He said, He said

In this Strategy Direct+Interactive eight-part series, Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive's Bryan Tenenhouse and Steve Murray chew the fat on issues surrounding direct and interactive marketing - everything from 'How to give constructive feedback so you're getting what you want...

In this Strategy Direct+Interactive eight-part series, Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive’s Bryan Tenenhouse and Steve Murray chew the fat on issues surrounding direct and interactive marketing – everything from ‘How to give constructive feedback so you’re getting what you want from your agency’ to ‘Creative department employee retention: Nightmare on Elm Street.’ In this second installment, the duo discusses the buzz around ‘integration.’

Steve: You know what bugs me about ‘integration?’

Bryan: Nope. But I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.

Steve: The perception out there is that integration starts at the creative level. I mean, yes, there needs to be communication between general and direct creative teams. But the truth is, direct creatives and general creatives approach assignments differently. Their objectives are different. So integration is best served when it’s spearheaded by account management. You’re kidding yourself if you expect direct creative guys and general creative guys to sit down over a beer at the local pub to hammer out the big idea together.

Bryan: Right. If it truly is an integrated campaign requiring both mass and direct components, the big idea should be generated by the brand guys. The direct guys should be able to take that big idea and make it tactical and response oriented. We should also clarify that we’re not suggesting the direct guys fold up a mass ad into an envelope. They need to support the brand imagery while using proven DR tactics to make the sale or generate the lead immediately. It could be just a matter of picking up the fonts and graphic components or the visual identity, tone and manner from the general ad, then applying DR tactics and a concept to make the sale.

Steve: So it should all be driven by the business objectives. Who you’re going to use – direct or general – will be determined by the client’s business needs. Account management is close to the communication strategy developed by and with the client. Once the marketing plan has been developed, it’s account management’s job to pull in the resources that will make the plan come to life.

Bryan: In fact, we’ve found that integration works best when you have an account director who is ‘cross-functional.’ That is, they should be knowledgeable in both disciplines (mass and DR) to understand when to pull in the resources required to meet the communication objectives. We’re living this philosophy with our clients Sprint and ascenda, just to name two.

Steve: Exactly. We think of our account guy as the contractor. The campaign is the house. He needs to have it built quickly, by the right people doing the right jobs. He’s going to bring in specialists.

Listen, if you have an account person who is knowledgeable about both direct and mass, do whatever you can to keep them on the payroll. They’re rare. And they are your secret ‘integration’ weapon. If you don’t have one, we’d recommend growing your own. Or just make sure that the key account people from each discipline are in constant communication about the client’s business objectives to ensure they’re met. Then the appropriate resources from each discipline can fulfill on the agreed-to communication strategy.

Bryan: That’s all well and good, but the only way for that kind of cross-discipline collaboration to occur is for each side to truly be acting in the client’s best interests. And for that to happen, the key account people from each discipline need to have a mutual respect for what each can contribute to the communication plan.

Too often, direct is considered as an afterthought, rather than its own unique discipline. When direct is only paid lip service, the client suffers.

Steve: The art and science of direct needs to come first in creating and judging this kind of creative, rather than being force-fitted into something created or judged by general advertising people. When direct principles are overridden by a mass sensibility, your client’s business objectives are not going to be met and the program will not work as well as it could have.

Bryan: We’re not saying branding isn’t important. A strong mass campaign will enhance the effectiveness of your direct work. And a direct specialist will intuitively know how to capitalize on the brand’s attributes to strengthen the package. In fact, our direct creative guys are ‘brand stewards’ for the brand when it lives in a direct piece.

Steve: So now everybody’s probably thinking ‘what are the differences between direct and general creative anyway.’ There are many differences between advertising and direct. Perhaps the most important one is that direct is expected to make an immediate sale. Or to generate an immediate lead. Mass advertising is expected to build awareness, and establish an image for a product or company. Direct needs to turn customers who are not making you money into customers who are. Mass makes existing customers feel good about choosing your product or service. At the same time, direct acknowledges, retains and rewards profitable customers.

Bryan: Ultimately, in a best-case scenario, direct is about influencing an action in a person. Mass is about influencing the way a person thinks or feels. So achieving these very different objectives takes a very different kind of talent. A different skill set.

Steve: By recognizing these differences and acknowledging the strengths of each discipline within your agency, you’re sure to get the best result for your client. The trick is allowing a ‘cross-functional’ account person to draw on the appropriate resources while maintaining constant communication between these specialists. Who’s ultimately going to benefit from this philosophy of integration? Your client.

Bryan Tenenhouse is SVP, creative director at VBDI. Collaborator Steve Murray is also SVP, creative director at VBDI. They can be reached at (416) 487-6446 or on the Web at www.vbdi.com.