Magazine article Marketing

Integration: Stephen Maher, James Middlehurst MBA - Don't Think Agency, Think Digitally

Magazine article Marketing

Integration: Stephen Maher, James Middlehurst MBA - Don't Think Agency, Think Digitally

Article excerpt

All our customers are inherently digitally integrated, so agencies that don't follow suit will be going the way of the dinosaurs.

Integration in structure and execution has long been accepted as a solid approach. Integration that supports the business at its core purpose and extends out through marketing to customers is proven to be powerful and effective. And different ways of engaging with agencies suit different clients - some prefer an integrated agency, some prefer a group of specialists. But whichever way you look at it, integration is widely lauded as the best approach.

The advent of digital and, especially, social has clouded our view though. Things appear more complicated, we have a bigger armoury of solutions to a lengthening list of problems. And we don't seem to be as in control any more (were we ever, really?). What shall we do?

We need a different type of integration. One that is capable of embracing the changes, rolling with the idea that different types of answers are required, and that - gasp - may not require media spend That, in fact, may not feel like advertising at all. We need a model of integration that can embrace digital in all its forms.

And the answer is in forgetting about integration.

People out there, our customers, do not seem to be having integration problems. They are just getting on with their lives. We are guilty of forgetting that we're a bit weird. We don't look at the TV in the same way that our friends and family do. We don't use Twitter in the same way. They have their life. They don't have compartments for different media.

Digital, social, experiential are simply things that surround them; things that are just there. We live in a digitally integrated world, and our approach to integration must adapt to reflect that.

This development has particular pertinence to the future of integrated agencies. There's a whiff of dinosaur around many of them at the moment. To remain fit for purpose, integrated agencies must evolve to ensure they are able to compete in this digitally integrated world. If they haven't done so already, then they are in trouble.

Structures need to change, new skills need to be learned and cultures need to evolve. The fundamental challenge is thinking with digital baked in - not as a bolt-on or as a specialist product - inherent in everything we touch and do, just like it is for our customers.

Some wise person once uttered words to the effect that 'technology is something that happens to you after you're 30'. (Who knew how to programme the VCR in your household?) For the younger generation, technological advances are simply life.

Our children are now born into a world of Skype and touchscreens. They are already digitally integrated. They don't need to think about it.

The conclusion from that discussed so far is that investment in the next generation is critical to the continued success of integrated agencies. Finding and nurturing talented youth is fundamental to our approach at MBA. This materialises in a few different strands, but revolves around an 'academy'-style internship programme, graduate recruitment and also an apprenticeship programme.

Digital natives

This isn't just a sop to the woes of unemployed graduates or bandwagon-jumping to show just how nice we are, it is a critical part of the agency's future. By adopting this approach, we are bypassing the issues that many of our competitors are facing. We are prepared for the digitally integrated world by employing people who have never known that 'digital' didn't exist a few years ago - people whose entire conscious life has featured respectably fast internet access, YouTube and Facebook. …

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