Putting a message across consistently and economically is one of the
benefits of taking an integrated approach. But it also demands clarity
on the strategy, writes Ken Gofton
Only three months after setting up a working party to examine the
financial services market, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group launched a new
financial offshoot: Virgin Direct. First offering PEPs, then insurance
and now pensions, in 18 months it has won 75,000 customers and is
managing funds of pounds 400m.
On that original working party was an outsider recruited for his
financial services experience: Alastair Gornall, managing director of
Consolidated Communications. Described variously by Gornall as either an
integrated PR agency or a PR-led agency, Consolidated now handles all of
Virgin Direct’s communications, including the press office and a pounds
6m advertising budget.
‘We meet every Wednesday morning with Virgin Direct’s managing
director,’ says Gornall. ‘There are no politics, just a total focus from
everyone on what we are trying to achieve. It is a great way to work and
He acknowledges that the approach isn’t right for everyone. Big
companies with big budgets, a raft of brands and large marketing teams
are structured to a more traditional way of working, for example. But
young brands ‘want to work faster and want a new structure, one that can
move like greased lightning’, he explains.
‘These clients want to be involved in the whole process, they want to
see the work developing, including the ideas that would normally go in
Putting the whole budget with a single agency is just one way of
approaching the integrated marketing question, of course. As far as
public relations is concerned, it is a relatively rare route.
In the rush during the early 90s to establish ‘integrated’ agencies, the
usual offering was advertising, direct marketing and sales promotion.
All too often, however, PR was left out in the cold - possibly because
the other disciplines just didn’t understand PR, or because they
assigned it the junior role of sending out the press releases.
Yet over the years there have been some classic cases of integrated
communication, where PR has had a key strategic role. At least 15 years
ago, for example, Unilever faced restrictions on the health claims it
could make in advertising Flora margarine. The solution? Burson-
Marsteller masterminded a PR campaign saying medical research suggested
that polyunsaturated fats were (relatively) good for you, while the ads
concentrated on saying that Flora was ‘rich in polyunsaturates’.
It was much the same in the mid 80s, when Countrywide (now Countrywide
Porter Novelli) pushed the health benefits of soluble fibre for Quaker
There is no real argument over whether PR has a part to play in
integrated marketing. Clearly it has. Nor is it a question of saying
that you must have an integrated agency to have an integrated campaign.
No one seriously believes that. The integrated agency is just one
solution, but there are many others.
At one end of the rainbow, for example, you have the clients who bring
all their specialist agencies around a table and, if necessary, bang
their heads together. At the other end are those large, international
agency groups with a complete offering: the Young & Rubicam group has
Burson-Marsteller as its main PR arm; J Walter Thompson has Hill &
Knowlton; Omnicom owns Countrywide Porter Novelli; Eurocom owns Biss
Lancaster; Grey has GCI; and Saatchi & Saatchi has The Rowland Company.
A client which has chosen the latter route is Cotton Council
International, which promotes the use of cotton. Grey and its PR
subsidiary GCI Group work together on the account.
‘It is up to us to recommend how the budget is allocated and how the
message should be amplified through advertising, exposure marketing and
PR,’ explains Adrian Wheeler, managing director at GCI. ‘The client
would be astonished if we did not collaborate in its best interests
across its four European markets.’
So it can be done. But the bizarre situation exists that most people
believe that integrated marketing is a ‘good thing’, the structures
exist to make it happen, and yet all too often it is structures that get
in the way. And this applies not just to any role that PR might play,
but to the other disciplines as well.
On the agency side, there’s a real battle to win a share of the cake.
Where several agencies are involved, they are all going to want as much
of the budget as possible. Even using a multinational group with
separate agencies for the different disciplines doesn’t overcome this,
because each will be a separate profit centre. Similar arguments apply
in many of the so-called integrated agencies as well.
Clients, on the other hand, are hampered by tradition. In large
organisations, there might be separate departments for PR, sales
promotion, advertising and direct marketing, with budget allocation a
slowly evolving process. And university courses segment the disciplines
in the same way - if they give any attention to below-the-line topics,
that is. ‘We think in boxes because we are taught in boxes,’ says David
Lake, managing director of Countrywide Parker Novelli in Banbury.
Lake claims that one of the mistakes clients make, even when they are
seeking an integrated solution, is to give the strategic thinking role
to the ad agency, often for historical reasons.
‘The planning is done by an advertising planner, who comes up with a
strategy appropriate for advertising. The other disciplines then have to
find ways of interpreting that preferred platform to their own work,’ he
‘You either go back and say ‘yes, we can see how we can take the
advertising message further on our side’, or you have to say ‘sorry, it
won’t translate into PR or sales promotion’, or whatever. But then it is
no longer an integrated platform.’
GCI’s Wheeler claims there is nothing more sad than the spectacle of an
advertising agency deploying one concept and a PR agency pursuing
another. It is, he adds, not only a crime against the economic use of
resources, but no service at all to either client or consumer.
Gornall backs that view: ‘You have to spend a lot of time thinking about
the strategy at the outset,’ he says. ‘But when you have done that, you
can say ‘we have a battle plan. Now, what weapons are we going to use?’.
The argument is all about weapons. Advertising is like the artillery and
the sales force is the infantry, going in after the target has been
More controversially, he adds: ‘A lot of US agencies take the view that
public relations is the task of communicating to all of a company’s
audiences and that advertising is a particular tactic, that it is just a
Compaq highlights computer costs
Compaq enjoys high status in the computer industry, but its position is
constantly being challenged by cut-price manufacturers. Its PR agency
Firefly prompted it to conduct research into the attitudes of IT and
finance managers towards the costs of owning and running PCs. From this,
Bates Dorland devised an ad campaign with the headline ‘Compaq costs you
less than cheaper computers’.
What the research highlighted was a great deal of ignorance about the
true costs of a computer network, and also out-of-date approaches to
monitoring the numbers and types of computers in a company. A quarter of
those surveyed thought that the cost of supporting a PC through its
lifetime would be about a fifth of the original purchase price. In fact,
the total cost is likely to be four times the original price,
particularly when account is taken of the cost of down-time and lost
Additionally, Compaq now offers systems which will conduct a PC audit
throughout a network at the press of a button, as well as offering early
warning of faults and providing automatic back-up when it detects them.
Some of the managers interviewed still conducted manual audits taking up
to six days.
For the integrated campaign which followed the research, Firefly
produced a booklet, The Hidden Costs of Computing, as well as a research
report available for purchase by people responding to Bates Dorland’s
advertising. The PR agency also handled publicity in the national and
computer press and using elements from the research, provided the
material for a dedicated web site: www.costless.co.uk.