The film Charlie Wilson’s War had a very interesting scene about an exchange between Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a congressman, and Gust (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a CIA agent, in which Gust tells the congressman this story about a Zen Master in ancient China:
“There is a little boy; on his 14th birthday he gets a horse, and everybody in the village says ‘how wonderful, the boy got a horse’, and the Zen Master said ‘we will see’. Two years later, the little boy falls off the horse and breaks his leg, and everyone in the village said ‘how terrible’, and the Zen Master said, ‘we will see’. Then a war breaks out, and everyone old enough had to go and fight except the boy can’t because his leg is messed up, and everyone in the village said, ‘how wonderful’ and the Zen Master said, ‘we will see’.”
Truer words were never uttered for the communications industry: we will see indeed. We will see how the Publicis Groupe looks once the dust settles after its restructuring into four solutions groups. We will see how that impacts the different organisations, solutions they provide and, more importantly, the brands they service.
But this article is not about that though it heads in the same general direction. The point is that never have brands suffered more from the spinning off of different disciplines – it started with the creation of the AORs – and the continued siloed manner in which specialty skillsets are created and then managed. Never have the communication and creative product been as ill-informed as they risk becoming today with the continued separation of creative from media and other specialty competences. As fundamentally needed as specialisation is, it is reaching proportions where the brand is at risk of being blindsided by this propagated separation.
And let us also not kid ourselves any longer: the practiced integration we see in the market today cannot be the best and most optimal model to service a brand. Sure, it is optimal in the sense that different people from different companies meet, share space and discuss plans or receive briefs – but this is only optimal when it comes to reintegrating disparate parts and parties. From a brand perspective, however, it certainly isn’t ideal. It simply cannot be because information is not free-flowing among the different team members and players; knowledge is not shared and insight is not always informed by the best and most available or up-to-date data and knowledge.
With so much riding on big data and information, this gulf is likely to further widen as information technology continues its exponential growth. We will witness a widening gap between creative and information for as long as the current brand service model remains organisationally disintegrated – and no matter how hard brand representatives try to bring us together or how strongly communication practitioners ardently believe in integration.
In the interest of brands, and to best service an increasingly knowledgeable and tech-savvy consumer, our industry badly needs to hit the reset button. We need to reset in a manner that creates shared spaces for brand teams – so all skillsets operate under one roof. This mechanical step is fundamental to ensure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. It is important to operate from the same set of data findings and insights; it is critical that the barriers that separate knowledge and data peaks and troughs be eliminated to ensure that the best knowledge lives close by and services the creative process.
This resetting involves disassembling the current practiced models and rearranging assignments in a manner that favours true integration, mechanically, physically and operationally. And if the first step is a physical relocation of all team members under one roof, then the glue that will hold it together is the creation of one P&L. Without that, the solution is half-pregnant and half-hearted. To do the best for the brand and capitalise on those much sought-after efficiencies that all client organisations are craving and that communication agencies are agonising to deliver, we have to organically integrate under one roof and under one P&L.
Globally, there are two very good examples that indicate that both communication groups and clients are moving in this direction – and these are the Citibank and Heineken assignments. Both these cases were developed, proposed, adopted and are being operated on this principle, and while the jury is still out, it is the kind of innovation and reengineering that is right for the times, and that is based on the right foundations: true organic integration of skills and knowledge sealed with P&L integration. We also know that what starts abroad will ultimately find its way to our region, and if this is indeed the trend, then let’s all pray it will happen sooner rather than later.
If the restructuring announced by the Publicis Groupe ushers in a new era, the industry would have gone full circle but with richer capabilities, and that will certainly create quite a commotion in the global communication markets. Independent of the pain that will be caused along the way, creative communication needs to be better informed for it to better engage a weary and disinterested consumer. As for whether this will actually unfold and become an industry norm or serve as a prelude to better times ahead, the answer remains, as the Zen Master would say, ‘we will see’.