The Case for the Integrated Agency

Best in breed or one throat to choke? That’s typically how the debate plays out when clients decide whether they want a roster of niche specialists or a generalist agency. With the explosion of digital sub-specialties — think how many dedicated social and mobile shops are out there now — the pendulum would seem to be swinging towards specialization.

But Jim Russell, chief innovation officer at McKinney, believes the future belongs to integrated shops. In his line of thinking, the tools might change but broader-view agencies are best to lead for clients.

What frustrates you most about brands in digital?
There are all these agencies popping up. Don’t get me wrong, we have done great work in collaboration with other agencies. But the future belongs to integrated agencies. Right now, social and mobile have got their own agencies, and that brings a lot of people to the party. It puts an extra burden on the client to be a referee and an extra layer on the agency of record to make sure everyone else is working together. Human behavior and how we perceive brands have not changed in decades. We just have new devices in our hands. We don’t need new agencies. Fully integrated agencies can just take on the whole thing.

What are the biggest challenges that brands face in digital today?
It’s this interesting friction with fundamentals. People are so worried about how to get people attached to a brand in today’s digital ecosystem. But it is the same now as it was 30 years ago. Give them value. Build an emotional connection. This issue hits when a new marketing technology pops up. Adoption by consumers is extremely fast. I mean, look at the iPad. iPad adoption was a tenth of how long it took the iPhone to gain traction. When something tips, it tips a lot faster. Brands have to be more innovative to keep up.

Do you feel that the majority of brands really get digital?
They get it. They are all consumers and people. They have devices, and they are using new technology, like Square and such. The pace of consumer adoption of technology always trumps brand adoption. Making a change organizationally always takes a lot longer.

What needs to happen for brands to really get digital?
We need to get away from this idea of treating digital as a silo. Now, digital experts should be everyone in the organization. The creative department should be creative, technology people, social media managers, etc. They need to work together. We are not seeing this fluidity with some of our clients. Others are more open to it. For example, Meijer, which we’ve [coached] on innovation planning, is placing small bets on new technology and media. It allocates a budget for this and then places bigger bets on the stuff that works the best.

Any advice for brand managers?
Experiment more. Try to do more little things and learn from them. We typically tell clients to allocate 10 percent to experimentation. The next thing to figure out in this space is what to do with all the data. Also, I’d keep my eye on things like NFC, which has the power to make the consumer even more connected.

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock

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