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IAA Congress Commentary: IAA delegates vote for specialization, yet industry needs integration. Badly!

24-March-2006
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IAA Congress Commentary: IAA delegates vote for specialization, yet industry needs integration. Badly!

It was a strange feeling on Thursday afternoon. In a session, when asked to show hands if the current specialization (and disintegration) of the communication industry was a good thing to have happened, a devastating majority of delegates (over 80 per cent in my estimate) voted in favour. This call for vote came after a near consensus in favour of specialization amongst three high power panelists representing the big media spenders Group M, Omnicom Media and Carat. The overall sentiment was very much against integration.

Why do I call this strange? Perhaps ironic or paradoxical is the right word. It’s a paradoxical situation because on the one hand for the last three days we had the biggest gurus in the business argue in favor of integration, but surprisingly the general mood at this Congress (and shall I say, amongst most industry executives) seems to be against it. Over the last three days of this conference, and in many other important conferences I have attended recently, thought leaders have given stress on words like collaboration, co-creation, integration and many other synonyms. So, why this divide?

When one thinks hard over this great divide, it appears that industry executives are blissful and comfortable in the power and perks they enjoy as specialists, and could not care less about this debate. But it’s the clients, and some ad industry thought leaders, who know that without integration the future of the ad business is in a crisis. Celebrated marketer Jim Stengel, P&G’s Chief Marketing Officer, and respected ad man Bob Greenberg, Chairman of R/GA, clearly made this point on Thursday.

Let’s first see what Stengel, who is recognized as one of the best marketing minds in the world today, had to say earlier this morning. “Ideas come first. Ideas have to be at the centre of the table, and everything else flows from there,” he said, talking about P&G’s own approach to the integration debate. At P&G headquarters, all types of agencies sit at the same time and the same place and discuss brand ideas. Once some ideas have been shortlisted jointly, with active participation of P&G, the idea is handed over in most cases to classic ad agencies to develop.

Commenting sharply on the delegate poll that I mentioned earlier, Greenberg was direct: “I strongly believe that media and creative have to integrated back.” Greenberg, always a big draw at such conferences, went on to explain his new model that went something like this: Collaboration x Strategy x Idea x Media x time-efficient Production = Accountable results. www.rga.com may have more details.

Moving on to other key messages of the final day of the Congress, two speakers -- P&G’s Stengel and Gregory Lee, Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung -- had similar points of view. Much sought after, and feared, Stengel’s focus was on how P&G marketing made a comeback since year 2000 when Ad Age provocatively wrote “Does P&G matter any more?” to current status of “Marketer of the Year, 2005”. Stengel led this transformation with a deceptively simple mantra – “Customer is the Boss.” We haven’t heard that for the first time, but it was perhaps that P&G walked the talk.

Lee, on the other hand, took us through on the remarkable journey of making a “cheap, lowly brand” that Samsung was in early 90s to a cutting edge global brand today. He said that Samsung was very focused on making it a “premium” brand in future. It’s inspiring to see how in a decade a company from a tiny nation can build a powerful global brand.

Going back to Stengel, as promised, I spoke to him on what he felt about grades for the advertising business today. You would remember from yesterday’s piece that Stengel had a couple of years back given the ad industry a C minus. “Mr Stengel, how do you rate the ad industry today?” He smiled and said, “Things have improved but it’s not quite A grade yet!”

That’s good news and bad. Hopefully the ad business and its players will continue to drive the change in the new consumer controlled digital world. Because the only thing constant is change!

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