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Have integrated communications become over-hyped?

10th July 2013

Ever heard the word "integrated" used about PR agencies and their campaigns lately? Of course you have. It is one of the most popular words in our industry, and it can be used in such general terms and in so many ways to almost render it meaningless. As Scott Learmouth, managing director of agency Teamspirit Public Relations, says, when asked if the term integration is over-used, "The answer to this question is a resounding 'yes'". Learmouth explains that although everyone likes to claim they can deliver integration, the reality is that most fall short. However, he adds: "For the few that succeed the rewards are huge and for the rest, this promise should be motivation enough to aspire to a more integrated future. To truly deliver an integrated programme requires either a significant investment in building and maintaining a network of partners, or being part of a broader marketing business."

Learmouth says that despite the word integration being overused, it’s importance cannot be over-hyped, as there is an ever-growing need for integrated campaigns: "The argument for integration grows ever stronger. Whether it’s the need for brands to speak with one voice in a highly matrixed and interconnected word; the blurring between bought, owned and earned social media; the appetite for multi-media content; or the potential to adapt search tools and methodology to improve targeting and evaluate results, there is no question in my mind that these exciting developments require an integrated approach."

Barriers to overcome

Jim Hawker, co-founder of PR agency Threepipe, agrees with Learmouth that integration is vital for effective campaigns, but points out there are "huge" barriers to integration, as many client-side organisations are not set up in the right way because of a silo of budgets, people and often cultures. Hawker adds: "Agencies can only work when there is integration on the client side and that is a rare thing."

One problem for clients, though, says Hawker is that it is hard to know which agencies to turn to, as "more often than not, client briefs can now be responded to by any type of creative agency that they may be working with. Because of this, agencies are jostling to defend their historical strength, but always trying to widen their remit which makes integration hard from the client perspective."

Defining definition

Another problem with integration is that it is a term that often means different things. A term that is constantly evolving. Steve Marinker, managing director London of agency Havas PR UK, believes that we are now moving into a "third era" of integration. Explaining this, he says: "The first era described the porous barriers between different editorial realms and the need to think simultaneously across each or face the consequences.

"The second era described the creation of strategies which work across social and editorial channels. (We were slow to adopt the lingo but we’ve actually been doing the content thing for over a decade now).

"The third and most exciting era describes the role that PR plays in uniting behind great ideas. The ambition is as old as the hills, but delivering on the promise has always been a challenge."

Marinker says that he believes clients are best served by agencies such as Havas, when it comes to integrated work, as these agencies offer all the marketing and communications disciplines under one roof. Of course this is what you would expect him to say, although he has a point when he says that as such agencies not have any incentives to push clients into any particular channel or discipline, channel neutrality is guaranteed.

Although Marinker does question whether clients are that excited about integration. He concludes: "I’m not sure anyone really buys integration, but there does seem to be a demand for great ideas nourished by the collective."

Written by Daney Parker

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