Agencies' narrow definition of 'creative' stunts integration

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Picking the right media to interact with each other at just the right times has become the true creative process. So why continue to cling to the worn-out notion that the men and women who write ads are the one and only "creatives?" I've never liked the word as used in advertising agencies. If the people who write and illustrate the ads are the creatives, does it mean everybody else in the agency isn't?

It's becoming increasingly clear Marshall McLuhan was right: The medium is the message. The creative department no longer deserves all the credit for coming up with the message when it's how the message is conveyed that's most important.

Is that too harsh a statement? Well, here's another: The creative department, as currently aligned, will prove the biggest roadblock to the integrated marketing discipline that finally seems to be gathering momentum. Making conventional ads is no longer the key element, and the creative department will try to impede the much broader process.

Integrated marketing calls for the use of a variety of marketing tools, all working together to convey one central idea. Since delivering the message in varied formats becomes as important as the message itself, the sun no longer rises and sets on the creative department. Until that sinks in, the ad-centric tilt of ad agencies won't change. That's because agency creative departments throughout the world are focused on TV and nothing in the cards will wean them off that medium. (Come to think of it, media departments of big agencies are also hopelessly addicted to TV. Why else would they allow themselves to be dragged into the upfront season, negotiating in a frenzy through the night to pay more and more for less and less?)

So it's obvious that the agency creative department will abandon its love of TV-and its purported ability to solve every last marketing problem extant-only when global warming prevents hell from freezing over. The only solution is to create entirely new units that bend over backward to ignore traditional advertising. "The historical arrogance of advertising is to say, `The answer is advertising. Now what is the question?"' said the head of TBWA, which is setting up an integration department, TBWA/Connect. "The practice was to make everything look like the ad. That's not right. The right way is to question from the very beginning how does a consumer connect with the brand?"

It looks good on paper but now agencies are stuck with two separate units: one with a distinct bias in favor of advertising, the other with an equally distinct bias against advertising. How do you get these two antithetical forces to mesh into a truly seamless integrated program?

Maurice Levy, chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe, has stirried up a commotion with his comments about integrated marketing being fatally flawed. "While I once admired integrated marketing, I declare today that it is faulty in practice if not in concept," he declared at the American Association of Adver-tising Agencies' conference this spring. He said he prefers a more "holistic" approach.

Doesn't everybody? I had lunch the other day with Bob Bloom, who runs Publicis USA, and after we exchanged information on our workout regimes, I asked what's so different about Publicis' integrated marketing alignment. My impression is that Publicis' definition of "holistic" is pretty much what everyone else is doing-a campaign that "totally speaks with one voice around a strategic idea." And, he added, the idea comes from strategic planning "leading all disciplines working together." And, by the way, he said the strategic campaign idea "is usually an advertising idea, but it doesn't have to be."

So far, not much to chew on that's radically different. But Bob goes one step further by naming as co-presidents of each of the Publicis offices a creative guy and a strategic planning guy. Their objectives and bonuses are tied together to assure that, on the one hand, all disciplines are accounted for in the strategic plan and that, on the other, advertising is creative "and not just strategic bullshit," as Bob delicately put it.

Bob doesn't buy into my contention that the creative department is the big culprit in blocking integrated marketing efforts. "The basic agency structure-account services, creative, production, research and media-hasn't changed since I joined my father's agency in 1957," he told me. "Fundamentally, the agency is still organized around that model. That's what's got to change."

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