Agency Integration is Easy. Just Kidding.
The phrase “Agency Integration” is often understood as a joke. As in, “Ha, those two agencies hate each other and they are part of the same parent corp. Ha ha. That’ll fail horribly.” Or, “Why would they integrate when they’ll inevitably pitch against each other to take the whole thing for themselves? Ha ha.”
However, when you search the phrase “Agency Integration” on Adweek you’ll pull 6,404 articles. Many of them have scary, existential titles like, “4 Things Agencies of Record Can Do to Survive the Trend of 'Projectization',” and “Agencies Address How They're Restructuring to Fight a Breaking Business Model.”
“Agency Integration” is not going away, and it’s not a joke. It’s right. It’s necessary. Thanks to the laws of entropy and capitalism, the world is becoming increasingly complex, and there’s no going back. Clients have legitimate and urgent needs for teams of specialists that can actually work together. But it’s not easy. It’s super hard, and it turns out that a monolithic holding company has no advantage in figuring it out vs. a collection of unaffiliated agencies. Here’s the capital “T” truth – for “Agency Integration” to work, it takes real work.
One of our largest clients, Vi, has three creative agencies, a database marketing specialist, a global media partner and an in-house content creation team. Vi produces between 400-500 ads and direct mail pieces a year. TDH is their smallest creative agency. We are 30 craftspeople strong and 100% independent. Their retail specialist, TPN, is owned by Omnicom (74,000), and their digital specialist, VML, is owned by WPP (194,000). That’s a lot of resource to contend with.
So how is TDH still in the picture? Better question, how is TDH the lead agency? We figured out “Agency Integration” on Vi.
Our model is simple, and included below. We’re not worried about anyone ripping it off, because it’s just a circle with alphabet soup all over it. But the secret to why it is working better than any previous agency model Vi has tried is hiding in these four words…
Fiat – our client, Greg Sieman, Vi’s Vice President of Marketing, has vision and authority, plus he has made every agency accountable for the model’s success. “Agency Integration” has been decreed, and so it will be.
Lead – a real leader guides, they don’t boss (otherwise they’re called a boss, not a leader). TDH leads by offering process, changing it when it doesn’t work and doubling down on it when it does. But we are not the boss – TPN and VML have staffed the account with retail and digital specialists who know what they are doing. We start a bit ahead in the process, and that way we stay out of everyone’s way.
Organize – all partners organize once a month in person and twice a month on the phone, formally. These sessions are highly structured, action-oriented and all about the big picture. G.I. Joe said that knowing is half the battle. The other half is listening and sharing. We don’t meet, we organize.
Work – the only thing that matters at the end of every day is, “Did the work, work?” Everyone on the integrated Vi team serves one master – Results – including the client team. Shared accountability and shared incentives lead to shared planning and shared process. It’s not supernatural. It’s logical.
See what we did there? It spells FLOW. Sorry. But also not sorry, because you might remember it and it might help. And if you ever need help, call us. One other thing that actually helps a lot is having a lead agency that is small, independent and 100% focused on crafting great work. We call it Ego-Free Integration. Try it anytime.