Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tearing Down Walls Does Not Integrate Agencies


A couple of weeks before Christmas, I had a candidate say a remarkable thing to me.  It rang true and is worth repeating.  We were talking about ad agency silos and integration.  Here is what he said:

            “My agency has spent a fortune tearing down walls and making our offices into an open-space plan.  The place looks great.  But there is one problem. The walls may be gone but the agency is not integrated.  It is  interesting, but the traditional  [above the line] people have some interest in learning digital and interactive.  But the digital people haven’t the slightest interest in learning traditional advertising."

And therein lays the problem.  If I had said it myself, I could not have said it better.

Agencies are wracking their heads trying to integrate and end the silos.  Some of the silos are financial and they cannot be broken down until each discipline no longer has its own balance sheet.

But the silos are also real in terms of psychology.  Integration is an attitude.  It is a way of thinking about the business. This attitude must come from the top down, but sadly, the people running ad agencies (both traditional and digital) mostly come from one discipline or another.  By training, they are not integrated and media neutral.  And despite talking the talk, many do not walk the walk.

While the majority of agency CEO’s understand the need for integration, they are not necessarily yet integrated in terms of their own thinking.  And that has to happen before the walls come down.

The traditional agencies are still trying to figure out how to make money on social and mobile media.  Meanwhile, the media agencies are usurping this realm from both the traditional and digital shops.

The holding companies may be partially to blame for the lack of integration – after all, their interest is in revenues and profits and if their own media companies can do it more efficiently than their other agencies, it makes no difference to them.  There is so much financial pressure put upon the traditional agencies by the holding companies that it is difficult for them to invest in new media.  Ironically, traditional agencies are in the best position to integrate in the most beneficial way for their clients, but my observation is that they continue to fall behind due to financial pressures, which are preventing them from investing in the future.

I hope that in 2013, ad agencies figure it all out.


  1. Paul, digital department ennui regarding traditional advertising is disappointingly prevalent in our business. A few years ago I worked with an integrated, single-P&L, open floorplan agency where the digital ECD refused to consider seating his folks amongst the traditional creative department. Because TV was "dead."

    Re the last point, I heard on the radio this morning that AJ McCarron's girlfriend–he's the QB for the Alabama football team and she is Miss Alabama–had about 2000 Twitter followers yesterday morning. She was shown at the game last night and as of this morning she has over 100,000. All thanks to exposure on the dead medium.

  2. Thanks Paul. This is all so true and why we're building BLEND. True, holistic integration has to be a life force.I has to be a philosophical way of thinking pushed from the top down and pervasive in every execution and a belief-set prerequisite for every hire. It's about the culture. And very difficult to retrofit. Damned be the silos.

  3. Thanks for this, Paul. It's so true b/c many Digital agencies won't even consider looking at candidates who have great experience in traditional branding, but none in digital. It's worth bringing in more people with this background to keep them well-rounded. Social and digital strategy won't work well if it's not integrated into the brand strategy plans.

  4. @re_hirable: It is a pity that I know you are right. All agencies - digital, traditional, social, direct, event - should keep the big picture in mind. Long term it would help them.


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