Question of the Week

Cracking the Code: Marketers' Quest for Seamless Agency Integration

While industry giants like VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson unite for integrated strength, what do marketers make of this? And how can agencies truly deliver diverse, valuable services to clients?

By Dani Gibson

Numerous agencies present themselves as integrated solutions for marketers, offering services encompassing customer experience, above-the-line activities, and more. Interestingly, while agencies aim for seamless integration, many marketers say they operate without a particularly integrated approach.

According to recent findings from global media advisors MediaSense, in collaboration with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), a substantial number of major multinational brands are striving to refine their agency model. Merely 11 per cent of respondents believe their current agency model is a fit for their future requirements, while 24 per cfent deem it unsuitable for future purposes.

In the pursuit of integration, some agencies have experimented with consolidating various capabilities under one roof, achieving notable successes. Most recently, VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson, both born out of significant mergers, are now merging into a consolidated entity under the name VML to create an integrated powerhouse.

However, for others, the process of grafting on capabilities has proven to be more complex than anticipated. Internal development of these capabilities introduces challenges, creating a Catch-22 scenario. The absence of a client makes it difficult to construct the investment case necessary for capability development, resulting in a cycle that brings them back to square one.

We spoke to some industry leaders to find out how agencies can efficiently integrate clients to work better with an integrated agency.

Claire Hollands, CEO, Mullen Lowe

Break down the silos and make sure your teams are talking to each other before they talk to us.

Integration starts with the brief. Ensure all the right stakeholders are engaged and contributing upfront, not along the way. Create a shared ambition and way of working, which puts integration at the heart.

Our agency positioning ‘positive dissatisfaction’ means we are constantly challenging the status quo and choosing to make things better. In an integrated approach this is great as it means we challenge and innovate across the whole customer journey.

Earlier this year we brought all our capabilities together under one brand MullenLowe. The big shift was placing our clients at the heart of our approach and ensuring we had the right teams and services around each one. This has given new focus to our core offerings, identified our adjacencies and allowed us to focus where we invest inhouse or partner to be future fit. Importantly, this approach has also informed what we don’t do too.

Our approach means clients get the best of both worlds – a breadth of in-house offerings, which we can dial up and down depending on the brief but also deep expertise via our partners.

Sarah Golding, CEO and partner, The&Partnership

Culture is the key to making this work. Having different talent and teams working together, co-located with the client, can help us work in-sync. Part of this is a mindset shift, that can shift the traditional “them and us” agency dynamic. But practical steps, like a shared space and shared processes also lead to better integration.

The whole dynamic can change for the better, as it becomes more of an intuitive relationship based on mutual understanding and respect.

Because we’re better plugged into the mindset and the needs of our clients, it makes it less of a relay race and more of an ongoing conversation.

And ultimately, it lets better work shine through. Being able to spot and react to opportunities faster, being able to bring together diverse mindsets and skillsets around a problem, leads to better work. It also means less time spent on ‘joining the dots’ (or papering over the cracks)!

Partnership is in our name for a reason – we pride ourselves on partnering brilliantly with others as part of allowing us to bring the best capabilities, talent and technology to play. Those partners can come from the WPP network, or other technologies and partners.

New capabilities come from bringing together the right talent with the right tools. For example, we believe we’re at the start of a big and exciting transformation in the space of AI. As part of WPP, we are developing a whole new set of AI-enabled tools and technologies. So we are focusing on the training and upskilling required, while also bringing in specialist expertise and capability to keep developing this capability.

With expertise spanning media, creative, and production, we've been able to step into a wide range of areas where our clients require our support. For those instances where we lack specific in-house capabilities, we've been able to identify the right partners within our extensive WPP network.

Peter Reid, CEO and founder, MSQ

At MSQ we talk a lot about the need for clients to connect the disconnected – the ability to join everything up across marketing, tech and data channels. And the best clients succeed when they’re able to do just that. But it’s definitely easier said than done – and you need a number of conditions in place to make it happen.

First there needs to be an alignment between client teams – the CMO and CTO in particular need to be in constant communication, speaking with transparency and in a shared language (or both areas need to come under the ultimate control of a CXO or equivalent). The entire client team needs to have bought into a full agenda, with a clear structure in place, and an overall leader (usually the CMO) empowered to move the whole process forward. This allows for rapid decision making, greater transparency and the agility to flex specialists in and out as work evolves.

From the agency side, you need similar agility. It’s important to have central teams that can oversee delivery, but you then need to be able to provide the right experts offering the right range of services at the right time. Too often I see agencies and groups locking in fixed teams, which are in reality more of a financial play, rather than really delivering what the client actually needs or designed to solve the specific problems they have.

When we look at building our own overall offer, two further important qualities stand out. Any acquisition – or individual hire – we make is focused on building a truly joined-up group, with people and teams who are collaborative by nature. And we look for senior leaders who are willing to roll their sleeves up and work hand-in-hand with clients themselves. We need them in place to understand the capabilities we offer and – crucially – have the ability and influence to bring those requirements into a client’s business as and when needed.

Fiona Gordon, CEO, Ogilvy UK

You will get the most unexpected and open solutions when you give your agency the full business problem or opportunity versus giving them expected channels or defining the expected response. The more you can share the depth of your business challenge and define it clearly the more the agency can think of true, innovative cross channel solutions. That is when magic happens and when you get the real benefit of an integrated agency. So whichever part of marketing you sit in try and step back from your area to think ‘what is the overall business opportunity?’

The next way to unlock the full impact of an integrated agency is to share context - how does your company make decisions, how do they buy ideas, what data is needed in stakeholder management, how do they like to see presentations or workshop? This is often an area that does not get much discussion but the 'how you think, feel and take action' as a client and company is so helpful for an agency to know. It allows them to help you bring different stakeholders and areas of marketing together to unify behind a programme.

Our clients, big fabric of the nation brands, love the fusion of creativity and behaviourial science, they adore the combination of PR and advertising, they invest heavily in mobilising Influence across every platform and every device of their social activity. When our clients start seeing the power of integration work in one part of the business, other parts soon follow. At Ogilvy we call this borderless creativity.

Ogilvy UK has always been at the front of emerging capabilities over the years - we achieve this by really listening to our clients' business needs but most importantly by seeing what consumers and customers are doing and how they are behaving. That real world evidence is why we were pioneers in social, B2B and behavioural science and now we have the world’s biggest Influence division. Watching where B2B customers looked for advice and wisdom enabled us last year to launch B2B Influence, and by being on the pulse of those trends next year there will be other new capabilities. That's what makes everyday exciting.

If you can bring diverse skills together around your business problem they can solve it in unexpected and really meaningful ways and that will achieve impact at scale - and who doesn’t want that?


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