What is a true integrated agency?

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  • 6/21/2017
    Integrated marketing has moved past a buzzword thrown around at industry conferences and has evolved into a viable agency marketing model due to the need for increased speed, integration of skill sets and a lack of client side resources. However, it is a term that needs more clarification about its complex definition, especially on the agency side.

    Integrated marketing is a holistic approach to marketing that includes all general communication and promotional disciplines including branding, advertising, design, digital and communications. An integrated agency has distinct skill sets that can be combined to produce better and typically, more efficient results for their clients. Due to its talent and production model, an integrated marketing agency focuses on solution versus service delivery.

    Integrated marketing usually brings to mind the combination of multiple communication channels for a campaign like print advertising, social media and in-store efforts. While this is true, it is just the tip of the iceberg for integrated marketing. Also consider the integration of skills within a single channel. For instance, an integrated email marketing campaign can require a user experience designer to lay out the template, a designer to apply the visual theme, a programmer to tweak the code, a videographer to create the interview that is embedded in the message, a writer to create the copy, an analyst to make sense of the metrics and an account manager to make sure it all comes together on time, on budget and meets the target audience’s needs.

    These are some signs of a true integrated marketing agency:
    • The ownership structure is the same, regardless of the offerings and its departments are judged on more than their P&L. These approaches allow for a financially viable approach that keeps departments and divisions fighting over their interests versus the clients'.
    • Even large integrated marketing agencies can't do everything, so make sure only nonessential services are outsourced.
    • The agency's work is balanced across disciplines which includes portfolio worthy work, awards and certifications.
    • The length of time different skills have resided at the marketing agency should be the same or independently significant.
    • The headcount is fairly even between the multiple disciplines inside the agency. This will lessen the need to sell one service over others because more costs need to be covered due to headcount.
    Additionally, an integrated marketing agency model can be more nimble because of the diversity of skills at their disposal. This agency model can allow the firm to look at issues and opportunities through a more neutral lens since there are many ways to assist and serve changing client needs over the long term. When an integrated marketing agency can supply most or all of the skills across the marketing spectrum, it’s a more efficient approach for the client in respect to managing consistency and use of time and budget resources.

    As marketing evolves, more agencies will have to become truly integrated to survive or they will need to narrow in their service offerings all together. It's important for a client to understand the difference in order to choose a long-term agency partner that will help them succeed year over year.

    Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2009 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness updated May 15, 2015 and again on June 21, 2017
    About the author::Jason Therrien is the president of thunder::tech. He is a fan of entrepreneurs and trailblazers, a proud dad and he liked scotch before Mad Men made it cool.
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