Breaking Down Walls For Interactivity

There was a time when young creatives toiling in the world of Web advertising were relegated to the kids’ table at the marketing buffet. But with clients increasing, however incrementally, their online spends —from just under $3 billion in 1999 to a projected $8.6 billion this year—and heightening their demand for integration across platforms, agencies are removing the barriers between their interactive and traditional creative disciplines.

Many of the global networks—Euro RSCG, Foote Cone & Belding, Fallon, Lowe, Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi—have erased the distinction between departments by revising reporting lines, eradicating the interactive brand names, physically moving people together, establishing a single P&L, or some combination of the four.

The reasons for this creative integration are many, executives say, and range from agencies’ and clients’ growing sophistication in online marketing to a need for consistent messages at all touchpoints, to eliminating intra-agency fiefdoms.

FCB was among the first of the big agencies to blur the line. The process began after its unsuccessful defense in 2001 of the $400 million AT&T Wireless account, said Chris Becker, chairman and chief creative officer of the shop’s New York office.

The campaign’s positioning sought to show that if you were an AT&T Wireless customer, you were the center of its world. The creatives took the images from the TV campaign and used them on the Internet, mostly as an afterthought. Becker believes that lack of creative integration was the reason FCB lost the pitch.

By 2003, it completed the process of making the seven-year-old FCBi part of the main agency and brought the creative teams into a shared space under a single creative leader in each office.

Fallon is another network that has integrated its interactive unit, said CMO Rob Buchner. The word “interactive” has been quietly dropped from Fallon Interactive in the last year, and its creatives have evolved from being primarily Web developers to content developers who work alongside the agency brand creatives. The shop now farms out Web development, Buchner said. The two always shared a P&L, but still have separate creative chiefs. He cited the BMW Films work as an example of why integration makes sense.

Eisner Communications in Baltimore also dropped the “interactive” from its digital unit, though not its staff, in December. “When interactive came on the scene in the late ’90s … it was seen as this ‘other’ discipline,” said Abe Novick, Eisner svp. But now, “when you walk into a new business pitch with this unit and that specialty, and try to say you’re integrated, something doesn’t add up,” he said. “Clients and consultants pick up on it.”

Novick added that it makes sense to integrate offerings because it helps break down intra-agency fiefdoms.

Still, other executives see value in at least maintaining the appearance of a separate brand. Publicis/Publicis Dialog, FCB/FCBi, Ogilvy & Mather/OgilvyOne, Euro RSCG/4D, The Martin Agency/ Martin Interactive and Deutsch/ iDeutsch all share a P&L, while BBDO/Atmosphere BBDO, McCann Erickson/MRM and The Richards Group/Click Here have distinct ones.

Publicis North America CEO Susan Gianinno said some clients still want to deal with a specialized agency. “But more and more, that’s changing,” she said. “Maybe over time, the name Publicis Dialog will go away.”

Last year, she and then worldwide creative director David Droga completed integrating Publicis Dialog into the Publicis creative department. Once on two separate floors in New York, and in disparate spaces in other U.S. offices, all agency creatives were brought together and reported to Droga. With his departure in December, the interactive creatives report to the top creative in each office. When Gianinno hires a North America creative partner, all the creatives will report to that person, she said.

Other shops are trying to bring their creative departments together without breaking down walls. McCann Erickson and MRM say they are collaborating more closely on shared businesses such as the estimated $400 million Microsoft and $355 million Wendy’s accounts. Instead of staying “ghettoized” in their respective disciplines, both groups have attended the same client meetings and worked jointly on executions since 2003.

But MRM CEO Reuben Hendell still sees the need for distinctions. “Within MRM, we’ve got a combination of more traditional, offline direct specialists and interactive specialists,” he explained. “Then there are the subdisciplines: Web site and design creatives versus online marketing and search marketing.”

Branding behemoths like McCann Erickson are still leaders when it comes to the big idea, Hendell said. “They have a much greater brand sensibility and bigger creative idea sensibility.”

Steve Petitpas, the general manager of Microsoft’s worldwide advertising group, concurred: “MRM is focused on demand generation, the preference and conversion stage. Advertising is more about awareness.”

McCann’s U.S. CEO, Brett Gosper, foresees the day when so-called specialty agencies will be subsumed by traditional brand agencies or vice versa. “We as a so-called traditional agency have to play in the digital space so there will be overlap,” Gosper said. “But as time goes on and we develop those capabilities, our relationship with MRM will evolve. They may end up having the same P&L. Down the road, it won’t make sense to disassociate them.”

Wendy’s CMO Ian Rowden said he doesn’t distinguish between the MRM and McCann creatives working on his account, though McCann is considered the lead agency. Rowden compared the creative convergence to the rebundling of media.

“Technology is driving the distinct groups back together again,” he said, referring not only to online ads, of which Wendy’s has doubled to 8 percent its online ad spend, but to video-on-demand and podcasting.

“Television isn’t redundant in this process,” Rowden said. “It’s just redefined.”