Integration? It’s Nothing New!

Integration? It’s Nothing New!

In his latest column, B&T regular Robert Strohfeldt argues that despite all the new trendy terms that adland bandies about the place, the art of advertising and communication hasn’t really changed that much over the last century…

The use of the terms paid, owned and earned came about post digital and a recent article I read makes me wonder where the authors are getting their information, though it is obvious they have not looked too far into the past i.e. Once-upon-a-time; PR, marketing and advertising were very much separate entities operating in business silos and focussing on very different activities.

After thirty plus years working on a wide range of advertisers, I can recall when all marketing communications were planned in combination i.e. an integrated approach was standard.

The “once-upon-a-time” is how fairy tales of years past begin, so its use is appropriate.

But, as many family and friends often remind me, I am becoming ancient history. What is still relatively new to my generation of advertisers and marketers, is a case of “always has been” for any under about 35, who are no “spring chickens” themselves. (Trust me, 40 is just around the corner and will hit fast.)

In the “good old days”, owned media was not as prevalent, though for some companies a publication, newsletter or even a paid for regular place in a mainstream media were a key element of their communications. For example, professional service firms provided clients with branded and named newsletters. John Deere is famous for The Furrow, a publication that was launched in 1896 and still going. It is the world’s oldest content marketing piece.

During annual planning sessions, all communications options were examined in relation to achieving both tactical (short term) and strategic (longer term) objectives.

PR, promotions (both in-house and media partners), advertising, DM, customer retention, content material (where applicable), sponsorship, events etc. were all carefully planned to form an integrated campaign.

The concept of silos emerged with “digital” – separate people and teams working on the websites, online communications, social media etc. and those in traditional advertising. As this split evolved, the various disciplines such as PR, sponsorship, EDM/DM, and events followed.

The consolidation of media agencies, as separate to creative and the emergence of the importance of data has contributed to this fragmentation.

From 2000 onwards, agencies hired “digital” experts and not long after, whole “digital agencies” started popping up. Stories abounded on the forecast shift of advertising dollars from traditional to digital advertising.

It was around 2007/8 that social media took off as a communication’s tool and it did not take long for “social media experts” to develop – it seems as if it is the one medium that can broach paid, earned and owned.

It can be in the stable of “owned” with websites, social media, blogs, podcasts (a plethora of “owned” media has occurred) “paid” with placement in traditional and online social and “earned” when bloggers, journalists or even the general public have something good (or bad) to say about a company.

With so many different platforms and disciplines evolving rapidly, it was hardly any wonder that silos of specialist areas of communications evolved with them.

As with so many other fields, the depth of knowledge increased at the expense of the breadth.  Not that long ago, a “general surgeon” was common. But now, surgeons are not only orthopaedic – their specialty goes far deeper to orthopaedic hand, knee, hip or shoulder. The shoulder specialist doesn’t do knees and vice versa.

As knowledge and complexity increases, it becomes almost impossible to have the depth of knowledge required across all functions and silos of competency result.

Back to ancient history, in 1983/4 I was at a multinational agency called Masius working on a political account (The NSW Liberal Party) leading up to the March 1984 election.

Political advertising openly stated back then they had learned from and copied private sector advertising. (They “poached” private sector marketers, initially from FMCG). The three major Australian political parties all ran integrated campaigns – there was an overarching theme and each week, a key message, which supported the theme, was decided upon. All communications – advertising, press club lunches, curb side interview – any conduit to the voters, was strictly controlled from a central position.

Not as detailed or as well targeted as today, individual electorates were targeted with messages specific to the local issues, but they fed back into and reinforced the overarching theme.

There were no silos. The term “integration” was rarely mentioned or known as a concept. (It was a term used in calculus, the opposite of differentiation).

Above and below the line were used instead.

Some things don’t change – the character traits it took to be a successful politician in 1984 are the same as today. (You know when they are lying,  their lips are moving.)

Whereas the term, integration, is relatively new, tactical and strategic are both terms (and concepts) as old as marketing itself.

In today’s multi-platform, 24 -hour news cycle, strategic initiatives are much more easily stated than achieved.

A successful new product launch is obviously very important and getting it wrong can cost a lot of money, but there is usually more at stake with political advertising and a narrower window in which to make it all happen.

Many agencies (and people) steer clear of political advertising. There is no great advantage in taking a particular political stance, but potentially plenty of downside. (Hence the adage of avoiding topics on sex, politics and religion when at a party).

For someone starting their career, working on a major party’s political advertising account, leading into a general election, is a fantastic learning opportunity on how integrated campaigns work.  (Particularly those who specialise in social. Far more relevant material and opportunities in politics than say FMCG).

Major political parties conduct ongoing (often daily and in different seats and states) market research tracking voters’ intention and issues that swing voters and where. All disciplines meet daily, with key tactical messages agreed upon and which media/platforms will be used. The overarching strategic message rarely changes, as to jump around leads to voter confusion and loss of credibility. (Yes, I know a contradiction – credible politician).  The players may not always get it right, but they know an integrated approach is mandatory. Chaos would be the result if their communications were conducted in mutually exclusive silos.

Even Clive Palmer gets this and hence his support has grown. (Even in the face of vocal claims of him still owing his workers and the tax payer millions.) Whenever a political party has done well in an election (in a country that is not riddled with corruption), you hear the expression “they ran a disciplined campaign.” An integrated campaign does not necessarily equate to a disciplined campaign, but a disciplined campaign must have been an integrated campaign.

So, whilst the messages may not always be palatable and the product rarely appealing, political advertising can teach us a bit about integration.

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Robert Strohfeldt

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