– Jason Sprenger – President, Game Changer Communications

Integrated marketing has caught fire over the last couple of years.  In short, this refers to the concept of an organization working with one outside agency on more than one (or all) of their marketing disciplines (including PR, advertising, graphics/digital, social media, CRM, lead generation, SEO and possibly others).  Back in the day, organizations used to have an ad agency, a PR firm, etc. in order to find the best fits for them in each area.  But lately the trend has been that they’re going more to one agency for many or all of their needs – and that firms have been adding integrated capabilities to try to grab more business from their existing clients.

There are a few reasons for this trend, and they relate to various efficiencies that can be realized from the client side:

  • If an organization turns to one partner for more than one need, then they only need to ramp them up once versus onboarding or ramping more than one organization separately.  Day-to-day communication is often easier.  And, with fewer cooks in the kitchen, work can get done in a more streamlined fashion.
  • Because of the operational efficiencies above, work can sometimes get done cheaper.  So an organization could spend a bit less to have one outside firm doing multiple things than it would take to have more than one outside firm doing those same things.  In an era when we’re all trying to do more with less, this is a compelling argument.
  • It’s just simpler to manage one firm and team of outsiders than it is to oversee more than one.

For these reasons, on the whole I’d say integration has a lot of upside and is well worth considering as an option for staffing and executing in these areas.  There are a few things to keep in mind though, things that I think could be strong arguments against integration if not considered and worked around:

  1. Where does the strategy lie? Who owns the client relationship?  There’s been a massive land grab in recent years, with ad agencies, PR firms and the like competing to not only add more integrated capabilities but then to also show that they’re the ones that offer the best integrated solution.  These arguments are a dime a dozen, but ad agencies often win out and get control of the strategic side and client relationship simply because their budgets are larger.  This might not be the best result; the primary factor in the quality of the agency and team, and then the work product they will deliver, is on the strategic side of the equation.  Who can see the big picture of your business, and who understands the elements of communication in the best way to help you achieve your organizational goals?  In my experience, this is where PR can have a leg up on the rest.
  2. Are the integrated agencies really the best fits, with the particular talents, that an organization needs? In the process of checking boxes so that firms can call themselves integrated, they are adding talent in new arenas to flesh out their capabilities.  But are those people truly good at what they do, and are they right for you?  Can they help you strategically achieve your organizational goals?  How is that firm’s flavor of integrated marketing specifically suited to help you move forward?  It might not be the best solution in that way.  For example, there are more boutique agencies and independent consultants today than ever before, and each offers a specific set of expertise that might match up really well with what you need.  You might not get the financial efficiency noted above, but for a little more spend you might receive a much better work product too.  In other words, you might get what you pay for…
  3. Are the integrated agencies really cheaper or more cost-efficient in your particular case? The newer, more integrated firms have added talent, but that also means they’ve added overhead and other operating expenses that they are passing onto their customers in the form of higher hourly and overall rates.  While there might be efficiencies realized in having things under one roof, they could be canceled out if you’re paying a higher overall or blended rate than you would be if you had other teams with other rates on board.  It depends on the situation whether or not this would apply, but it could.

There’s a lot to keep in mind when considering an integrated marketing approach for your organization, and as such it should be carefully and thoughtfully done.