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Integrated planning- and how to do it well. (Best practice)

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Integrated communications remains a hot topic in the client and agency world but the reality is many agencies and clients still retain a model and relationship pretty much unchanged over the past 50 years. The same agency roles exist- but there has been a distinct blurring of who does what. Media agencies now develop content and content agencies develop channel planning functions. However, in spite of overlapping roles the reality is very few brands develop fully integrated communication plans - either because the marketing function hasn’t got the time or breadth of experience or confidence to develop them - or indeed understanding of how to manage diverse yet overlapping talent.  

Most of us (clients & agencies) have been caught in situations where 10 years of solid product development reaches a difficult and unpredictable series of events before a green light  ‘culminates’ in the frantic development of a communications plan in a compressed period of time. 

The results are often piecemeal at best.

Integrated thinking is really more of a slow braising process- ironic in a faster moving world. It’s a force of culture more than anything else. It requires commitment from all sides and recognition that great teams aren’t forged overnight. 

There are 10 key observations that help deliver the most significant contributions to successful communication. 

1) Change is good

 Complacency, presumptions and acceptance of the status quo have no room in integrated planning.

Integrated planners/ teams have to be prepared to push and champion risky ideas so long as they are founded on good insight or a strong hunch. Accept that mistakes will be made but make sure learning comes from them- then move on.

Adoption of technology and myriad channels/ techniques/ opportunities to market is astonishingly fast and incredibly difficult to predict for the long term. It is for everyone- including those at the forefront of change. It has to be embraced and sound learning/ understanding has to come from it.

2) Learn to love risk

 Risk is inherent and an important healthy component in the marketing mix. Marketing is effectively gambling- we’re all just trying to shorten the odds.

Marketers should set aside funds to test ideas/ formats/ strategies- and push their agencies hard to think and deliver afresh. Equally, agencies (of all disciplines) should be pushing & challenging clients to think and act in different ways. 

Steal ideas and perspectives. Look outside the categories in which you compete.

Set aside any presumptions. The best ideas come from those who look at something ‘established’ differently  

Yes, it’s dynamic. Yes it’s complicated .Yes it’s time consuming. Yes, it’s worth it

3) Think small 

 The brand manager or director has to be strong & decisive. 

A brand manager should create a ‘small core’ trusted communications team comprising key agency talent. Pick those that add value to the mix –not just the most senior people working on the business. Make sure each team member feels empowered to make a difference, is restlessly curious in attitude, proactive and has a collaborative disposition. Integration demands it. Dilute any of the above and it has little hope of being integrated and seamless.

Managing different talent is tough. Strong integrated communication relies on it. Period. 

Large ‘committee’ teams of multi- disciplined individuals don’t work- ever.

4) The primacy of the big idea still holds true- even as the world fragments further

 A conference discussion in itself. Even today, many campaign ideas start with a idea that fits one channel – which is then ‘shoehorned’ elsewhere.

The best integrated ideas start with an idea that can work across many platforms. 

5) Everything begins and ends with the audience/ end user- start from here.

 The most successful brands have a ruthless single minded pursuit of their audience. They know what their audiences want and deliver it in spades. 

From a channel and content perspective the key to good integrated planning is really applying the same rigour to your audience(s) behaviour- not just applying everyday audience trading ‘metrics’. Good integrated planning demands a deep understanding of how content works in specific environments, setting appropriate benchmarks, experimenting with copy, linking channel opportunities together, examining phasing, looking at copy rotation, understanding the intimate traits of a medium to best effect.

Clients should actively encourage their agencies to share more data and learning. Teamwork is absolutely key if integration is to work. Egos have to be left at the door.

And of course, clients have a fundamentally important role to play- the most astonishing and valuable audience insights are often stumbled upon in incidental ‘off the cuff’ conversations. Some of these ideas have formed the nucleus of a ultimate campaign idea- executed with precision and wholly integrated in the way it is developed and articulated across channels.

6) Digital is the solution- now what’s the problem?

 It is perturbing how much ‘digital’ is treated as a separate discipline amongst clients and agencies- and held aloft as the key to integrated communication. 

Many digital ideas are developed in a small channel on a small scale. Many of the bigger ideas are old ideas or traditional ideas exported to ‘fit’ into a digital format - are often gloriously anachronistic.

Digital is just another channel offering an array of formats & techniques. The consideration of a channel starts with understanding the behaviour of an audience in a channel- then finding a scalable way of engaging for a specific result- just as it should do for all channels.

Integrated communication looks at achieving very specific outcomes from channels using a tightly articulated expression of the brands’ DNA.

If ‘digital’ has a specific role to play in the mix- absolutely fine. But don’t start with a pre-ordained presumption of a role in the channel mix. It has to earn its place- just like everything else.

7) Channel owners have to adapt- or die.

 Media owners own ‘access’ to customers- Proper ‘grown up’ integrated thinking demands more proactive channel understanding and the full commitment to merchandise it. 

Some channel owners are brilliant in this area. They proactively interrogate their audience and develop channels based on a deep understanding of them. They recognise their content has to work across a variety of formats. They offer a portfolio of opportunities and a strong perspective of how their audiences work within each environment- and they merchandise their learning well.

Other media owners simply sell inventory in highly conventional environments- eyeballs, banners, pages, specials- and so on. There’s no real follow through on perspective or performance. It’s just ‘inventory’ to sell. 

Media owners should be at the vanguard of ideas & opportunities- inspiration and showcasing.

One group of media owners will thrive long term. The other group will slowly wither. 

8) Measurability is key... but intuition still has a role

We simply have to accept that some ideas/ techniques just feel right. They might not be measurable but if they intuitively have a key persuasive role to play we might have to compromise on measurability.  

9) Start from a different place

Integrated planning means making sense of the world for a brand to work- then developing a cogent and effective plan to deliver it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It requires absolute objectivity, platform neutrality (no vested interests), some knowledge of a wide range of communication disciplines, solid capability in metrics  and the ability to act as ‘glue’ to make sure all single components in a plan work together collaboratively to maximum effect.

If fully integrated campaigns are to be a reality, channel planning must be placed at the front of the planning process- well in advance of creative development. 

Content remains paramount but full articulation of the idea through deployment of channels & techniques is absolutely vital if truly integrated planning is to be embraced.

This approach doesn’t denigrate or dilute the development of creativity or content- quite the opposite. It crystallises the opportunities, helps understand how activities best fit together, decides scope and scalability 

10) Ruthlessly prioritise

A proper integrated plan normally is comprised of very specific components. Life being life, things change. A proper integrated communication plan should have a hierarchy of activity relevant to hit business, marketing and communication objectives- in that order.

This kind of approach means that if or when situations change, the client/ communications team has already ‘prioritised’ what must happen- and what must fall by the wayside- ultimately ‘doing fewer things better’ in a continually integrated way rather than savagely cutting across the plan- diluting every element of the integrated approach.

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