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After a brief tour through the history of advertising, Union Chairman, Ian McAteer, describes the benefits of a truly integrated approach to marketing communications.

Marketing folk love buzzwords. The rise of digital channels has accelerated this trend. Hip new acronyms and fads are all the rage. ‘Customer experience’ meets ‘omnichannel’, whilst ‘behavioural economics’ crosses ‘360 degree’ thinking.

So forgive me, but I’m digging up an old, and rather tired, buzzword from 20 years ago: ‘Integration’.

Or ‘integrated marketing communications’ to be more precise.

It’s much less fashionable these days, but finally, after years of being an idea preached more than it was practised, its day has finally come.


There’s a scene in Mad Men where Don Draper is presenting the creative idea at a pitch. He talks persuasively, with a cogent, well-constructed argument, building up to the big reveal. He is looking at a solitary blank board on an easel, and finally, with a flourish, he flips it around to reveal a single press advertisement. Dah dah! The client loves it. The pitch is won.

This reminded me of my early years as an account man at Saatchi in London. (I’ve been around for a while.) We made ads for TV, cinema, radio, press and outdoor. Six media, that was it. Pitches were simple. Life was simple.

Grubby stuff like ‘direct marketing’, and PR was done somewhere else. Oh, and there was something called ‘sales promotion’ which was… well… they did leaflets and stuff. 1980s London was pretty similar to Draper’s 1960s Madison Avenue.


However, in the early 90s, ’integrated marketing’ became the latest trend.

Integrated marketing is based on the simple premise that if a consistent brand message is used across all communication channels the combined effect is greater impact, memorability and ultimately better sales results.

This came at a time of big change in marketing. Media proliferated, audiences fragmented, and the internet went from ‘invention’ to dot-com boom by the mid-90s. Marketers started to rely less on TV and offline advertising.

This change gathered pace over the next 20 years, to the extent that the digital revolution, and the growth of social media, started to swamp all other forms of marketing. The demise of print media has long been predicted and now even broadcast TV is threatened.


Roll forward to today. It is impossible to work in marketing without dealing with dozens of channels. Most clients spend anything from 20% to 100% of their budget online, so expertise in SEO, PPC, social media and content marketing is essential. Not to mention email marketing and digital analytics.

The result has been a growth in ‘specialist’ agencies, experts in a niche selection of channels or disciplines. There are advantages to this, of course, but I argue it comes at a greater price.

That price is added value and true strategic support. Agencies have always sought to position themselves as their clients’ trusted advisors, contributing beyond pure marketing to business strategy and giving honest feedback across a client’s business. However, many agencies in recent years are too far removed from the core day-to-day running of the business as a result of focusing on their own specialist media.

Today’s ideal agency is able to seamlessly maintain a single brand message across the plethora of channels. But also to monitor everything constantly through a media-neutral lens and use observations to make improvements where they are most needed.

Data can help with this. The digital era means we can now access real-time marketing data and a wealth of other business metrics such as web visits, click-throughs, footfall, enquiries, conversions, sales, average sale value and margins. The growth of digital channels is responsible for much of this, but it’s more than that. There has been a notable change in how clients and agencies now work with data. Transparency is key, and clients realise that only by fully involving their agency in their business can they expect to get the best advice and most effective marketing. Agencies themselves hold a lot of data for their clients anyway, which is hugely refreshing and positive.


There is a clear logic of focusing marketing effort through the prism of a single powerful message with a consistent style and tone of voice. However, our experience is that many clients still work with a wide roster of agencies, across a number of different disciplines. Granted, larger clients with multi-million-pound budgets can afford this approach, and it can help ensure optimal resource is allocated to that client.

But for medium to smaller-sized businesses is this really the best approach? We see many such clients missing the opportunities of true integration, simply because their agencies fail to integrate and the message quickly becomes fragmented. Inconsistencies creep in and tactical initiatives are lost.

On the other hand, we have achieved some of our greatest successes when clients have trusted us to work across all their marketing channels. Not only have we produced stunning business and sales results, we find the quality of the relationship is better, and our ability to problem solve and deliver innovative solutions improves exponentially. The team really takes ownership.

Many of our award-winning campaigns have come as result of this one-stop marketing shop approach. Clients such as Len’s Self Storage, Historic Scotland, Children’s Hearings Scotland, and Loch Ness by Jacobite are some examples where the approach has paid dividends.

With these clients the strategy, insight, data analysis, messaging, brand design, digital thinking, website, creative idea, advertising, field marketing, email marketing and automation, direct marketing, promotion, online content, social media, PPC, campaign evaluation (‘pauses for breath’), and continuous improvement all blend seamlessly into a single point of focus – what’s best for the client’s business? All the required expertise can be quickly gathered together under one roof. 99% of the time, this beats a fragmented agency approach.


Do you have all your marketing tools aligned so that your brand speaks with one voice?

There may be other advantages, such as saving time and cost efficiencies – but these are not the core reason for advocating the integrated agency approach. Marketing investment has to deliver results, and this always should be the goal.


The secrets of integration’s success are not complex. Much is down to human nature. Empowering an agency by giving it the whole problem, and asking it to come up with the whole solution, is the best way to really get the agency juices flowing. Agencies are at their best when they are allowed to take ownership of the challenges and strongly identify with the client and their business.

As Bill Bernbach, one of the original Mad Men, said: ”Our job is to sell our clients’ merchandise … not ourselves. Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product. Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.”

I’ll leave the last word to one of our clients.

At Len’s Self Storage we’ve seen a dramatic difference working with The Union. There are clear business benefits to asking a single agency to pick up all strands of the marketing, from web to online marketing and offline advertising. It also makes life so much more efficient to be able to work with a single supplier to execute our marketing needs. Since working with The Union not only have we seen strong growth in our business, but also we have a real sense that our marketing is being driven by clear strategic insights. The integrated agency route has a lot to be said for it.” Alistair Lothian, Director, Len Lothian Ltd.

(Our work for Len’s Self Storage won the Marketing Society Silver Star (Retail) and the Chairman’s SME Gold Star at the 2016 Star Awards, and Bronze Star (Retail) at the 2017 awards.)

The Union, through its group of specialist companies, Union, Union Direct, Union Digital, Union Connect and Union Data, offers clients fully integrated marketing communications from its offices in Edinburgh and Leeds.