Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2012

The fallacy of thinking in silos

It’s time to chuck the silo and go for more integration,

If you have ever attended a workshop you will observe how well people who have never worked together can develop great ideas and strategies. I learned this at various workshops as well at an internal training session where I had the pleasure and honour to meet Krishnan Anantha, Vice President, Lowe India, a thorough professional and an overall swell guy, who was guiding us about how to use a newly rolled out toolkit.

During the session, as is the norm, participants were selected from various disciplines and then split into groups. The composition of each group was a mix of people from creative, client services, media and finance. In the normal working environment, the departmental format follows the 100-year-old rule of labour specialisation. However, by breaking organisational lines, it was clear that participants were able to produce ideas that were far superior than had they been following the usual lines of work. In fact, in the last five years there has been a lot of debate about what is known as silo thinking and its effectiveness.

Working in silos is based on the philosophy that grouping people on the basis of disciplines produces more efficiency, which to an extent makes sense. Yet, although this is the standard operating procedure within corporations, questions have been raised regarding its effectiveness.

So first off, what is a silo?

A silo is basically a unit to store bulk material (usually grain) and release it when needed. That’s great for grain and other materials. However in a fast paced business and marketing world, are silos the best solution? In the corporate realm time is money and companies cannot afford to waste time and resources when speedy decisions are required.

In the age of the Web 2.0 this is becoming more and more of a problem. For example, a brand team may need to deal with a creative, media, digital, activation, social media and even a PR agency. The root of the problem is that more often than not, when the brief is given only the creative and media agency are present. The rest may (or not) be briefed later and if they are, the focus is in their own area of ‘expertise’.

This approach is counter-productive and this is clearly explained in a white paper on media neutral planning by Professor Angus Jenkinson, Director, Centre for Integrated Marketing (CIM) in Luton (UK). His research (best practice) group included leading marketers from IBM, Mindshare (UK), Novartis and Pfizer, among others. Apart from bringing into question the benchmarks set by ATL and BTL, the white paper also addresses the fact that PR is not used effectively. The main recommendation concerns the silo mindset and the white paper recommends that the brief should be discussed by people with specialisation in various fields; creative, digital, direct, media, PR, etc., ‘sitting together’.

There are signs that the industry is moving in the right direction and blurring the lines. In 2008, at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, the campaign submitted on behalf of AMF Pension won the Grand Prix in the Media Lions category for its unusual approach towards marketing pension plans. Yet, it was Forsman & Bodenfors, the creative agency which sent in the entry and not Mindshare, the media agency, so that effectively the credit for a brilliant creative media idea went to the creative agency. It was in this context that the President of the Media Jury, Dominic Proctor, CEO, Mindshare, commented that all the lines are beginning to blur between what creative, media, digital, promotions and other agencies do.

In 2010, Nike’s Livestrong campaign developed by Wieden & Kennedy Portland, won a Grand Prix in the Integrated and Titanium Lions category. Do you know which part of the marketing campaign impressed the jury most? Not the Chalkbot concept (which won the Grand Prix in the Cyber Lions category), it was Lance Armstrong’s decision to stage a comeback. (Armstrong is an American former road racing professional. In 1996 he was diagnosed with cancer, yet decided to stage a comeback in 1999 and went on to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times.)

In Rob Reilly’s (CCO, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky and a member of the jury) opinion, “We have to look at that (Armstrong’s decision to return) as part of the advertising. That’s where ‘integration is going’ (my emphasis). It’s not just another TV spot. His coming back was a calculated move to start this campaign.

To me, that is the most important part. Chalkbot is an incredible tool, but the decision to come back in the first place, as a marketing idea, is brilliant.”

Recently I came across another criticism of the silo mindset, this time in relation to media planning. Stan Federman, CEO, Telmar (which provides media planning software solutions and tools) blogged the following comments regarding the merits of integrated media planning (IMP) versus silo/mix planning (SMP).

“Agencies creating plans without treating media neutrally, at least initially, deny each media to demonstrate its contribution to a brand’s marketing goal. Some agencies first allocating budget or GRPs to each media ‘silo’.”

He describes two camps among media planners; those who ignore the power of new media and the new media loyalists who discount the value of traditional media. He argues that both camps are inherently wrong.

“The planners often produce sub-optimal plans and deny the power of non-selected media types, because they refuse to examine the whole landscape of media alternatives simultaneously in relation to their brand’s marketing requirements.”

Federman is also promoting the tools Telmar has to offer, and although they cover both IMP and SMP, he opted for the IMP approach.

“In the hands of the professionally trained and experienced media planner both approaches can produce superior plans. Choosing the IMP approach, however, will guarantee that ‘all’ the old and new media available in today’s new digital media environment are at least considered.”

In Pakistan today we are familiar with the damage caused by extreme mindsets; we see the results all around. However, we are probably oblivious to the reduced effectiveness that comes from embracing silo thinking in our business and marketing functions. Yet, if we were to break away from the silo mentality, we would enable ourselves to reach a higher level of competency and expertise.

Tyrone Tellis has over six years of advertising experience.