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How 'integrated' is advertising in India?

Recently, an academic researcher asked me a few questions about the challenges and problems faced by agencies while working on Integrated marketing campaigns.

Well, my reply was a rather long and unstructured list of complaints. So here's the disclaimer, I am not a pessimist. :) But i am good at comprehensive exploration of shit gone wrong. These lists are useful in making things better.
I am sharing my reply here because it might be a good starting point to complete the picture. My reply choses the negatives - someone can add positive anecdotes, someone can add experiences from other geographies. I have largely written from experiences I have heard from fellow planners I know and my own experiences, which is not a good research design. :P
So in a way.. here's the hypothesis and I am asking any planner out there to validate, improve upon or point out the bullshit.

Title in bold were questions asked by the researcher. Text in italics are my hypothesis' which are largely anecdotal.. so go ahead and please tell me of better experiences.


Challenges faced while working on Integrated communication campaigns in India
what does integrated mean?
In my understanding, a branding effort is integrated if the objective and communication (idea/ execution) is shared across mediums and geographies - that the various efforts complement and enhance the impact of the communication effort.
At the heart of it is clarity of objective shared through open communication lines between agency-client relationship, between agencies & between individuals involved. It seems ironic but a communications agency in India often would not spend much thought in ensuring clear communication lines between the various people involved.
In the current scenario, typically a major brand will have many different agencies working for them - a PR agency, a digital agency, an advertising agency, CRM, DM.. and so on. and there is absolutely no information being shared across these agencies.. one agency does not know what is being decided & executed on either side. There are efforts, but those are few clients and the effort is often wasted since the incentives are not aligned.
One agency might be trying to increase its scope of work with the client - a mainline agency might want to get the digital business too.. hence the various agencies are intrinsically competitors and not collaborators.

Another issue, often the client hold the cards very close to themselves. Clients often do not disclose their intent - the complete picture with the agencies. We often have to second guess what they might need/ want. More often than not, the brand manager does not have a sound brand/ marketing understanding - no clear understanding of the brand, of objective, of long term view... they are often managers of executions. The decision makers from the client side do not spend as much time with the agencies as they should.
So the result is a confused set of agencies who try to win client business with the best guess and ideas.
These days, new business pitches happen far too often. this way the client gets to sample ideas and strategy from various agencies for free, while not disclosing their intent.
Absence of trust and clear communication between client and agency ensures there is no 'integrated' and 'long term' brand effort. Of course there are exceptions, but these are only a few MNCs.

In the rare case where the entire marketing communications is handled by a single agency (I guess, some of the smaller brands with Mudra/ JWT might do this) the integration is easier.
However, here too it may happen only if,

1. objectives are clearly arrived at jointly by the client and the agency planner
2. the TG is clearly understood - who are we talking to, for what purpose, in what context, in what tone, how does the TG benefit?...
2. keeping long term view of the brand in mind
3. with clear KPIs for the branding effort defined.
4. and if dedicated resources (planners/ senior servicing/ creative) work for more than 20% - 40% of their time on the brand
5. regular interactions happen between client- agency
This is a tall order in most cases.
The most important factor here is incentive: If an agency earns a majority of its revenues through TVCs alone, why would it try to spend efforts on lower margin aspects of communication such as activations/ DM and so on. That is why a typical agency needs to alter its business model substantially to become truly integrated. Companies are doing this by -
1. either by opening separate departments with KPIs defined by mediums.
2. or by brand teams that work on every medium related to that one brand.
3. Or by separating execution and consultation - A consultancy approach will specify in a detailed manner as to what is to be done, how, where, when. and smaller execution agencies take it up from there.

Challenges while developing ideas
1. Clarity of objective - I can't stress this enough. A lot of bad marketing/ branding happens because it starts devoid of a clear objective. We often work without briefs from clients. Strategy planner like me, then step in and try to bring some clarity to communication efforts, by studying the market and suggesting a possible strategy/ priority/ objective. A few clients share data for us to confidently suggest strategy. Often, we have to tread on sketchy incomplete data sourced from secondary sources.
2. Once we have an objective in place- it's important that clients and agency partners agree on what is expected, what is possible, the time lines.
Often, clients do not manage time well - lack of long term view, often necessitates bouts of panic induced 'yesterday' deadlines. in which case, the overworked agency creatives create the best they can.
3. which also has affected the agency culture, where some do not take deadlines seriously (If all deadlines are 'due yesterday', which one's really the urgent one?), or some only start work when it is really urgent.. which results in late nights, bad work-life balance, bad work habits. The victims of this culture is often the art department and studio people who execute the idea (which means, they have to WAIT until the planner briefs and creative directors crack the idea) - late nights and long days is the norm for this department especially.

4. too many clients - because of pressures on margins, a typical resource now works on more clients than before (my guess).
5. which means, we are always busy with one project after another. which means, getting the right people together and excited is a tough job.
6. excitement towards work is very important in advertising. you can create good work only if you are excited about it.
What saps excitement is things like remuneration, work-life balance, the way client treats you. (are you 'partners in growth' or are you a vendor?) These are all major points that a good agency leadership tries to work on and make it work.

7. Often at the initial 'big ideas' phase - only the mainline agency is involved. The digital, outdoor, DM agencies perhaps are brought into picture only later when the idea is 'cracked'. This again is  a big issue, these idea crackers are often the old school 'copy' writers who are trained to think in terms of TVC scripts or Print adverts.
But this approach, should involve the people who are going to think outdoor/ activation/ digital too.. as these mediums are becoming more and more important.
This is where the term 'media agnostic' has gained currency - meaning the 'big idea' is not partial to any media- that it is a human idea and can work across mediums. But this often translates to force fit communications - where a digital banner would be an 'adaptation' of the print campaign.

8. quality of advertising professionals - the best brains are not as excited about advertising as  they perhaps were earlier - an ad exec typically earns much less than his client counterpart in India, than in many other fields (finance, software) and it doesn't have the creative energy that you might find in a startup.. As such, there are less and less people who are passionate about the field and enter it with the long term view. result - quality of manpower is uncertain.
9. lack of training - majority of agencies in India have no/ little training focus - some blame it on attrition rates, some on myopic leaderships while some on the hectic schedules. But the industry that is supposed to be the vanguard of ideas, doesn't keep itself abreast of 'the new' and 'the important' as it should.

Challeneges for executing ideas
1. Short timelines, shorter budgets (Especially if the culture is to start from budget, instead of from an objective)
2. Uncertainty - some projects never get completed, some get shelved, some go through a long slow process of change due to many people being involved which results in a khichadi of an idea.. You never know what might end up happening when you take up a project.
3. Changing briefs - it might sound ridiculous but it's not rare to see client's changing their brief (if there was a written brief at all to begin with.)
4. Useless feedback - Lack of objective feedback from client about what they need/ want from a creative
5. Attrition rate - the team is ever new, so the learning cycle of the team is never complete - what works/ what doesnt/ what saves time...
Challenges for communicating the same
1. lack of objective feedback
2. criticality of business means that agencies do what will help retain the business rather than always giving the right solution.
agencies often give 'options' of creatives to the client.. and the client would chose basis what he/she 'likes'. not on the basis of what works/ doesnt work. Agency tries to gauge how much a client is willing to listen, to reason, to apply science... that means, for some clients, agencies do what is right, for some clients, agencies do what the brand manager wants.
3. the three depts - planning, servicing and creative need to be truly together. that is also an 'ideal' situation. there are often communication gaps that can't be solved through processes/ systems. It needs relationship building where executives are secure enough to share information/ ideas freely.
4. Short timelines and volume of work, sometime leads to short circuiting of feedback loop - at times, leadership / planners get to see final creatives along with the clients - which might be to the brief, might not be to the brief. The meeting then becomes a farce where one improvises to support what is being presented.


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