Despite all the talk, ad and media shops still aren't truly integrated

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On sunday night, I achieved a dream: I downloaded from the Web a copy of the Edward D. Wood Jr. psychotronic movie classic "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and uploaded it onto my video iPod. What does this have to do with the most recent American Association of Advertising Agencies annual Media Conference and Trade Show? As a zen master might say, everything and nothing.

Let's start with the everything. Nearly 1,500 marketing and media professionals showed up-the largest number I have ever seen at an advertising meeting. Banished was the dire talk of the early 1990s, when some wondered openly whether the 4A's (and other marketing trade associations) still served a purpose. This was a gathering as contemp-orary as the issues facing marketers: one-third of exhibitors had an ROI focus. Media-agency executives, once advertising's afterthoughts, strutted like stars. The entire affair was studded with networks-and networking.

Now, the nothing: I did not spot a single main agency principal, senior account executive, significant strategist or creative leader. The list of attendees, fully 71 pages long, is notable for its institutional absences: no BBDO, no Ogilvy & Mather, no Young & Rubicam. This was a conference by media, for media, about media.

Why does that matter? Because marketing communications in the era of digital media not only allows but requires integration of strategy, content and distribution. Yet instead of integration, marketing-communications companies are falling prey to silo-ization.

The best marketing-communications programs today provide a specific solution for an individual client's needs. That solution weaves a strategy through a creative concept and tailors it to a precise venue. It's no longer good enough to be a skilled sloganeer or a sensitive art director or a hard-edged upfront negotiator or a package-goods savant. Whether it's crafting an interior element of "The Apprentice" for a fractional aircraft ownership firm or developing an iTunes download program for a soft-drink company, today's creatives have to be programmers and strategists-and vice versa and inside-out, too.

And those are merely the easy opportunities. When you add the micro-segments that are developing within mini-markets-Google says there are more than a half-million Web pages featuring "Plan 9 From Outer Space"-the possibilities are almost endless.

Yet as the opportunities grow boundless, marketing professionals are not reaching out across functions and domains, but scurrying for cover in their familiar precincts. Even in the old days, I found it odd that account executives and creatives rarely intersected at ad-industry events. They preferred to keep the Greenbrier and the One Show rigidly separate. Today, when strategy, content and channel cannot be separated and marketing departments and agencies should be appointing chief integration officers, such mono-functionality is downright destructive.

To be sure, many of the executives at the 4A's Media Conference nodded vigorously in the direction of boundary-less-ness. "Clients want to buy solutions; they don't want to buy a package of media services," said Interpublic Media's Chairman-CEO Mark Rosenthal. Jack Klues, chairman of Publicis Groupe Media, agreed: "I don't see any client benefit in separating strategy and implementation."

But however full the room they were addressing, it was still, figuratively, two-thirds empty. Two decades after the unreal-ized promises of "Ogilvy Orchestration" and "The Whole Egg," integrated marketing has at last become a practical opportunity-and a necessity. It's time for media execs, strategists and creatives to stop talking to themselves, and to start working with each other.

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