Steve McKee of McKee Wallwork Cleveland Advertising, and author of the new book, When Growth Stalls argues in BusinessWeek that it is harder than ever for clients to implement and manage integrated marketing campaigns.
He believes there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
Most marketers don’t know that an epic struggle is going on just beneath the surface of the marketing communications industry. Digital agencies are starting to offer more traditional services. Traditional agencies are adding digital capabilities. Ad agencies are offering PR. PR firms are selling graphic design. Design firms are calling themselves ad agencies. And every one is staking a claim to the new ground of social media. It’s a mess out there, with each company kicking the others under the table like too many siblings vying for too few pieces of pie. Somebody has to manage the chaos, and unfortunately, that’s you.
By “you,” McKee means the client. However, clients in my experience are typically busy managing much more than marcom vendors, or “partners,” as the case may be. Clients, especially in small- to medium-sized businesses, are busy with day-to-day operations like sales, cash-flow, hiring, etc.
McKee suggests the glue that binds here is strategy. “You may employ a host of companies to implement a variety of tactics, but to be effective they all must serve a singular strategy.” I agree, but where is the strategy going to come from? If it comes from the PR firm, it may look and feel nothing like the strategy from one’s design firm.
All of which brings me back again to the value a well-rounded background in marketing communications. I started at a high tech business-to-business agency before moving to a big sales promotion agency. I’ve also worked in general market advertising agencies, event marketing, design and digital shops. I’m a generalist, and there’s been much written about how in marketing it’s imperative to be a specialist, not a generalist. Yet, specialists tend to live in silos. The way they see the field and play the game is silo-centric. Let me give you an example. I recently advised a client to integrate their corporate blog into their main site. My client’s SEO firm has a different idea–they want the blog to be a stand alone site, so it can generate inbound links to the main site, something Google likes to see. I’m all for inbound links, but I believe you generate them with exceptional content (regardless of where the blog lives). This is one of those cases where we’re both right, although one of us may be more right than the other.
McKee’s article is about complexity and there’s little doubt that configuring an effective marcom plan in today’s media environment is a challenge. In my estimation, providing on-point strategic insight is key to a leadership position and the viability of one’s consulting practice. So is the ability to see the whole field and know what each player is capable of, and how best to use these different players to win the game on the client’s behalf. That’s what we’re striving for, and in the best cases, that’s what we deliver.