Integrated Head, Specialised Hands

[This post is syndicated from the Naked Australia blog]

Many agencies and networks seem to be struggling with the ‘specialisation vs. integration’ dilemma. On the one hand, fragmentation of marketing vehicles (particularly in the digital space) is demanding ever-deeper specialised expertise. Being digital experts used to be enough – now we have mobile experts, search experts, and any moment we will no doubt see the spawning of mobile search experts as the technical specialisation continues. On the other hand, an increasing (and long overdue) disenchantment with shoving the same old ads down the same old media channels is demanding greater strategic integration from agencies. When client’s expect a media-neutral ‘big idea’ to be the foundation for their campaigns, agency groups can no longer rely on sending around a slick TVC and expecting studio to create ‘matching luggage’ executions across print digital et. al.

Some of the networks (particularly the digital ones, like Isobar and the ill-fated Blue Freeway) attempt to address this conflict between specialisation and integration by bringing together a group of diverse specialist agencies under one roof. In this way they can assemble the right mix of specialisations in response to a given problem. This approach is also adopted by a few of the more forward-thinking international clients who bring together multi-disciplinary ‘agency councils’ to work toward a single integrated idea. The challenge with the ‘multiple specialists’ approach is twofold. Firstly, it relies on agency cooperation, and while this often starts with the best intentions (P&Ls and political infighting notwithstanding), cooperation is often hard to achieve unless the groups consistently work on projects together. Secondly, bringing the right mix of specialists together is impossible until you know the shape of the solution – as a result, agency councils often steer the outcome (innocently enough) toward their own expertise… regardless of the nature of the problem.

A better solution is to separate strategic and creative thinking from execution. Agencies that focus on developing media-neutral insights, strategies and ideas are not under the same pressure to develop deeply specialised technical skills as executional agencies. For this reason, clients can brief a single ‘integrated strategy and creativity’ agency to develop the architecture for a solution in response to their marketing problem. As long as they apply sound strategic analysis and innovative thinking, these agencies can build the integrated ‘big idea’ foundation that can then be briefed out to specialist executional agencies. Importantly, these specialists can be chosen based on the proposed solution – making sure you can have the most appropriate partners every time without limiting your options.

Integrated strategy and idea, specialised execution. It probably doesn’t make life that much easier, but it does give you a better chance of creating some really good marketing.

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