Published in May-Jun 2022
As media fragmented, brands multiplied and power started to move back to the retailer. As a result, three things happened. Firstly, full-service advertising agencies diversified into many communication agencies, including activation, direct marketing and PR. Secondly, their role evolved from being strictly ad agencies to becoming integrators of communication campaigns across multiple disciplines, turning them into the ‘lead agency.’ Examples include DDB, Ogilvy and Y&R. Thirdly, large communication groups emerged with all types of communication agencies under their umbrella – Omnicom, Publicis and WPP. However, they failed to achieve integration due to the following reasons.
◉ They continued to favour advertising within the overall promotional mix.
◉ Their service structures supported the client-agency-supplier coordination role rather than serving the client along with partner agencies working as a team.
◉ They continued to be ‘specialists’ in advertising but ‘generalists’ in other disciplines – weakening their role as 360-degree communications experts. As a result, clients also faced unnecessary complexities by having to coordinate with multiple service interfaces.
◉ The big ideas developed at lead agencies work for advertising purposes only but were nevertheless forced into other disciplines, such as activation and digital. Yet, the fact is that the effectiveness of big ideas differs according to the discipline. In advertising, their purpose is to dramatise the brand’s proposition and embed it into the minds of consumers. However, when it comes to activation, the role of the big idea is to immerse the consumer in the ‘brand experience’. In digital, the value proposition of a big idea lies in making consumers take an action, such as like, comment, or share – in other words, engage with the brand. The fact is that ‘media neutral’ creative ideas do not exist, which is why many multinationals have appointed media directors in order to integrate creative campaigns and manage fragmenting media channels. It is these failings that are compelling brands to move away from the existing lead agency models in search of more effective solutions.
1 The Best in Breed Model
In this model, clients select and deal directly with several agencies specialising in multiple marketing communication disciplines. In this model, the client acts as the strategic integrator. The model is better than the lead agency one, as it secures impartiality towards any particular discipline (it is the client who gives each discipline the appropriate weight according to its role in achieving the communication objective). However, there are drawbacks:
◉ The client has to deal with multiple agencies directly, involving time and effort.
◉ There is often competition for a larger share of the marketing budget, rather than collaboration among the serving agencies from different disciplines.
◉ Agencies work in isolation, so the solution proposed may not always be the best in terms of achieving the given objectives, added to which they may fail to create synergies with other disciplines.
◉ The brand, which is a ‘coherent totality’ and not a sum of disparate bits and pieces, suffers the most in this scenario.
2 The Single Source Model
This model is more specific to mega communication groups such as Omnicom, Publicis and WPP, or sub-groups residing within mega groups (such as Ogilvy), which operate in almost all the marketing communication disciplines. In this model, clients appoint all their agencies from the same group, which then form integration teams to service them by pulling in resources from diverse disciplines. However, it tends to become more of an effort to keep a client’s business within the group rather than achieving integration.
3 The Core+ Model This is perhaps the most promising model in terms of dealing with the increased complexities brought about by the proliferation of media channels and the need to target smaller consumer segments while achieving synergies from integration. In this model, there is a ‘core’ entity – call it integrated marketing communications (IMC) consulting – which is linked to a communication agency across every discipline. This model provides direction to the communication process in the following ways:
◉ The challenge is integration and each agency must strive to meet it.
◉ It acts as a single point of contact for all client communication needs and dispenses with the need to brief multiple agencies regarding the same strategy.
◉ Communication planning is based on the marketing challenge and is broken down into tasks and activities.
◉ The most suitable disciplines are selected to execute each activity, ensuring impartiality in terms of any specific communication discipline for financial reasons.
◉ It ensures that agencies adhere to the brand strategy.
◉ Rigorous data analytics are conducted to understand the behaviour and motivation of each target segment, thereby ensuring that spending decisions are backed by analytics and ROI computations.
◉ The outcome of each agency’s performance is evaluated and guidelines are provided to ensure creative effectiveness and budget efficiencies.
◉ It acts as a watchdog over every agency to ensure integration and provides brand consultancy while being independent of specific communication disciplines and therefore able to recommend optimal solutions.
IMC consulting ensures communication integration by managing a loose network of specialised implementation agencies and by re-bundling the selected agencies as a ‘package’ that meets each client’s unique requirements under one umbrella. Already a large number of clients are shifting their communications business to consulting companies like Accenture and Deloitte, which are in effect a close alternative to the ‘Core+’ model. It is time for the marketing communications industry to see what is becoming increasingly obvious and adapt to the requirements of changing times.
Khalid Naseem is Head of Strategy, Firebolt63. email@example.com