About three weeks ago, I was invited to attend a brand briefing as one of a group of agencies working together as an inter-agency brand team. I remember vividly how the marketing director, having inspired us with his vision for the brand, made the point that he didn't care whether the agencies present worked together or independently - all he wanted was brilliant ideas.
Harsh but true I thought. Is this a man who has not had the mis/fortune of going on one of those 'getting the best out of your agency' course? Or is this a man who has experimented with multiple models and has concluded that integration is only as good as the ideas that come out of it?
Recently, at Click London '09 I remember Lean Mean Fighting Machine creative partner, Sam Ball, saying that he'd never been part of an inter-agency working group where the ideas generated were anything but ok-to-good. All the best stuff he thinks comes out of agencies working independently. Perhaps unsurprising given that agencies are built around teams of people who like each other, working towards a shared ambition.
And if this is really true and clients find this out, then that puts the onus on the client to play executive [integrated] creative director. The one who gets to choose the best ideas, nurture them, allocate the right investment levels and so on. Frightening?
My problem with this is that being the conductor of an orchestra of talented agencies is a job that most clients aren't necessarily trained to do very well. During my 8 years at Unilever, I watched how marketing shifted from being an insight and strategy driven creative role where you had a hell of a lot of practice at managing the best out of your agencies to a project management role where you spent most of your time handling big supply chain heavy innovations, where comms was handled at a super global level i.e. where brilliant integrated campaigns are not easily born. I don't think it's got any better.
So who are the agency conductors of the future? The clients? The aligned inter-agency team? The agencies that are positioning themselves as fully integrated? Or the consumer, in our increasingly consumer created world?