Meg WildrickMeg Wildrick

It’s rare to find an agency these days that doesn’t self-define as “integrated.” In part, this is because agencies understand that client marketing dollars do more and stretch further when stories are told through a mix of earned, owned, paid and shared media. But, in the race to offer a full suite of services, some agencies have recreated the tactical silos that integrated programs were designed to break down.

Integrated marketing communications is broadly defined as the use of “both modern and traditional marketing strategies to optimize the communication of a consistent message conveying a company’s brand to stakeholders.” To make good on this promise, agencies need an integrated strategy: goals, stakeholder plans, calls-to-action and messages. Integrated tactics and channels are simply a way to bring the strategy to life.

O'Dwyer's May '16 PR Firm Rankings MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's May '16 PR Firm Rankings Magazine

Agencies that treat social/digital, earned media and sponsored content as separate disciplines — with separate P&Ls and staffing models — risk short-changing the strategy step. It’s hard for siloed professionals to collaborate seamlessly and sing off the same proverbial song sheet.

To extend the metaphor, it’s even harder for a disconnected team to understand a client’s business well enough to hear where the music is going. In dynamic sectors, where plans are rarely “once and done,” integrated programs require an ongoing exchange of information and ideas.

Of course, “hard” doesn’t mean “impossible.” Highly collaborative teams can achieve amazing results, even if they’re siloed by discipline, staffing models or geography. They can come together daily to set strategy, test ideas, refine tactics and measure results. But, given the fast pace of both agency and client life, even professionals who are wired to work well with others need to be organized and staffed to integrate effectively.

The solid agencies integrate around their clients, not around channels or tactics. They invest time upfront to understand their clients’ businesses, inside and out. They come to the table with proactive ideas that are on-strategy and achievable and that reach audiences in multiple formats, across multiple channels. Because of this, their people work well with others, internally and externally.

In every agency, there’s a need for specialists: folks who know a particular industry, discipline, audience or issue well. That’s a given. What’s not is how specialists are integrated into an agency and whether separate P&Ls deter the essential and often times consuming process of coming up with and executing original ideas.

Our agency focuses on three verticals — finance, professional services and healthcare — and has dedicated practice groups steeped in industry knowledge. Our professionals have skills in media relations, social/digital strategy, branding and content development. We also train team members to understand the fundamentals of owned, earned, paid and shared media. And we operate under a single agency P&L and bonus structure, which encourages cross-company collaboration.

Our firm-wide integration enables clients to navigate the converging worlds of finance, technology, workplace, healthcare and advisory services, helping them reach an inter-connected range of B2B and B2C audiences. It helps them develop and implement truly integrated media programs, allowing our people to develop as client counselors and communicators.

It’s no small task for clients and agencies to create a unified brand experience for customers. There must be clear goals and audiences, a meaningful story, smart program elements and seamless execution. By treating integrated marketing as a series of multi-channel tactics, many agencies are missing the point, i.e. their clients.

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Meg Wildrick is Managing Partner at Bliss Integrated Communication.