Why can’t you just integrate!!?

In bigger markets it is a common practice to split the advertising account between several agencies down into discipline. Ideally the direct would go to a direct specific agency, the above the line, to the above the line agency, and so on.

This sounds an ideal solution. You have the most competent agencies working on each part of your marketing plan. Also, it avoids a scenario where the one agency who does everything starts to become apathetic to the clients’ needs. Ie. Selling in the same work repeatedly, and using bully boy tactics to get their work through while at the same time becoming oblivious to client requests.

By splitting, the rationale is, you have smaller and more agile silos.

However, delving beneath the surface, this act of splitting can be incredibly damaging to a successful marketing campaign for a series of reasons.

1. Discipline Smiscipline.

One thing that ad agencies do a very good job at is hiding the fact that they are not as unique as what they like to believe themselves to be.

A digitally led agency will still sometimes do a bulk of direct mail work to pay the bills (it just won’t be on their website). An example of this is red hot ad shop, Weiden and Kennedy London, just winning the Tesco (supermarket retail) account. The disciplines that make these agencies different is partially a smoke and mirrors routine. Deep down below the surface, in the engine room of most agencies, there is a decision to grab a bigger piece of the pie, even if it contrasts with their own agency values. Digital agencies can do direct, below the line can do brand, and well, you get the idea.

Since the GFC this has become more and more obvious with agencies trying to branch out into all sorts of disciplines where they can value add or let’s be realistic here, make an extra buck off the client.

Recently I’ve seen all sorts of far fetched divisions pop up as a new offering from an ad agency.

Recent examples of these include:

  • An interior designing department inside an ad agency.
  • A TV production company inside an ad agency.
  • And my favourite, a comparison website for elderly people that was a functioning discipline inside an ad agency.

It all goes to show you that the discipline inside every ad agency is to create money, a specialist agency will branch out into whatever discipline they can as long as they can make money.

2. Different ad agencies leads to an inevitable war.

When a client works with many agencies, each ad agency is keen to impress. And after proving themselves to be competent on a few projects the question will almost certainly be asked by the ad agency, “can we have a go at some ads from a different department?” (we can do your direct work as well…) Even if the contract doesn’t pertain to the scope of this work, each agency will be active in pursuing in invading into another agency’s territory.

And the client will often be receptive. Just like a girl at a prom with 5 guys asking her to dance, who can really resist? especially if there’s no added cost to the situation. In fact the client may even use this to pursue a better deal with each of the agencies (“well agency x said they could do it for x amount and by x date, so why can’t you?”)

This behaviour is dangerous at best because it breeds something completely unhealthy in advertising. It creates rather than eagerness and agility it creates campaigns that are never in harmony.

3. Harmony? What harmony.

Sometimes it’s said that London is far behind the curveball when it comes to integrating their ad campaigns compared to agencies in cities that are in smaller countries (I’m guessing the same is more true in New York). This may well be accurate but it’s not because of the abilities of the creatives. Instead I think it lies in the fact that bad integration happens because all agencies from different disciplines compete with each other. And the way to compete is to stand out.

It is not uncommon to see a direct campaign that has a completely different thought, look and feel to the brand campaign that is running simultaneously. Far from integration, the outcome is anything but. And this is done because each ad agency is standing out and looking different so as to stand its ground with the client. Rather than an integrated and cohesive campaign, you often get a myriad of different voices, brand identities and thoughts all on the same piece of communication.

And this is embedded because quite often the clients are also fighting their own battles internally. The marketers in one division favour one agency over the marketers in another division that strongly favour another.

In a way the clients in each marketing department are also fighting their own egotistical battle to get the comms work from their department noticed and superimposed on other departments. Rather than one big strong thought that filters down into the channels you’re left with 4 or 5 encampments each with their own interpretation of what the idea is, and also how it should look and be executed.

4. The silver lining.

There is a silver lining to all of this. And it’s the fact that clients are slowly realising that splitting the work to different agencies doesn’t necessarily make the best outcome. They’re experiencing this with time delays, duplicate artwork being created, and a constant barrage of work that is being created outside of agencies’ jurisdiction meanwhile the work that has been requested is often delayed.

We’re slowly seeing a return to one agency being the gatekeeper for the brand from big TV ad to small retail insert. And it’s about time too. It’s not ideal for a bunch of other reasons, but at least it minimises work that is terribly integrated.


Also, don't forget that having an integrated agency means that the solutions they come up with can be discipline-neutral. If your agency is trying to sell hammers, they will try to make you think of all your problems as nails.And to stick with the analogies, if as a client you choose to sleep around rather than investing in a monogamous relationship, don't be surprised if you find yourself with a nasty case of genital warts.My advice in summary: A full toolbelt is better than a lone hammer, avoid genital warts.

posted by Zeldorado / 11.20.12 - 1:35 am
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