The Integration Opportunity, Part 2: Facilitating Integration

In my last column I wrote about the many barriers to successfully integrating campaigns across agencies and/or departments. Much of your feedback centered on the question, “What can we do today to make this happen?”

There’s quite a bit we can do in the absence of broader solutions discussed in the previous column. What we can do right now is some of the most important work of all: build and develop relationships with our colleagues in other departments, other agencies or other client business units. I’ll provide some real life examples and scenarios to help us all become more effective integrators.

Conventional wisdom says general agencies are the overall steward of the client’s brand, and therefore are the ones with their finger on the pulse of all client activities and initiatives. This is true in most cases. It’s certainly true the general agency of record (AOR) is the steward of the brand and defines how all other service providers should represent that brand.

We often find the AOR is so focused on general advertising, it doesn’t have relationships across key business units that wield significant influence on a brand’s overall marketing plan. For example, one client has individual business units responsible for verticals such as promotions, trade, NASCAR relationships, altruistic/non-profit ventures (e.g., literacy), and more. These units play a significant role determining how dollars are allocated within a brand marketing plan. They’re impacting decisions at the marketing budget level, not farther down the road at the advertising budget level. In a business where dollars can be hard to come by, these are people to know.

We’ve been fortunate in most cases to have our direct client both encourage and facilitate our getting in front of key groups outside advertising. We’re able to learn a great deal more about the entire scope of our client’s marketing operation. When sitting down with the general AOR to discuss the client’s business issues, we know significantly more about the company’s ancillary activities than the general agency does. It puts us in an integrator position.

This is the position we all want to be in. We’re able to communicate details of many disparate programs to key stakeholders, and take part in planning how we can make them work together. This not only occurs when we speak with the general agency, but when we meet with the other business units. For example, the NASCAR team may not be aware what the brand plans to do online. They may be interested in exploring how the Internet can support their NASCAR initiative.

We can help bridge that gap and get everyone working on the same page. In doing this, we create opportunity for ourselves and help move our client’s business in the right direction. This is made possible through building relationships. I’ve often thought the people who make the most impact in an organization are those who are effective relationship builders.

The same dynamic can take place across agency departments or across separate agencies when asked to integrate. We’re often asked to work with general agencies. As detailed in the last column, financial incentive is not always there. The challenge is to make it work in the absence of incentives.

We’ve been successful through building and growing relationships with our agency counterparts. You can put a great deal of work into this without immediate reward. In most cases, success does eventually come.

We try to make our offline counterparts smarter about what’s happening on the Web. They can take that knowledge to the client and look good. This can be as simple as having a brief conversation every week or so. Find out if they have a client meeting coming up, and what they hope to accomplish. Then, pass along a nugget or two they can use in the meeting to present a broader view of the business — that includes the Internet. Perhaps it’s information on what a competitor is doing online, or a new industry trend that impacts the business. If you recently got a scoop on what the NASCAR team is planning, share it. Ultimately, these favors win you favor, and open doors for you and your agency.

As media professionals, we’re in the relationship business. Most of us may think about them only from an agency-vendor perspective. Take a step back. Think about how a really good working relationship with the AMD (or planner, or account supervisor) at the general agency would affect your part of the business. How building a rapport with the client’s promotion director would help you see (and act on) a broader client picture. Then, go make it happen. As an online media professional, you can be the integrator who’s missing from the equation.

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