How to think ‘Integration’ when it isn’t your job
A fully integrated marketing campaign is the Holy Grail of our industry, and despite the transition for agency account directors to be re-titled ‘integration directors’ the rest of the agency still acts in silos doing what they always did before – doing what is briefed in (and nothing more). In light of a recent research project to determine how to close the gap between strategy and execution it also reveals an imperative to become more integrated and to rethink the role of specialist project managers.
I recently co-hosted a research project with Think Global Research to determine the best way to use research to produce more effective work – how to close that gap between strategy and the final execution (#strategicproduction white paper available here) and in the process it was revealed to me that we need to work in a totally new way to ensure delivery of the strategy, but also to be more fully integrated in order to achieve that. One of the core imperatives identified out of this research project is to redefine the role of the project managers.
There are some brilliant individuals in our industry who have great ideas for integrated campaigns, but I believe that there is a lost opportunity for the individual departments full of experts in their own subject matter to be driving more integrated solutions, getting better value out of the entire campaign – therefore get more for less, to be more integrated to the total campaign, and to be more effective at the same time.
Having sat in agencies as an outsource producer for television commercials, but having an unusual set of skills behind me such as some strategic business skills, some principles of psychology, linguistics, some marketing skills and some digital production and having produced content for all media (not just broadcast), I feel lucky to be in this unique position to see things from a different perspective and to see a new way of working that I think will help all clients get more effective work and to make the most of their budget. I can also say that with the current agency model these additional skills are largely unwelcome and people don’t know what to do with it.
Project Managers – Campaign contact end to end:
Project managers or specialist producers in broadcast, digital and print are involved in the production of their expert matter from the start of the project to the end, often more so than the creative team, and more deeply than the integration managers (aka account managers). Strategy planners tend to be involved up front and then walk away, and at times are involved at the end as a kind of sense-check, but rarely as deeply involved or as immersed end to end than a project manager. Clients are immersed more than most from business strategy, marketing strategy and follow the productions to the end, but not as deeply as a specialist project manager. There is no one more deeply involved in the projects and more widely across departments than the specialist producers or project managers who deliver the work, and therefore are the most accessible to impact the delivery of the strategy, assist with integration and to find cost efficiencies that others might not.
In the main, the individual project managers in print, digital and broadcast are there to deliver exactly the deliverables they’re briefed on, and no more than that. This happens for a number of reasons – the business doesn’t see this as their role, the individuals don’t have the skill-set beyond their area of speciality (even if they wanted to contribute meaningful ideas or had the avenue open to them), there’s an element of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome, and there are individuals that are steadfast to stick in the role they have always been defined and don’t have interest in expanding on their skill-set or see themselves as too busy and don’t want to take on any more load.
Unless the people in these roles starts thinking about integration and drive solutions from their area of expertise we’ll be operating (same/same) as we always were, in silos and clients wont be getting the full value potential out of their budgets.
So, how do they achieve this? Here are my thoughts:
1. Share research and strategy more widely
In the research project #strategicproduction it was revealed that the research findings were not shared widely within the typical agency model (to some clients’ amazement) and I suggest that this also applies to the business or marketing strategy documentation. Creatives and producers/project managers can ask to see these materials if they are not automatically shared with them. To be honest, you may get some dirty looks – I know I’ve received them. Explain the position that you are in and the potential to be able to contribute ideas to make the most of the budget at the very least, but the opportunity to ensure you are producing work that is on brand, on strategy is there.
2. Creative brief not just for creative
Many agencies see the creative brief as a tool just for creative and if the producer asks for a copy they’re looked at with bewilderment and often will expect that the production brief does an adequate job on a ‘need to know’ basis. The production departments are an extension of the creative department, and in fact in the past have even been defined as part of the creative department rather than a separate business unit as it is often seen now as they are crucial at supporting the creatives to deliver the project. The creative brief often answers a number of important aspects that a good producer/project manager would influence during the course of their usual work such as tonality, brand values, message objectives, strategic summary and even budget expectations. A project manager can ask for a copy of the creative brief, either through the integration manager or from the creative team.
3. Ask creatives ‘why?’
Many creatives are driven by a great idea, and whilst many are well meaning and incredibly strategic there are still a lot that are dazzled by their own folio, or the drive for a great idea for the sake of it and is not always delivering on brand or on strategy. They often don’t know that this is how they are operating, and may mean well. Simply questioning the major decisions and asking for clarification as to how the decisions are delivering the strategy before charging ahead and organising the delivery of the elements is useful. Put the client’s business top of mind rather than the individual script, or the latest hot production technique or style.
4. Account managers to ask for ideas
Account managers, even those called Integration Managers, often brief the production departments on delivering just what they think they need – and that’s it. The production briefing process is often very regimented and doesn’t allow for any added value or input. It is a rare occurrence that anyone asks ‘what else can we get with that?’. It is like going to McDonalds and asking for the fries from one department, the burger from another when you may be able to get the ‘Meal Deal’ with the toy, offering more content at a better price by simply asking this question.
5. Talk to the strategy department
There seems to be a wall between the strategy department and the people that produce the work. Strategy is ‘allowed’ to talk to the account management team, the client and the creatives but not always on every project for every account and generally not the production team at all. They don’t typically see production/project managers as having an influence on the delivery if the others departments are involved.
6. Reconsider your supplier base
There are many project managers that are in a groove with the suppliers they choose and that’s regularly for the right reasons. There are also new suppliers becoming available that can deliver a multi-media solution in new and fresh ways that deliver more for less and perhaps even more strategically aligned by project. Many producers/project managers are so busy and so overloaded that they don’t take time to see new suppliers and have protocols in place to filter all new contacts.
There are also habits in how freelancers are hired, and they’re chosen to match the silos and infrastructure of the business rather than hiring people that can work across channels and media to maximise the value to the client (and in some cases it can reduce overheads to the business in the process). I know that I’ve been hired as a broadcast producer at times because that is my foundation skill-set and what I’m most known for, but like others we may have broader skills that are not being utilised because people are just not thinking that way.
7. Learn new skills
We all have the ability to improve what we do. I personally believe that we should never sit still or we become irrelevant, and I propose that the day is coming that the traditional specialised producer or project manager is about to become obsolete, even in the large scale agency because of the demand for higher performance of the work, a need for even further integration, and demands on profitability and efficiencies increases.
Marketers, account managers and project managers could really benefit from some further training from the internal department heads, and if that’s not available there are plenty of books and online training out there that you can self educate on consumer psychology, linguistics, marketing strategy, digital marketing strategies and tools, to be more valuable in the process to begin to initiate improvements.
If you have these skills on board then you become a natural sounding board or gate keeper. At the very least you can start to ask ‘Why?’ more often and understand what it takes to deliver on brand and on strategy from end to end, and more efficiently and add value to the process and evolve the business.
8. Clients take charge
There are some really smart marketing departments out there doing some really interesting work and sometimes this means the agency is just there to deliver the execution of that thinking, and less involved in the strategic side or the total campaign across channels and suppliers. Clients have the ability to take charge and manage this process themselves, from end to end and many are (I see this as a growing trend in fact). There is nothing that I have recommended above that wouldn’t be applicable to marketing departments that want to operate in-house and to take charge of the strategic outcomes of the creative work, get more for less, and be sure that the work is more effective. At the very least clients who start to ask these questions or to implement changes in the workflow on their business can have an impact through the established agency process. Collaborative creative partners will be open to new ideas and may in fact start to benefit as a business from the process.
For more information on #strategicproduction you can access the research white paper here, or feel free to contact me to see how your projects can be more strategic, more in line with brand strategy and to produce more for less.
I’d love to hear from others that are breaking the silos down and how they’re achieving that. Please share.