Bill Power contributed to this post.
As communication channels continue to fracture and technology enables business, consumers and other stakeholders to connect in new and more varied ways, the imperative to master integration has risen exponentially.
Yet, while integration is again a marketing buzzword du jour, it remains one of the most elusive and confusing. Defining it is one thing—actually doing it or delivering on it is quite another.
Every company must contend with its own version of trying to create an internal collaborative environment, but there is also the task of trying to integrate your idea generation and execution with various outside agencies. This carries challenges of its own, which are often complicated by the fact that several managements are involved.
As practitioners who work with clients on integration every day and who regularly pursue new business using an integrated approach, we’d like to offer a few practical thoughts for consideration about how clients and agencies can scale this hurdle:
Integrate Functionally and Creatively
Integrated solutions require the ability to think and execute in a syncopated way. That means that both client and agency teams must master functional as well as creative integration.
Functional integration — Functional integration means having a multidisciplinary team composed of members representing various and not always predictable areas of expertise comingled from the start. It requires having a flat structure where digital, social, creative and strategy functions operate on the same level as conventional PR disciplines and interact as they do in real-life execution.
Creative integration – Assuming that the client-agency team has cracked the code and come up with an integrated strategy (see the TRUE Talking Point article by John McNeel), the next step is to bring the members together to collaborate about how all the pieces fit together creatively, strategically and sequentially. If the idea is going to manifest as an interconnected, interdependent web of engagement and opportunities for all stakeholders, we need to map out how the pieces fit together and form one creative idea before we send the teams off to work on their sections, not after. The most common mistake is to crack one piece of the puzzle and then try and apply it across all.
Start With an Integrated Brief
Integration can be driven by any discipline within the interdisciplinary team, but it is wrong to assume that it begins with the traditional notion of “creative” (as in the advertising creative) and a traditional advertising brief.
In the same way that we need to create room for all teams to contribute to the development of integrated programs, the brief needs to be written to address all contributing members’ assignments. A truly integrated brief frames the issue in the broadest possible context and imagines what is possible beyond a single stakeholder. We live in a transparent world. There are few discrete audiences for your communications. What you say to one stakeholder, for example government officials or legislators, can and likely will be viewed by consumers. Embracing transparency not only means acknowledging that your message to one audience may be seen by all your stakeholders but leveraging all your communications so they work together for maximum impact.
Integrate with Reality
As we strive to leverage the diversity of mediums and methods to engage our audiences, we must never lose sight of the ultimate mandate of the exercise: Integrating with the existing cultural context. Finding the intersection points between our ideas and the cultural zeitgeist makes our ideas and content relevant and ultimately share-worthy. If we can’t integrate with our stakeholders’ lives, their world and their means of communicating then we are simply integrating for integration’s sake.