Roundtable: The trouble with integration

The 'I' word has existed for some time now, but marketers and agencies still haven't quite figured it out.

The ‘I’ word has existed for some time now, but marketers and agencies still haven’t quite figured it out.

Consider a new survey from the U.S.-based Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which polled more than 85 major advertisers on the topic of integrated marketing communications (defined as ‘a strategic business process used to create measurable brand communications programs across multiple channels with one consistent message.’) It revealed that 67% have developed integrated marketing programs, but only 33% are satisfied with their efforts. Most blame organizational issues, particularly the existence of ‘functional silos’ within their own walls. But many marketers are also frustrated with their agency partners, who have not been able to assume a general contractor-type role.

To get at what other stumbling blocks remain, and to see if a resolution may be imminent, strategy brought together folks from both sides…


Joan McArthur, instructor, advertising and writing, Ontario College of Art and Design

The Panel

Andrew Bridge, director, brand and communications, Virgin Mobile, Toronto

Megan Johnson, marketing manager, Sherway Gardens, Cadillac Fairview, Toronto

Brett Marchand, SVP, managing director, Cossette Communication-Marketing, Toronto

Rosalie McGovern, director, marketing strategy, RBC Royal Bank, Toronto

Steve Meraska, SVP, business development, Leo Burnett, Toronto

Bob Shropshire, president, Dentsu Canada, Toronto

McArthur: Every one of you comes from a different angle and you are involved with different businesses. So it would be interesting to talk about how you deal with an integrated project. How is the strategy decided, how is the creative content decided, how is the media decided and then who manages it?

Bridge: At Virgin, we [have what we call] the hub and spoke network of partner agencies. We have a lead equity agency, which is Zig, and they work lock-step with our other partner agencies.

Grace [Castaneda], who’s our coach at Zig is responsible for orchestrating. Zig will come up with a few concepts and they’ll socialize the idea. But I’ll see builds from the other agencies that will change a brand idea from the equity agency. There has to be a behaviour that’s non-preciousness. And the turf wars of who did what, you have to check that at the door, or else it’s not going to work.

McArthur: Do any of the other marketers have a different way of working?

McGovern: We integrate internally. It starts with the consumer insight, and then it’s making sure we’re hitting with the right message at the right time. That’s how we’ve been able to achieve pretty good integration, especially with our recent Avion campaign.

Once we have our plan, we bring in all the various players internally and go through it with them, and make sure they understand the overall objectives, what’s important to the consumer and how their particular area plays a role.

And then we work with BBDO, our main agency. Their job is to make sure they are presenting something that can be implemented across the board. In the meantime, all the other agencies are working on ideas, and as the concepts come through, we show that to the various agencies to see how they can put their spin on it. Part of my role is to make sure that when all these things are coming together [it's consistent]. We have weekly meetings where we share ideas and [look at] what the problems and constraints are.

Meraska: Sometimes one of the hurdles of integration is that there’s no alignment between the agencies and the clients when it comes to what integration means. Because some people will say it’s the same colour scheme across different pieces. But there’s another level, which is strategic integration, and that can work without having the same piece of communication [deployed] in different ways.

Bridge: You don’t want to integrate for integration’s sake. We had a discussion yesterday about in-store retail presence. Should our ad campaign come to life at retail? Or should it just be brand look and feel that has longevity and consistency? It may be a different look, but that’s okay.

McArthur: It’s interesting that you talk about integration for integration’s sake. Megan, maybe you can talk about your experience.

Johnson: Cadillac Fairview owns and operates shopping centres. We have an overall value proposition that we have to share with our markets, but it’s a different interpretation at each place. With that comes a different budget with each product. So what we have done is try to become as educated as we can about all the different vehicles available to us. We can’t possibly hit all of the target media that would talk to all of our potential customers, so our approach is to go very deep and dominant in one or two media.

Bridge: Virgin budgets are 10% of those of our competitors, and we have to make those decisions too. So integration doesn’t mean shouting at every touch point, it means

making sure where we shout, we shout it in the right way.

Meraska: You could integrate with a single medium in a smart way. It’s not a matter of you need seven channels to be integrated.

McArthur: In the ANA study, marketers rank organizational issues as the greatest challenge of successfully integrating their marketing efforts. Agencies want to be the brand custodians, yet at the same time a lot of marketers feel they are in a much better position to handle this job.

Shropshire: The issue falls into one of three categories. People – do they know enough about the various ways to communicate to be the ones leading that charge? There’s a financial issue too. You divide the agency into silos and you reward the people at the top of all those silos based on their profitability. The motivation isn’t to spread the money out to where it makes the most sense, it’s to protect and hoard the revenue.

Then there are structural issues. [All our clients are] struggling with the same issue. Most of them want the integration expert to be the lead agency, but not many clients want to compensate you for that.

Marchand: The fundamental issue is that the hierarchy of most agencies is backwards: geography first, then discipline and client third. I don’t know how you do great convergent, integrated campaigns, if that’s the structure.

At Cossette, we don’t have the multinational part of the geography. The benefit is that the agency was built in Quebec City, where it had to do everything for McDonald’s. They saw integrated, convergent thinking, and said: I bet you could do it in Toronto as well, and the West.

McArthur: But I would assume that Blitz and Fjord are separate profit centres.

Marchand: No, we have a matrix actually. We do Blitz and Fjord, but we also look at clients, total convergent revenue and profit and product across the clients. Yesterday was my business plan. I presented what Toronto looks like, but before that six people stood up, and said: ‘Here’s convergently and nationally what McDonald’s’ business will look like over the next year.’

So I have a bunch of people who report to me who run national businesses. And it’s the exact same way we run campaigns. It starts with a convergent leader, and it’s sort of the coach that Andrew’s talking about. I have yet to see that at any other big agency, mostly because geography gets in the way. If I have clients across 15 countries, who’s the client leader, and who does he report to?

Meraska: For me integration is not all about proximity. It’s driven by a good idea first and foremost. But then in order to execute it, it’s driven by people who have the aptitude to do it. I wonder if we’re bringing the right people in, or we’re still hiring in yesterday’s environment.

McArthur: I’m interested in the solution Virgin has with [their Zig coach] – what is the background of that person and how much control do they have? How do they have that authority?

Bridge: Grace Castaneda ran the Rogers wireless business at MacLaren, so had a big agency cross-discipline background and category experience. And actually we had to recruit her into Zig, because that person wasn’t there.

She’s lock step with our media guy [Jeff Wills of Toronto's Wills & Co.], making sure that the media piece integrates based on all of our consumer insight work. So you have the coach and the media person really closely connected.

Shropshire: What’s important for us is, if you control the budget, you control everything. If you don’t control the budget, you really have no power for what happens throughout the integration process. We say, we will control the budget and take care of the integration, but many clients think, I can get a better deal if I go direct to these other agencies. So then everything changes, the politics start to fly and it’s in those cases that you’ve lost the power to be the lead agency.

Marchand: Budget’s an interesting point. Agencies used to be experts on how to spend their clients’ money. Clients are [the experts] now. If agencies are ever going to get back the leadership role, they need the tools and expertise on how clients should spend money to be more efficient, to build their brands and get more traffic.

Shropshire: Integrating is a nightmare [for big clients] because the people who are the top of each silo control the budget in that area, and they have no interest in what this guy over here is doing, because it doesn’t fit their objectives.

McGovern: It’s something that we’re really working towards at RBC, because it is a struggle. There are business units that are obviously responsible for results. And they’re putting so much of their bottom line towards marketing activities, but usually don’t have a lot of marketing expertise. So over the last couple of years we have had marketers work very closely with the business units to make sure they’re comfortable with where their marketing dollars are going to be spent, and it’s getting them to buy into the overall strategy.

Johnson: The one component that a client always has to bring is the passion. The client has to be the one who really gets it the most. And if you have difficulty sharing that vision then there’s already a problem. To have it orchestrated, yes makes it easier, but then again who brings to the table the instinct and the insight? That’s what we’re there to provide so I don’t think we want to hand it over.

McArthur: Apparently there are a lot of people who do and they are frustrated with agencies. Do you think it’s because agencies should be able to do it, or do you think there’s no way they can have the depth and breadth of knowledge that the marketer has?

McGovern: I think it can be a logistics thing. There are very few people like Grace. I’ve worked with two other people in my whole life who can do that. There’s also turnover within agencies, there are changes of account. And on the client side you tend to have people in place a bit longer. So can an agency get the talent and keep them to do that? The reality is it’s just harder.

Shropshire: I’ll give you a Japanese perspective from our head office in Tokyo. Most of the clients have been there for a very long time. People don’t leave the agency, so they don’t have turnover issues. And Dentsu controls all of the media as well – they own newspapers and TV stations. And they don’t feel like they have integration figured out.

Agencies have to start with organizational and structural changes that really address some of the issues. One of the things we did when we hired David Cairns as the head of our media group, we purposely didn’t call him media director, we called him director of communication planning. But that’s a baby step. We need to take that notion and really expand it.

Marchand: It’s interesting what Mother has done in the U.K. The whole idea is a table. It isn’t an art director and writer in a room trying to figure out what the idea is, it’s a group of people who are multi discipline trying to attack problems for the client.

Meraska: I remember working nine years ago with Elspeth [Lynn] and Lorraine [Tao], and we were doing some really neat integrated work. And the president of the agency at Leo Burnett came to us and said: ‘Can you guys write your process out?’ We said: ‘We don’t know, we go to Elspeth’s house and lie around the floor watching Melrose Place and come up with ideas.’

It’s not about delivering an ad, or delivering something that can be integrated, it’s delivering an idea that represents a solution, and it’s having the right people. If people are going to sit around a roundtable in another country or on the floor in Toronto, I don’t know what the process is. You can’t put it in a box and say a, b, c, d connected to e, then over here is f and then this person gets rolled into this part. It’s not that simple.

McArthur: One topic we haven’t addressed is the fact that media has moved up to the forefront. All of a sudden, media agencies have an overview that almost no other discipline has. So I’d be interested in hearing about that.

Marchand: I just don’t see how a standalone big media shop can fulfil the role [of orchestrator], because it’s a hell of a lot more profitable to go out and do a huge 52-week TV buy than it is to figure out how to place a poster in every single barbershop across the country.

Meraska: What’s happened in the media world is they have created different disciplines with the expertise to deliver the kinds of solutions [marketers] are looking for. The problem is that those people are too siloed. Not that they necessarily don’t want to do integrated work, it’s they don’t know how. The digital guy doesn’t in some cases have the aptitude to understand what’s going to happen on TV and the relationship between TV and digital. That’s where it gets lost.

And a lot of media people aren’t trained to understand what a brand is, or how to bring that to life, because a lot of media is execution. Part of my new role at Leo Burnett is to help them think about their media selection and choice inside of a brand context as well as helping the creative, account teams and the clients think about messaging in more of a media context.

But I would venture to say that no media agency is booking 52 weeks of TV because it’s easier for them to do. The reason is the client wants to save money. So long before creative is even talked about, this 52 weeks of TV is purchased. Now you’ve already eliminated your ability to integrate across channels, because some of your money is already [accounted for].

Shropshire: There are probably process issues too, because some of that is driven by time. Working with Procter years ago, essentially brand management was doing what we’re expecting communication planners to do today.

McArthur: We put a lot on the table in terms of the hurdles in the integration arena. It’s bringing the right people in. The other issue is the money squeeze clients face and how agencies have to adjust to that. And then there’s conflict of interest. It seems there’s no clear solution yet.

McGovern: One more hurdle that I would add is measurement and accountability for results, so when you are in an integrated environment, who is accountable?

Meraska: Also, nobody’s talking about the creative department. Why should they not be versed in working in different disciplines?

Marchand: One thing that Suzanne Sauvage did at Cossette in Montreal is she started this thing called the Sandbox. Basically we get 300 to 400 resumes from creative people. Twelve are picked to go in the Sandbox for a year. They work in six or eight different disciplines, then they get an internship where they work on convergent campaigns. We started that two years ago. The best of the best won’t be creative directors for another seven or eight years. The world moves a lot faster than that. So one of the challenges is that there aren’t a lot of people who have been trained like these sandbox people.

McGovern: We need to train people to work across disciplines on the client side too.

Shropshire: I find now that particularly among senior creative people, there’s a lot of interest in expanding their capabilities. We’ve done campaigns in the last year where the creative people actually led the development of [digital] creative – but they didn’t execute. Agencies typically don’t when it comes to TV creative – they don’t get behind the camera. And we’ve done the same thing to get Web sites up and running.

Marchand: If you took a step back and said what I really care about here is building my brand equity over time and I’m willing to invest in that, so we’re going to find senior creative people and put them on the business and pay them for their time, effort and ideas, we’re going to hire the right people and make sure they’re focused on the brand and not 47 other things, I think a lot of this integration stuff would fall away because you would have senior, experienced leadership dealing with these problems. All the rest of the people can run with the ideas. [But] it comes from the top down.