Chasing Marketing's Holy Grail Into Cyberspace

And Pondering the Ad Industry's Difficulties With Integrated Campaigns

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In medieval European mythology, the Holy Grail was the chalice that caught Jesus' blood from the cross. Drinking from it, the legend goes, could heal all wounds. Not surprisingly, the hunt for this ancient relic became a consuming passion of lore and literature, from Parsifal to Monty Python, with seekers enduring all manner of hardships on their searches (including, in the Pythons' case, flying cows).
Why is it so difficult for marketers and agencies to plan and join all marketing communications across multiple platforms? ALSO: Comment on this issue in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
Why is it so difficult for marketers and agencies to plan and join all marketing communications across multiple platforms? ALSO: Comment on this issue in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

Holy grail
Marketers long have been on their own unconsummated quest, and their holy grail is integrated marketing: The two phrases together garner almost 10,000 Google references. Why (so goes the wish) can't we plan and join all marketing communications in a seamlessly woven campaign that can deliver to all-important segments messages relevant just to them, over the medium most likely to reach and influence them?

The most trenchant "grail" insights I've heard lately came from two of new media's media doyennes, Stacey Deziel, exec VP-media director of FCBi, and Sarah Kim, VP-media at Avenue A/ Razorfish. In several hours of live and e-mail conversation traffic leading up to a panel discussion at the Magazine Publishers of America's annual conference on digital media, they indicated that integration remains elusive because human processes still haven't caught up with the dream. "Integration is a great buzzword," said Sarah, whose agency is the largest buyer of Web media in the U.S. "It's hard to do."

Web wizards
Why listen to Web wizards on integration? Because the medium has a naturally integrative function. As long ago as 1999, graphic design gurus Bill Drenttel and Jessica Helfand were showing clients that corporate Web sites, simply because of the volume of material they housed, showcased a brand's coherence -- or its chaos.

In their positions as Web planners extraordinaire, Ms. Deziel and Ms. Kim have seen why integration is honored more frequently in the breach than in the observance. The biggest obstacle to it is the differing planning horizons for different media. "Everything is on such a different timeline," Ms. Kim said. "The expectations of when and how an online plan can launch, vs. TV or print, are wildly different. "

Another challenge, to media companies in particular, is the "lead dog syndrome"-the predisposition to push a marquee legacy property (which, one could presume, might represent the high-priced spread in a company with multiple products on offer). The desire among marketers for ROI is quite real, caution these uber-planners, and clients increasingly are looking askance at proposals that might appear to favor a "gray" medium over one more precise in its impact.

Accountability and engagement
"Given all the talk and emphasis on accountability and engagement, I'd suggest they start thinking from the inside out," said Ms. Deziel, whose clients at FCBi have included Hewlett-Packard and Motorola. "Don't think of magazine as the lead property, think about the Web property and how they blow it out in magazines."

The blowout, it turns out, isn't a bad strategy, either for media companies or marketers. Media companies tend to succeed in creating results-oriented (rather than force-fit) integrated packages when they build them around a big event. As Sarah put it, "the Fortune 500 is something that's hard-coded into Fortune magazine," and through them across other divisions of Time Warner. (One reason ESPN shows up so frequently on lists of the best integrators may be that sports, almost by definition, consists of events.)

But ESPN and Time Warner aren't the only media companies successful at integrating. The New York Times and Newsweek also come in for high praise -- surprisingly, their sales forces are leading the way. Many have put down the siloed mentality that prevailed for years.

"The sales team is getting it now," said Ms. Deziel -- and where sales teams lead, a grail is sure to be.

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Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.
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