'Agencies talk about integration a lot, but whether they are capable of it - or not - varies greatly,' says Marketing Communications Consultancies Association (MCCA) managing director Scott Knox.
The definition of 'integration' is also muddy. There are three main models: PR agencies that can implement campaigns that include direct mail or sales promotion such as sponsorship and roadshows; PR agencies that develop the central creative idea that is rolled out to specialists in each discipline (sometimes under their lead); and PR agencies that understand all marketing disciplines in detail and work closely with the client's other agencies, but concentrate on their own area.
Some new communications agencies have been set up specifically to deliver more than traditional PR. Cake Media, for example, handles new media, viral marketing, design and events for clients such as Reebok, with whom it has worked for four years. For the latest drive featuring R&B star Jamelia as the face of the RBK range of clothing, Cake worked on the core idea and will be handling PR, in-store photography and imagery, plus a fashion show.
The big marketing services groups are also keen to emphasise their capacity for integration, with the advantage of having ready-made internal networks.
At Weber Shandwick, deputy head of UK and Ireland operations Sally Ward works closely with other agencies in parent firm IPG's McCann WorldGroup network.
Ward points out that this is done in a spirit of collaboration: there's a difference between cross-selling as a way for the big groups to organically increase their revenue, and integration, which genuinely adds value for the client.
Chime Communications is also committed to integration between its agencies, with research it calls the 'Influence Model' as its rationale. This looks at what influences consumers - be it advertising, promotions, the media, friends or celebrities - and recommends a comms strategy and allocation of marketing spend based on the results for any given product or service.
Chime then puts together a team from its own agencies or works with the client's other suppliers.
'The consumer doesn't differentiate which agency is talking to them - it's the brand that's talking to them,' says Chime chairman of advertising and marketing services Sue Farr.
Some smaller PR agencies are also working in an integrated fashion alongside other agencies. For Fairtrade producer Cafe Direct, Leadbetter PR works with teams from other disciplines. Consultant Wendy Richmond says: 'For this collective approach to work, you need to understand how other agencies operate, and it's been a learning curve. The balance of power needs to be shared across the disciplines, and we need to have real clarity about roles so we don't step on each other's toes.'
The challenge of integration
At integrated agency The Fish Can Sing, partner Howard Beale agrees that there are challenges for PR agencies in getting involved in truly integrated campaigns: 'You need to be able to deliver insight for clients before you even start to think about which channels to use. Ultimately, it doesn't matter who comes up with the ideas, but PR is still seen as being process-led and not strategic enough to warrant a place at the campaign planning table.'
The agency's clients include Grolsch (left) and Absolut, for whom it came up with the Absolut Tracks campaign based on the central idea of exploring what the premium vodka 'sounds' like. This involved collaboration with high-profile music producers to create a number of tracks, a dedicated website, vinyl editions of the tracks being released to selected DJs, clubs and music shops, blogging on relevant websites, club night events and online advertising.
For most PR agencies, integration is more concerned with working as part of an integrated team, rather than delivering multi-discipline campaigns themselves. At consultancy Results, managing partner Jim Surguy says: 'No PR agency can suddenly be an expert on sales promotion, direct mail or advertising. What PR can do is work with other agencies on co-ordinated campaigns.
Surguy cites Manning Selvage & Lee, which works with Philips on integrated marketing campaigns, as one PR agency in this area. MS&L managing director Nicholas Walters says: 'The classic model of integrated marketing is an advertising-led concept supported by below-the-line agencies working in close co-operation with the ad agency as a team, and coming up with ideas that give the original creative concept legs. But that's not the dream of integration.'
For Walters, the pure model is what MS&L calls the 'Loop Team', where a very senior member of each discipline is sitting on an advisory panel that meets regularly with the client. The brand vision is created and agreed by all members of that team. The creative concept is not the sole preserve of the ad agency: it could equally be driven by PR or direct marketing.
'It's crucial that the members of the panel have bought into real integration, left their silos at the door and are not precious about where the concept comes from. The whole debate about who leads the process is profoundly negative and irrelevant,' he says.
At the MCCA, Knox has a vision of a future with a split between truly integrated strategic and creative agencies and implementation specialists.
'Over the next few years we will see a diversifying of types of agency into consultancies that will concentrate on ideas, and other agencies that will implement them,' he says. 'These could possibly even be separate divisions within the same company. It doesn't matter where the ideas come from, so these new ideas agencies may well have a background in PR or any other discipline.'
A change of attitude
Knox argues that this evolution of the communications business will also help to resolve the perennial issue of agencies that are finding it hard to find a way of being effectively paid for creative work within the constraints of the timesheet model.
As the concept and best practice of what being integrated means evolves for both clients and agencies in all disciplines, PR will continue to play an important role. But true integration will never be possible without clients and all the agencies leaving their preconceptions about other marketing disciplines at the door and focusing on the outcomes for the client.
WHAT THE CLIENTS SAY
ALKA DAFF, Tea Direct brand manager, Cafe Direct - 'We work in partnership with growers and their families, and that has followed into our relationships with our PR, creative, sales-promotion, packaging and media agencies.
'We work on developing an umbrella theme or concept, and it doesn't matter which agency the idea comes from. We also ask one person to lead activity, and rotate that among the agencies: this quarter, Leadbetter PR is leading.
It hasn't been easy to get agencies to look beyond their own function, and it doesn't come overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and trust.'
COLLETTE DUNKLEY, comms director, Vauxhall Motors - 'Integration depends on having marcoms directors who agree on positioning and long-term strategy for the brand. The work is not exactly the same - the PR, creative and sales promotions will be different depending on the channels - but it doesn't matter which discipline ideas come from.
'PR people keep the story running long term, so everyone knows what the brand stands for, with tactical marketing drives as chapters. If agencies aren't talking to each other, you're missing a trick. The better PR agencies understand this, but the comms industry is still in silos.'
ANETTE ELIASSON, comms manager, Absolut - 'Integration is the key to success. We have such a strong brand that it needs to be integrated across all channels. We work with PR and advertising and sales promotion, and we always work in teams so that everyone is working on strategy together.
'One of the biggest tasks is to integrate the whole team. For us, PR is about press relations being executed at the same time as both the advertising and the promotions.'