Readers Respond to Al Ries' Dis-Integration Column

Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Editor's Note: Since Al Ries began writing his monthly "On Marketing" column exclusively for in late 2002, his
The Al Ries column of Feb. 16 has drawn a strong response.
work has consistently moved readers to action.

Columns such as "The Curse of Product Convergence", "What Botox and Viagra Teach Us About Advertising", "Wasting Money on Bad Ad Slogans" and "Why Japanese Companies Make Everything Except Money" have generated impassioned letters of agreement or rebuttal from our audience.

But none of Mr. Ries' prickly ruminations have hit a nerve quite like his latest, "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing," a critical look at one of the industry's most intractable controversies.

Below are a dozen of the letters has so far received in response to that column. welcomes your letters and comments on any aspect of the marketing and advertising business. All e-mail letters should include the name, title, company, city, state and phone number of the author. E-mail addresses and phone numbers will not be published. reserves the right to edit all letters for brevity and style. Send letters to Hoag Levins at [email protected].

The Pandora's Box of Integrated Marketing

Dear Editor:

Al Ries made some remarkable observations in the column "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing."

Most interesting is Ries' claim that integrated marketing is (or was) a real trend. The trend he speaks of is solely skin-deep. The real trend, as Deutsch has understood all along, is accountability and business results on behalf of clients. And integration is, simply put, a strategic and executional way of achieving better results. Unfortunately, in this day of scrutinized agency fees, most agencies advocating skin-deep "integration" are doing so to increase their own bottom lines instead of maximizing their client's marketing effectiveness.

The specialization that Ries says clients are seeking lies not within segregated "specialized" shops but within an agency's own business model. This structure should be one that allows unbiased recommendations of direct mail over general TV, PR over a print ad, or not advertising at all (imagine that!) rather than the historical agency business model that favors recommendations weighted toward meatier fees or the sexier mediums.

Ries did get it right when he wrote that integration isn't the holy grail. Rather, it is a Pandora's Box, albeit a worthwhile one. The issues that arise by challenging the traditional structures within both agencies and clients to facilitate the execution of integration are plentiful and, at times, painful to confront.

But the rewards, from a consumer's brand experience to a client's business results, can be well worth it.

Val DiFebo
Managing Partner, General Manager
New York
~ ~ ~

Al Ries and the Importance of the Marketing Director

Dear Editor:

I totally agree with Al Ries' "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing." I have been a corporate marketing director for 27 years at Texas Instruments, Dell, Zenith and Motorola.

I was always frustrated with what agencies pitched me as "integrated communications." Yes, I agree that a marketer's communications need to be integrated, but that was my role as a corporate marketing director. What I wanted was the best-in-class work possible in each area. I used agencies, contract houses and lots of independent, really sharp freelancers, and the results where fantastic.

I recently founded a company to deliver several specific services and built the entire philosophy not around today's agency model, but around what I wanted as a corporate marketing executive.

My recent clients seem to appreciate the concept a great deal.

Michael Smith
JMS Global Group
Austin, Texas
~ ~ ~

Al Ries, the Shameless Self-promoter

Dear Editor:

I have always enjoyed Al Ries' books over the years, but the shameless self-promotion thinly disguised as columns such as "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing" is getting old.

Mr. Ries' credibility and opinions would be greatly enhanced if there was even a hint of objectivity throughout his work.

Bob Ravasio
- - -

Al Ries Is Timely and Accurate

Dear Editor:

Al Ries' insights in "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing" are timely, accurate and appreciated.

I worked for 15 years (the last three as general manager) for a successful agency that specialized in co-op advertising. The company that acquired us decided to do integrated marketing. It didn't work. Not a single client utilized every integrated service offering.

John Nelson
Director of Marketing
Town & Country Homes
Eden Prairie, Minn.
~ ~ ~

Client-Side Integrated Marketing

Dear Editor:

Excellent commentary in Al Ries' "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing."

But where does this leave folks like me, who pride themselves on being "integrated" account management personnel who relish the opportunity to put together effective integrated marketing programs for our clients?

Can you say "client side"?

I wonder how many of my colleagues are sick and tired of the in-fighting that usually dominates the partnership of companies as they service one client organization. Separate P&L's. Separate agendas.

Rather than fight the ongoing battles, most competent account people will simply go over to client organizations where they will truly be in charge of managing integration.

Another nail in the agency model? Perhaps not. But agencies must find a way to position themselves as the only organization able to lead a client safely through this integration minefield.

Let's hope that agencies figure this out before they lose all the talented people who can actually make this happen.

Mitchell Caplan
Group Account Director
Merkley & Partners
New York
- - -

Chasing the Holy Grail

Dear Editor:

The central point of Al Ries' "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing" is true -- the trend toward specialization. In our competitive world, the only way to find excellence is through specialization; the sure way to find mediocrity is at a so-called "integrated marketing" agency.

But Mr. Ries failed to make an important point about the opportunity that this provides to an agency that takes a strategic point of view, that has clients that are grappling with splintered specialists.

The opportunity is not about the increasingly commoditized, tactical delivery of individual marketing disciplines. The opportunity lies in tying the disciplines together -- integration, orchestration, synchronization or whatever you want to call it -- through the development of a philosophy, a framework and a process that can inspire the client and the client's other marketing partners.

This is the grail.

David Brown
Director, Direct and Digital Marketing
Colby & Partners
Santa Monica, Calif.
~ ~ ~

Al Ries Made Me Laugh

Dear Editor:

I had to laugh at Al Ries’s column, "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing," that heaps scorn on the very notion of the "integrated marketing agency."

I read it as I was wrapping up the content for a client's promotional Web site. Today, I'm doing the Web banners and print ads that will drive people to that site -- along with the direct-mail package and e-mail blasts I did over the weekend.

Mr. Ries is clearly focused on the largest consumer marketers and their equally large advertising and public relations agencies located in New York. And I'll grant him that the big agencies' integration model -- buying up specialized firms that end up competing against each other instead of cooperating --is a ripe target for derision.

But for thousands of smaller firms toiling away for the smaller budgets of regional or business-to-business clients, integration is hardly the "holy grail." It's a matter of competitive pressure. Those clients expect that you can and will do everything for them, and that you have the strategic vision and the tactical resources to make it work.

Mr. Ries observes that "splintering puts pressure on clients who have to integrate" multiple marketing suppliers. Sounds like a big opportunity to me. Smart agencies can make themselves more valuable by taking that weight off the client's shoulders. And smart clients seek those agencies out. That is why I and many people I know have made successful careers out of this "trend that will never happen."

John McClave
JMC Communications Inc.
San Francisco
~ ~ ~

Today's Hollow Promise

Dear Editor:

In Al Ries' article, "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing," he says integrated marketing will never happen. I'd say that agencies, intentionally or not, made a decision to get out of the integration business a long time ago.

I would argue that agencies were "integrated" 20 to 30 years ago, when they trained their account executives to be the "hub of the wheel." As media department trainees, AE's learned how to analyze the cost-benefit relationship of different marketing functions and combinations of those functions. They learned that the purpose of a marketing plan is to organize and manage the multiple marketing variables affecting success. Function-specific strategies were integrated within the overall marketing plan framework. And AE's were valued partners to brand managers -- even filling in as brand managers when clients were short-handed.

Then the economy weakened. Cost cutting became more important than training future account executives. Relying on business schools to train future AE's seemed more cost effective. Without a symbiotic AE training/cheap labor benefit, spinning off media departments made sense. These decisions fundamentally weakened agency integration capabilities at a time when integration required more sophisticated thinking to manage the complexities of more marketing choices for brands to compete against more competitors.

So I agree that today's agency integration promises are hollow. But I disagree with Al Ries when he says that "clients (do not) truly understand the importance of managing the functions to take maximum advantage of what each function does best." I think clients understand the importance. But no one has yet proved they have an affordable, effective system to accomplish this yet.

Katherine Warman
Lodestar Marketing Planning
Old Greenwich, Conn.
~ ~ ~

Why Integrated Marketing Is Failing

Dear Editor:

After reading Al Ries' "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing," I'd like to point out that we won't see umbrella organizations providing integrated marketing communications for two reasons:

  1. Holding companies tried this and failed. While cutting costs, consolidating media buying power and expanding through acquisition may have benefited agency bottom lines, these actions have directed agency attention away from the strategic, customer-focused goal.

  2. The evolution of channel ecosystems. Modern consumers interact with brands through a myriad of channels outside of agency control. Until agencies outward-integrate with these channel partners, strategic and creative inspiration (and consistency) will continue to suffer.

Anthony Keevan
C Squared
New York
- - -

'Synchronized' Marketing Instead

Dear Editor:

Reading Al Ries' "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing" made me think of Norman Lehoulier, managing partner at Grey Interactive, who has a great philosophy that builds on Mr. Ries' theory of disintegrated marketing.

Mr. Lehoulier calls it synchronized marketing -- finding ways to let each channel do its thing and leverage its unique qualities as part of a strategy that surrounds the consumer with a cohesive message. It is a means of avoiding schizophrenia in the marketplace while acknowledging specialization. Central to this is the fact that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, so complete decentralization is not a good thing and neither is wholesale integration.

Mr. Lehoulier's model is very intriguing and more people should be aware of its potential.

Brendan Light
Director of Research
BuzzBack Market Research
New York
- - -

In the Integrated Marketing Trenches

Dear Editor:

Having worked with several of the Fortune 500 companies and having been in the trenches offering and/or creating integrated marketing, there are several things that typically break down when attempting this strategy. For one thing, the client rarely has the budget to adequately cover all forms of marketing. For another, most agencies can't truly determine accurate ROI [return on investment] for a client.

Integrated marketing isn't actually a holy grail. Building marketer awareness that consideration should be given to the potential of integrated marketing is the holy grail. Or understanding that just as customer relationship management isn't actually a cost-effective solution for many companies, true integrated marketing isn't either.

Christopher Laurance
Executive Vice President, Corporate Development
Newport Beach, Calif.
~ ~ ~

Not the Whole Truth

Dear Editor:

Al Ries' "The Disintegration of Integrated Marketing" is like a snapshot of a river. While his column is representative of a current status, and factual as well, it is not the whole truth.

The truth is that clients drive an agency's decision (or should) regarding what package of services that agency proposes.

Maybe we'll see the development of "super-agencies" that consist of a core of strategists who assemble a team to implement a client's particular marketing program.

It also occurs to me that the size of the client's budget can drive the specialization process; the larger the budget, the more likely there is room in the budget to provide for the extra costs of specialization.

Barry W. Dennis
Netweb/Omni LLC
Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations
Timonium, Md.
- - -

Most Popular
In this article: