When at first we tried to define what integration was, we said: "Isn't it just what clients want in order to stop their agencies fighting over the budget?"
As media fragmented and more specialists popped up, the argy-bargy between agencies worsened, with everyone wanting a slice of the pie. The work ended up looking disjointed and clients craved one strategy to define their positioning, with one creative idea that spanned across all media.
We could argue that the fully integrated campaigns that sprang up to bring a brand some synergy often looked like sets of matching luggage. As consumers don't collect ads to stick up on their bedroom walls, is it really necessary? Furthermore, there have been numerous TV ads that have been hugely successful standalone one-hit wonders, such as Cadbury's "gorilla".
But this has all been rehearsed a million times - the debate, like the word, isn't new, and whichever side of the argument we pick, we're unlikely to contribute anything that hasn't been said.
So if integration's an old word for an old world, what could it mean now? How can we reclaim this dusty old catch-all word for "lots of media" to make it more useful in approaching some of the real issues facing everyone in this exciting but challenging, emerging media landscape?
When you actually start to unpick the familiar jargon, it's incredibly vague. The advertising and communications industries tend to talk about integration in terms of media: it's the media that's being integrated, according to some kind of binding brand thought or idea.
But what if it wasn't media that we talked about?
We think a way of reclaiming the word is to talk about people. And that it's far more helpful, progressive and relevant to our times to talk about integrating companies, behaviour and attitudes rather than campaigns.
Integration is actually a pretty nice word that we've done our best to ruin - it's become a bit grubby and synonymous with a "make sure the DM follows through on the ad" attitude, when the original meaning is far more inspiring.
To us, integration means harmony - making sense of disparate parts - allowing for, understanding and supporting oddness or challenging differences. And as a verb, it can apply to any object: media, yes, but also ideas, people, products, services, things.
Perhaps the reason integrated campaigns are often one-dimensional is because the groups of people making them form a one-dimensional whole.
For brilliant, diverse, powerful, behaviour-changing work that is more than just one ad adapted into different shapes and sizes, you need interesting thinkers. A multi-everything integrated group of people that make a more interesting whole.
This perhaps builds on the notion that creativity is no longer the domain of the executive creative director and that everyone can be a creative thinker. Many traditional ad agencies are still predominantly run by men, and their graduates tend to have come from a similar grad recruitment scheme or Oxbridge milk round, leading to one undifferentiated white, middle-class tribe. Fishing from different ponds outside of these normal grounds will inject the fresh thinking this industry needs in order to create interesting, integrated campaigns that are multi-faceted and that build towards a richer, more rewarding brand story.
As the reach and potential of communications swells to mean all kinds of brand experience - architecture, design, product, technology, service - all of these things become part of a company's communications. For any agency looking to embrace this exciting new ground, one of the major challenges is to find and support a group of specialists. The future-proof agency needs experienced designers, interaction designers, product innovators, service experts, urban landscapers, copywriters, software developers ... ceramicists! Not just planners, ad creatives and digital production units. And if you want the best, you can't possibly house them all under one roof. You either specialise, and limit your influence, or you find a new way of making creatively fertile relationships.
So there are two tasks: hiring the right kind of multi-dexterous people who make up your core team, who understand the need for diverse, multifarious influences and skills; and finding ways of bringing these experts in, as and when you need them. You need a model where people can flow in and out. The alternative is unsustainable or reckless hiring (of, say, an in-house ceramicist on the basis of one project), or (what advertising is much better known for in other creative industries, sore from being raided) you steal other people's ideas or botch them and don't credit them.
The big issue facing us is how to find out about these people and communities; how to build relationships, how to work out ways of working with them that are rewarding, both creatively and financially for all parties - and more so than what they're already doing brilliantly on their own, thank you very much.
In Japan, there's a mentality that is all about the support of the group. Each individual making decisions that are best for everyone. That's something we can learn from. A diverse network of creative and strategic minds and craft skills, dedicated to producing the most powerful brand ideas (big and small) - that seems like a use for the word integration that actually fits 2010.
People integration principles:
1. Make creatively fertile relationships.
2. Hire multi-dexterous people who make up your core team.
3. Don't steal ideas - bring specialists in as and when you need them.
4. Make sure you're like the Hadron Collider - you are the force that allows all parties to collide beautifully.
5. Make sure all parties benefit.
- Integration in its current definition is an old word for an old world
- We can discard it or reclaim it to mean something more helpful in the face of the challenges that face the communications industry
- The most powerful redefinition of integration for us involves people and talent, not media
Ida Rezvani is the managing director and Beeker Northam is the executive planning director of Dentsu London
(From Campaign's "What Next in Integration" supplement, December 2010)
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk