Remember That Integration Thing?
Integration is one of those things that seemed quite hot in the past, but instead of becoming the fleeting concept of the moment, it has become a part of how we operate on a daily basis. Rightly so, I might add.
The word "integration" might not turn heads like it did two years ago, but it's a valuable concept nonetheless. But how many folks truly know what it means?
Integration is the flow of ideas, from concept to execution, from a common strategy. Many people in this business instead think it has something to do with keeping a common look and feel consistent in all channels. This is merely a tactic that might be born out of an integrated approach, however. True integration comes from a process-oriented approach that encourages all stakeholders in a communications effort to see the planning and execution of that effort from concept to implementation to follow-through.
Those stakeholders should have a seat at the table when a client wants to communicate any sort of message to any audience. Not only should that constituency contain the usual suspects - the folks who plan and buy broadcast media, the people who deal with online advertising, direct marketing, etc., but it should also require the input of any discipline involved in the communications process - PR, guerrilla marketing, search marketing, etc.
The process of planning the communications effort should not simply aim to make communications consistent across all channels. It should be fully cognizant of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various channels considered. Let's face it. PR can do things that paid media can't. Radio and the Internet are more efficient frequency-builders than television. The input of each discipline is critical to the success of the planning phase, and someone working on Internet communications, for instance, should be at the table for communications planning, not merely for media planning.
Thankfully, the interactive industry is earning its seat at the table, and I'm finding that clients want interactive input earlier and earlier in the process. To me, this says we're becoming more integrated in the truest sense of the word. It's less and less of "we want to spend $1 million on the Internet. Tell us how." and more "We have an interesting challenge we'd like your input on."
This is what we really meant when we said online advertising needed to earn a "seat at the table." It's not about breaking off a minimum of X percent of the communications budget. It's about being there during the early planning stages, making recommendations and not being locked out. We're being treated like the strategists we are instead of the merely executional order-takers we never wanted to be.
And that's a good thing.