more than proximity. It requires familiarity. Relationships. Respect.

It also requires investing in helping people get to know each other. And a relentless curiosity to hear other points of view. When people with different opinions and perspectives have the confidence to share those opinions and perspectives without hesitation, that’s what integration should really be. That’s when magic can happen. That’s when people together can do more for clients than people apart.

We all want to be part of a team. We are tribal beings. And when teammates respect each other enough to challenge each other, team success becomes far more rewarding than building the portfolio or winning an award. Self-interest fades, teamwork escalates and clients get better thinking.

Relationships take time to build. They take patience and a commitment to bringing people together to let familiarity blossom. With great people and with time, relationships inevitably develop, bias and self-interest fade, and there’s a singular, passionate focus on solving the problem, not who gets the credit.

Relationships take money to build too. In the short term, dedication to building relationships is inherently unprofitable. In the long term, it is creative gold.

“What do you think?” should never be four hollow words. They should always be a sincere ask for opinion and challenge from people who respect their teammates and have a common appreciation for diversity of thought.

Of course, I am ready to be challenged on this perspective.

So, what do you think?

Steve Connelly is President of Connelly Partners, the global agency, with offices in Dublin, Boston, and Vancouver.

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