Ever wish life were simpler? Don’t.
Why structural integration of Creative and Media
is so not today.
For a while now, I have heard arguments on
whether the creative and media functions have
gone too far from each other and have become
Sometimes the questions have come from clients,
some other times from creative agency heads.
Every once in a while we hear of an ad agency
folding a media unit back into itself.
While it is difficult to argue against integration
per se, I now wonder how much of this argument
for integration is meant to improve the communication
development process, and how much emanates from
a personal need to exercise control and nurse
the imaginary wounds inflicted by media’s
Here are some raw truths and let’s look
them in the eye.
First, media as a function became independent
in the late Eighties and the nineties, as a
direct consequence of the client demand
that agencies develop skills and tools to understand
and leverage an increasingly complex media world,
and consumer apathy to advertising messages.
As independence allowed media folks to focus
on the challenge, a lot of excellent conceptual
frameworks, processes, approaches and tools
have got developed over the last 15 years or
so, to make the media investment rupee more
productive, exactly what the clients wanted.
To the best of my knowledge, the complexity
of media hasn’t reduced recently.
Second, all sorts of disciplines have
got specialised – direct marketing,
PR, event marketing, outdoor, promotions, sports,
and of late digital – mainly because specialists
in general deliver a smarter product, even if
it may appear that they work in silos. To force
a structural integration of the kind that used
to exist in the mighty Eighties is to attempt
to turn back the clock. Not only is it cynical,
it is actually as impractical as saying ‘let’s
bring back the pager, because today’s
kids are spending too much time on the mobile
Third, clients who complain about lack
of integration should look within.
I have a strong sense that their own internal
departments – marketing, sales, promotions,
new product development, research, consumer
insights – work in big silos themselves.
In fact, I have heard of clients who try to
bring internal integration by firing from the
shoulders of the agency to win an internal argument.
Fourth, the agencies that are trying to fold
back media are mainly those who didn’t
manage to develop a strong and sustainable media
brand and deep media skills in the first place.
So a purely defensive reaction aimed at survival
is being touted as a new age philosophy of integration.
Sounds logical to me, but not as a tomorrow-ready
My view is simple and rather uncluttered. Integration
is a good thing in general. What we need is
integration of thought, not organisations. Anyone
who is in any discipline related to marketing
and communications has the responsibility to
put the consumer in the centre of our
thinking. This involves investing time,
energy, managerial bandwidth and financial resources
to understand how today’s consumers make
their purchase and recommendation decisions,
where and how they get influenced, where they
are receptive to our messages and where they
reject them, how they get vocal about issues
close to their hearts and where and to whom
they voice their views. These are deep and substantive
issues the resolution of which build or break
clients’ businesses. To gloss over them
and think that collapsing organisations built
over time into singular units is the only answer
to today’s challenges, is too childish.
In my view, today’s world is
about collaboration, not control. Look
at the way young people all around us are collaborating
to build a new future, and we will understand
the true meaning of this. Collaboration is about
establishing effective processes; control is
about drawing lines of reporting and creating
elaborate militaristic structures. Collaboration
is about building a stronger future; control
is about land grabbing. Both are possible to
implement, but collaboration works better.
There was a time only marketers with the biggest
budgets separated media from creative, and assigned
the two accounts independently. I remember that
when I was in Initiative Media in the late Nineties,
we used to advise clients below Rs 20 Cr annual
budget not to separate media and creative. Now,
even a client with a Rs 5 Cr budget wants to
choose media and creative agencies separately
and consultants line up half a dozen agencies
happy to pitch. Why should the same clients
then complain about lack of integration? Ever?
In closing, I have a straightforward recommendation.
Look for synergy between organisations that
already exist, train young managers to think
holistic. If you are a creative agency, make
your client servicing people spend time and
energy in understanding media. Get them to attend
media and research briefing and meetings. Do
not ever allow them to deride numbers or tools.
Crores of rupees get spent based on those. Tell
them, client servicing is more than taking the
client out to a drink.
If you are a media agency, get your planners
to spend a day in a fortnight with real consumers,
not the computer. Challenge them on conceptual
thinking, not the mechanics. Tell them to dig
deep and unearth true consumer-brand-media insights;
it’s never easy. Don’t allow recycled
media plans to go out the door.
It’s time for us to forget structural
solutions to challenges; solutions lie in people
and processes. Nostalgia has never solved anything;
let’s keep that in the photo album.
There really is no point in trying to oversimplify
a world that has happily settled down to be