Nearly every marketing company and advertising agency is talking about 360 degree marketing these days. At Lowe Worldwide, we’ve been practicing integration, or as we call it activation, for years. For clients like Nokia, Unilever and Milk, we’ve built integrated teams that come up with business solutions, not ads. We don’t think of ourselves as creators of ads, but rather creators of ideas. And the way that those ideas can be extended should have no limits. Whether it is in an ad, retail point of sale or at a grassroots event, each touch point is another opportunity to deliver that idea and sell our product.
For more than 10 years, our longest running integrated program has been for the Milk board. It’s been hailed by groups like the 4A’s as one of the most successful integrated marketing and communications programs ever. We work with a fully integrated team of Interpublic Group agencies: Lowe Worldwide (advertising), Weber Shandwick (public relations), Draft (promotions), Initiative Media (media buying) and Siboney (Hispanic). Given the competitive disadvantage that milk is at with regards to spending in the beverage category, we would never have had the impact, the notoriety, the awareness or the sales results we’ve achieved if it had not been for the integrated use of our spending.
You can’t have a large integrated team approach like this one run so consistently and successfully for so many years without learning a few things. That’s not to say that it always runs smoothly. Getting five agencies and a client organization to work like this takes a little effort. Here are some lessons that we’ve learned along the way:
- Think big. You need to develop a big idea – one that is strategically grounded – as the rallying point for the integrated plan. Research showed that milk’s image needed polishing and the health messages just weren’t relevant. So the big idea was putting milk mustaches on celebrities who would deliver quick snippets of health information in their own voice. Now, everyone knows the milk ads featuring celebrities like Kelly Clarkson, Serena Williams, Britney Spears, Elton John and Dr. Phil. In a way, we’ve created a brand equity for a commodity product. No matter where they’re used, whether it’s at an event, in-store, on the internet or in an ad, consumers know exactly what it’s for. And the overall impact makes up for the lower spend that we have in the beverage category.
- Plan ahead. In order to have a group of agencies working together and each feeling ownership for the work, it all has to start with the planning process. We never have a situation where the agencies each go off and develop their own plans and then we try to force fit them together. We work as a team from the start. There is constant contact between the agencies. We all seek and agree to a big strategic idea to make an impact and then build off of each agency’s strengths to make it happen. Ultimately, we build big, integrated events or themes, with each agency contributing and responsible for key elements. We’ve created themes to help sell specific products like chocolate milk or product news like Milk’s weight loss benefit. In each case, we developed a theme that is used by every member of the integrated teams and at every consumer touch point.
- Get your client on-board. This is becoming easier as more and more client organizations realize that traditional advertising and communications approaches can no longer do the job alone. But you not only want your client’s support for this approach, you need them to clearly articulate expectations to the team and literally lay down the law in terms of wanting a big idea and not caring who comes up with it. They should demand ideas that are leverageable across channels and use that as the measure of planning success.
- Designate a leader. A group of agencies, each with their own areas of expertise and their own management structure cannot operate as a democracy. There needs to be some leadership of the process. Clients want to know that there is one person responsible for looking at the big picture and managing the process besides them. They don’t want to have to deal with each agency on an individual basis when dealing with integrated efforts. That defeats the purpose. They want to be able to make one phone call. This doesn’t mean that all of the agencies “work” for this one person, but they have to respect and agree that he/she can make the decisions that need to be made with the client’s best interests in mind.
- Don’t lose focus. The whole point of working in an integrated way is to find smart solutions to a client’s business problem. The reward comes from making an impact. Sometimes that means putting your agency’s agenda aside for the greater good. When agencies start lobbying for a larger share of the budget or do things that detract from the team, everyone looks bad.
- Be prepared to let go. This is probably the toughest challenge for the ad agency partner, since we are used to taking the lead on strategic and creative direction. But what we are finding is that companies that used to be called “below the line” agencies are becoming much more sophisticated in the strategic and creative areas. This doesn’t mean that the ad agency should yield this to them. In fact, it is more important than ever that ad agencies use their creativity to develop big ideas and concepts rather than ads. But sometimes a big idea may come from one of the partners and the ad agency has to not only recognize it, but embrace it as well. When milk started touting new weight loss research and claims, the theme line that helped explain how it worked and was used in every consumer communication (“24/24” to explain the importance of drinking 24 ounces of milk in 24 hours) came from the promotion agency.
- Set up a structure for success. For integration to truly work, the agencies all have to be on the same page. To achieve this, you must have open communications. We share and agree to all recommendations and presentations before going to the client. This is a hard one for some people to get used to. There is sometimes resentment or posturing involved. Why should the PR agency, for example, show their work to the ad agency before presenting it to the client? The answer isn’t because they need our approval, it’s so that we can all look smarter. Nothing is more embarrassing than when a client calls to discuss something that one of the other agency team members has presented and you don’t have a clue what they are talking about. So we share all recommendations and work in advance so that we can make it better, we can look for more opportunities to be even more integrated and everyone can be smarter. This requires trust and on-going communications among the team.
Anyone can create an integrated effort. But to do it effectively on a consistent basis, you must have a client management structure that believes in it and agencies that live it. The most important benefit of an integrated approach is that everything that touches the consumer is reinforcing the same message. All of your dollars are working together and, more importantly, working harder. In today’s fragmented media environment that’s not just smart, it’s essential.
Sal Taibi is President of Lowe New York, with clients including General Motors, Milk, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Nokia and EarthLink. Sal has been in the advertising business for 25 years.
Since 1994, Sal has overseen the popular and successful “milk mustache” campaign for the Milk Processor Education Program. As a spokesperson for the advertising industry and the milk campaign, Sal has appeared on CNN, ABC World News Tonight, and the WB Morning Show.