The mirage of integration

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The surprise in this issue's cover story on ad agency compensation isn't that only a few clients pay by a 15% commission. The shocker is that there are any left at all still paying that way. All the more reason to pay heed to Publicis Groupe Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy and his clarion call that integrated marketing is "faulty in practice if not in concept."

Clients couldn't be clearer: They demand integration, which, particularly in times of tightening budgets, becomes even more crucial in stretching the brand message. Agencies have laudably made all the right moves to provide integration, snapping up disciplines such as public relations, event marketing and direct. They wave the banner, touting a soup-to-nuts menu of services, complete with catchy names like Synchronized Marketing and Connect.

But much of it is posturing. Agencies shout integration to clients without actually being able to integrate their own umbrella of services. Each discipline operates in its own silo, competing for the shrinking compensation dollar with sibling units under the same holding company banner. "When the economy goes south, the first thing clients reduce is their marketing budget," said Geoff Sands, a partner at Booz-Allen & Hamilton. "So agencies are looking to figure out how to increase their share of an overall budget by saying, `We're fully integrated."'

But saying they are integrated and actually practicing integration are different things entirely. Separate P&Ls for "integrated" disciplines conspire against a truly advertising-neutral solution that Omnicom Group's TBWA Worldwide, for example, is seeking with its new TBWA/Conncect. "The historic arrogance of advertising has been to say, `The answer is advertising, now what is the question?"'said TBWA Worldwide President Carl Johnson.

Whether TBWA/Connect can pull off that currently pie-in-the-sky notion of integration is an open question. No agency has been truly successful at it yet, and money is at the root of the reason. "It becomes a big fight as to [which discipline] gets the [client's] budget," said Jack Trout of Trout & Partners. And while the disciplines battle internally, the spoils may slip away to a better-integrated rival.

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