Make Beautiful Music Together

October 1, 2006
Megan Svensen
Successful Product Manager's Handbook

Too often, the silo mentality prevents agencies from working with one another in a way that benefits the brand.

Brand teams that need help guiding their agency-integration efforts may find it useful to look outside the world of pharmaceuticals, and zoom in on the model of a well-orchestrated jazz band. If you've ever had a chance to see a live jazz show, you'll understand: Talented players creating melodies that make sense on their own; when built on another band member's riffs, however, melodies rise and fall in a sum of harmonies that offers an oratory experience that no one player could deliver alone.

Similarly, agency-integration meetings should result in group synergy and a flow of great ideas. Suggestions from one agency should spark creativity from another, and together, the brand's initiatives should become more robust, connected to the business goals, and efficient.

Today, agency integration is more important than ever. That's because consumers need multiple touch points in order for messages to penetrate. In fact, the most successful campaigns are often due to cohesive and consistent messaging across the different disciplines.

For instance, to break through the noise and constant clutter of everyday life, a pharma brand team may decide to do the following: target a particular type of consumer by placing an ad on a billboard for a particular treatment, pitch disease information to a magazine for a story on a relevant disease, or send an e-mail that offers a cut-out questionnaire for consumers to take to their doctor to see if a particular drug is right for them.

Put simply, interconnectivity among agencies that specialize in different areas along the consumer continuum allows brands to achieve even higher levels of performance. And in today's competitive environment, it is no longer a choice—but almost a mandate—to do this effectively.

In particular, brands with integrated agency teams can achieve:

  • Better synchronization of tactics across disciplines, with all agencies—be it advertising, direct marketing, media buying, or public relations divisions—operating under the same directives and timelines

  • Unified branding, with all collateral material supporting the same brand goals and creative platform with similar language and imagery

  • Cost savings and efficiencies resulting from coordinated research that eliminates project redundancies, and shares learning across agency silos

  • Time savings, given that information will not need to be repeated for each individual agency.

Most companies aim to integrate their agencies' efforts by holding a meeting once a quarter. Often, this meeting contains only one-way communication—with each respective agency offering an update—then returning to their desks without the benefit of input or exploration from the other companies working on the same brand.

It's probably unnecessary to tell you that this tactic doesn't work. However, it doesn't need to be this way. Instead, companies and their agencies can find a new way of working that leverages the collective knowledge, resources, and capablities of all agency partners. What's more is that this process can be simple.

The following tips can help product managers create agency teams that work harmoniously—even across functional divides.

1. Align the brand team

Pharma company marketers must express their commitment to the integration process by ensuring that, first, the brand team is aligned on the priorities, processes, and procedures of the brand's creative and tactical execution. When agencies see that the brand team is committed to integration, it becomes not only possible—but also imperative—to break down the silos and work together in a cross-platform approach.

Integration is even more firmly entrenched when the brand uses incentives and rewards to encourage collaboration.

2. Assess the damage

All too often, the silo mentality prevents agencies from working with one another in a way that benefits the brand. In particular, there are certain issues that come up again and again for brand teams with multiple agency partners. These issues—or "black holes"—are indicative of communication gaps. To spot where these might exist for your brand, take an inventory of the issues discussed in "Mind the Gap," page 30.

3. Create contact lists

Brand teams should arm agencies with a complete arsenal of their partners' contact information, including titles, job responsibilities, and where employees sit in their respective organizations. This may sound simple, but it's an important detail that is too often overlooked. Knowing who to call and how to reach them are critical steps toward achieving integration.

However, contact sheets only work when they're updated regularly—at least quarterly. Make sure people who need them have access to the information as well.

4. Create consistency and surprise

With busy schedules, it's often difficult for agency partners to attend a singular brand meeting. But in taking an integrated approach to brand marketing, their presence is important to, not only their success, but also the success of the product.

To ensure that all agencies can be present during a meeting, product managers may wish to designate a specific day to hold meetings for their partners—for example, the third Monday of each month. However, other elements of the meeting should differ, such as the location of the meeting—each agency should have a turn hosting—and who presents first. This way, no one agency has a monopoly or a home-court advantage, and no agency is consistently stuck presenting toward the end of the meetings, when attention spans may wane.

5. Reinforce successful efforts

Start each meeting by highlighting how different agency partners have helped each other since the previous meeting. As an extension of this, companies should work to understand how activities across disciplines can enhance messages and campaigns, and make intra-agency integration part of each agency's annual review.

Additionally, agencies should be encouraged to invite other partners to plan brainstorms, whether or not the client is present.

6. Insist on coordinated presentations

Rather than instructing each agency to complete their own competitive analysis—an inevitably redundant task, given the number of partners on each brand—pharma marketers should ask their agencies to pool resources and collaborate on one comprehensive document that highlights competitor activity. The same time- and cost-savings strategy is applicable to the development of the brand's key communications goals and other fundamental content that serve as the foundation for a brand's program and initiatives.

7. Develop common tools

Sometimes, just by using the same tools, integration can be facilitated. Take templates, for example. Brand teams can encourage agencies to use the same template for slides they are creating; this way, all the information from all the agency partners can be combined. Asking agencies to retrofit a presentation into a template after-the-fact costs the agencies time—and the brand, money.

8. Share medical insights and research

If one team has solved a message puzzle with the client's medical/regulatory team, other partners will benefit from hearing about that insight. What's more, it may be detrimental to the brand if they don't: Some teams may continue to use different language or outdated information in their materials, which can cause confusion with key audiences.

In turn, insights gleaned about consumers should be shared to ensure cohesive thinking.

9. End each meeting with a challenge

Include time to brainstorm ideas for integration and put a follow-up mechanism in place to ensure good ideas are acted upon. For example, end each meeting with a challenge to e-mail the brand manager with an idea that leverages another agency's experience. Is there footage from an ad or VNR shoot that another agency could use? Could accredits go toward developing a Web-based editorial initiative? How can a good spokesperson deployed for one discipline be used in another capacity?

10. Brainstorm to find synergies

Brainstorms provide an opportunity for agencies to think beyond their own boundaries for solutions. When brainstorming, one question to always ask is, "Where can we find synergies?" Marketers also should brainstorm about how to build and measure return on investment for various brand campaigns and initiatives.

In addition to solving day-to-day issues for the brand, integrated agency meetings provide an opportunity to use the assembled brainpower to do some "blue-sky" thinking and planning on the future of the brand. With so many teams working on a product, nothing beats face time for getting creative juices flowing.

Organizations of all sizes can suffer from the consequences of internal functional barriers. It is so common, that many have accepted them as an inevitable consequence of agency life. But with hard work and discipline, and by following the suggestions outlined above, companies can get more out of agencies besides just what one team offers. Once established as standard operating procedure, integration can help brand marketing dollars go further and do more. After all, when teams are in tune with one another, it becomes possible to make better music.

Mind the Gap

Sometimes, the dynamics of integrated agency meetings—the way the agencies and the pharma company work together—is an obstacle to coordinating a brand's messaging. By asking the following questions, brand teams can better understand if their partners are experiencing a communications gap.

Does one agency dominate the discussion? Note who is speaking...a lot. While all the agencies may have time on the agenda, are one or two constantly given slots at the end of the day? Do scheduling conflicts prevent all agencies from attending meetings at once, resulting in splintering and some teams being kept out of the loop?

What's the protocol for follow-up? If everyone says "nice meeting" and walks away, but there is no follow-up, what was accomplished? Does the momentum built at the meeting die off shortly thereafter?

What are the patterns of disconnect among agencies? Are there ways of communicating that result in short-sighted solutions to challenges? Is there confusion as to roles and responsibilities or duplication of work? Is it clear whom to call depending upon the issue/need? When an agency presents an opportunity that clearly has cross-discipline potential, has the agency not bothered to get insights from its counterparts before coming to the brand team?

Are the partners being flexible? Do the agencies' operating procedures clash, and are they reluctant to change or adapt? Is there tension, frustration or a drain on energy as a result? When different agencies distribute meeting minutes and next steps, are they handled differently?