S Narasimhan
Jul 16, 2014

Coalition versus integration: The debate continues

Soon after Goafest where the topic 'trended', the author makes the case for integration

Coalition versus integration: The debate continues
One of the most interesting panel discussions at this year’s Goafest was around this apparent lack of integration between a client’s communications partners.
Ask any client who’s cobbled or inherited a coalition of communication specialists and s/he breaks into a litany of woes - how the creative agency doesn’t talk to the digital team who don’t talk to activation agency... you get the picture.
In fact, one panel speaker rather bemusedly commented on how his conference room is not large enough to accommodate the entire entourage. Yet another on how she has toiled endlessly to create this initiative called One Team to get all the partners on same strategic page. She gushed on how they are all huddled into a room, which in the way described, must surely resemble the space shuttle mission control at NASA. With an array of screens streaming live market data, SOV, SOE, social media indices, likes, tweets, followers, SCAT scores and whatever other marketing telemetry that exists.
And I was like - wow! These clients are spending a lot of time and effort (money) to get the coalition partners to align.
Which prompted my boss to pop the logical question: “Why struggle, why not appoint an agency that provides integrated services and save yourself from repeating this lament in forum after forum???”
The cat was amongst the pigeons. Through the gaggle of responses (not unlike one of the less heated super prime debates), the most notable one was: “But we can’t - we will not get the best talent to work on our brands.”
I don’t buy this. Integration works.
It wasn’t so long ago when agencies offered all services under one roof. And did a pretty honest and good job of it. In fact, they still do. They have invested in building great talent and capabilities in the many specialist areas and delivering them seamlessly. I know. I work for one. And on their part, clients rather have one throat to choke.
I also work with clients who have a coalition of communication partners. Don’t get me started on how chaotic it is - but that’s not my problem. It’s how the quality and integrity of the communication gets, more often than not, progressively diluted as each coalition partner does his or her number on it (and who’s to blame them - they’re contracted to do so) that bothers me more. And marketing teams don’t often spot the damage until it’s too late. They’re too busy chasing some partner or the other.
Another lament is that members of the coalition don’t look beyond their immediate mandates. They don’t walk in the clients’ shoes? Frankly how can you expect them to? They’re contractually frame-worked and paid only for what they do. So where is the incentive? Many of my specialist partners tell me how difficult it is to deliver what they are being paid to in the first place, because the client’s procurement teams are ever alert to hack fees.
Re-integrate - are you willing? What’s the harm? I have sometimes been confronted with absolute rejection when I’ve proposed this. I’m going to venture spelling out some possible theories as to why.
It’s this misconceived notion that many managers have, that whatever MNCs do is best practice. We must understand that most MNCs are often aligned with partners that belong to the same global network. And anyway most have little flexibility in deciding who their agencies are. It’s already mandated.
A more cynical one is that some marketing teams prefer this divide and rule style to keep everyone guessing under the guise of best practice. Should things go wrong, blame it on a coalition partner.
And as a parting shot, an absolutely mean one - some marketing teams just derive great pleasure in choking multiple throats.
(S Narasimhan is senior partner, RK Swamy BBDO. Views expressed are personal. This appeared in the issue of Campaign India dated 13 June 2014.)
Campaign India

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