Stuart Wilson, MS&L UK: The purpose of integration

Integrated campaigns supported by cross-divisional teams are the future of public relations.

For years we have heard about the benefits of integrated marketing, a process where any agency with a good idea could generate a critical campaign platform to be delivered across multiple marketing disciplines. In a recessionary environment, clients love the idea that they can get a more effective campaign for a smaller budget.

Historically, attempts to deliver integrated marketing campaigns fell flat. Larger audience reach and scale inherent in advertising meant most integrated ideas did not work unless they could be translated into a TV advertisement. Or, if they were good enough, PR became a minor extension. Of course there were exceptions, but, while celebrated, they were still far from the norm.

Today, the dramatic increase in the power of digital media is helping PR agencies lead in the delivery of integrated marketing campaigns. As PROs, we influence the conversations of stakeholders to deliver messages on behalf of our clients. The online world is the first platform that can effectively aggregate these discrete audiences in large enough numbers to make them worth targeting. For the first time, owing to increasingly sophisticated online measurement tools, PR can measure campaign reach and frequency at levels similar to traditional advertising.

We are comfortable with the fact that the original recipient of our content may repackage it to project it to a much larger audience. We are inherently comfortable in an environment where control of the message (within reason) is not a predominant objective. PR is best placed as the generator of the big idea.

Yet there is more to integration than working with other marketing disciplines. Just as clients are looking for marketing ideas that work across multiple channels, they are also looking for agencies to build integrated teams that can work across multiple stakeholders. These teams should include everyone from public affairs to consumer product promotion specialists. The challenge is how to get these teams working together in a client-focused way.

Agency structure often gets in the way of creating the best teams. Basic organisational theory suggests the optimum team size is 12. Smaller teams lose creativity; bigger ones lose effectiveness. So it is not surprising agencies tend to create multiple teams of approximately 12 people to work as specialists on different aspects of our business.

How do agencies find better ways to integrate? Firstly, it is essential to manage people and their capacity as an agency-wide rather than team resource. The more people working across all elements of our business, the better. It not only helps make well-rounded PR practitioners; it also keeps careers exciting and aids professional development. Of course, as individuals develop they specialise, but this does not need to be until much later in one's career.

Secondly, agencies need a capacity manager: someone who can look across the organisation and ensure teams are operating at an ideal level, working in close liaison with the finance team. This individual can also operate as a chief talent officer, becoming the advocate for individuals within the system.

Finally, more emphasis needs to be placed on overall agency performance (as opposed to team or individual P&L performance) as a measure of financial success. Incentive programmes need to reflect this. Surprisingly, it is not as difficult as it might seem to make this change, but it does take commitment.

As we recover from the recession, agencies that are champions of integrated campaigns supported by cross-divisional teams will lead the charge. This requires agencies to rethink who they are and how they operate. But then again, isn't that what recessions are all about: speeding up and changing?

Views in brief

How comfortable do you feel pitching against agencies of different disciplines?

Pitching against multiple disciplines will be the norm going forward. We must welcome this and learn from the process. It is important that PR professionals  continue to push the power of a great creative idea; the cost effectiveness of our campaigns and most importantly our increasing ability to measure the impact of what we do.

What were/are the essential elements of your most productive client relationship?

I think all good client relationships go through phases. They start with chemistry, move to delivery, grow to trust, develop to advisory and then achieve partnership. Get this right and you create a virtuous circle.

But it is also important to remember - whatever the level of your relationship - that you are always working for your client and that the relationship is precious.

Stuart Wilson is CEO of MS&L UK

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