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September 26, 2008

OPINION:Scott Knox: What’s the big idea?

The term “integrated” is a much overused phrase in the agency sector, indeed many clients switch off when an agency claims to be “integrated”. However, that switching off is more to do with clients thinking “Please no more smoke and mirrors”, than it is those same people thinking integration doesn’t exist. After all, who could argue with the sense of having a consistent message and approach to their campaigns across all disciplines.

The issue agencies need to address is not how to convince clients an integrated approach is right, but how to present their ideas in a way that doesn’t look as though they are trying to justify their own existence. What clients are looking for is the ability to take a core idea and make it sing in every channel – and that idea can realistically come from any part of the marketing mix. Already I am seeing the shrewder experiential agencies deliver ideas that, while being core experiential ideas, could explode across every channel, leaving the originating agency with the chance of being the lead agency in the strategy.

Challenging attitudes

Admittedly to do this, “below the line” agencies may need to challenge some heavily entrenched ideas about the agency model, especially which agency should take the lead role in a multi agency set up. Too often this decision is based on past experience, with brands turning to their above the line partners because that’s what they’ve always done. A more sensible approach, however, is that the agency taking the lead role should be either the one that best reflects the objectives of the campaign or the one where the bulk of the media spend is going; this may well end up being the above the line agency, but there are plenty of occasions where this will fall to other agencies.

While there are enlightened clients that are open to this thinking, there are many more that aren’t, and it falls to agencies themselves to educate their clients.

The best campaigns have always been based on single-minded ideas that individual agencies have fought to push through. “Below the line” agencies need to think broader and deliver bigger ideas. Of course, if you are going to do this you need to ensure that you ring-fence your ideas at all times. Don’t just give the idea away, license it. As below the line techniques become ever more prominent within campaigns so the agencies need to grow up. And taking their ideas seriously and giving them the protection and merit they deserve is a key part of this process.

In other words present the idea as an experiential one but should the client want to take that into other disciplines, an additional fee would be required to the experiential agency.

Scott Knox is managing director of the Marketing Communications Consultants Association

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