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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 too independent.

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 independence.

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 handset’.

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 argument.

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 complex.

In a tell-all to Tasneem Limbdiwala.
GOAFEST 2008 – Keegan Pinto,Creative Supervisor, O&M
Keegan Pinto,Creative Supervisor, O&M
GOAFEST 2008 – Madan Mohan, Senior Vice President West , TBWA India
Modan Mohan, Senior Vice President West, TBWA India

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