Break down the barriers between media and creative

The day media and creative separated might have been a happy one for the money men but it was sad for everyone else. Emma de la Fosse explains why we need to bring them back together again.

What would breaking down the silos mean for you? Would it mean freedom, a bigger canvas? Or are you secretly filled with fear and trepidation? 

For chief executives, breaking down silos can mean a potential loss of power over their territory and less control over their profit and loss. For a creative, it can be liberating – the freedom to truthfully express an idea in whatever medium required. Perhaps, though, some are also fearful they’ll have to share ownership of ideas with others – those who got a job without a good creative book. Either way, it’s a new world and, like all change, it’s scary. 

But it’s also 2016 and everything a brand does is marketing. From the way it deals with a customer complaint to its Twitter feed; from the policy on environmentally sustainable packaging to its tone of voice. Everything can be a measurable brand experience. It has never been more important to have a consistency of brand message across all touchpoints.

From a creative perspective, if you’ve sat on an awards jury in the past five years, you will have noticed that the truly big award-winning ideas transcend silos and defy categorisation. Is it PR? Is it direct? We’ll spend hours debating it. 

Advertising and marketing never used to have silos. Before client marketing departments came about, the chairman would throw down the gauntlet to the agency to solve his business problem. And the agency would come back with an incredibly diverse array of creative solutions, whether printing something on the packaging or painting designs on an aeroplane. Take a look at George Lois’ book The Art of Advertising, published in 1977, for some really fresh creative thinking. It’s the kind of thinking that does not happen in silos. How often does that kind of creativity happen now without a big turf war?

Silos don’t exist in the real world

So, in 1977, it didn’t matter who had the idea but, in 2016, it seems to matter a lot. This should sound a warning bell. Agencies talking to themselves about contractual remit and having territorial squabbles when no-one else in the real world gives two hoots is not a healthy thing.

The public certainly doesn’t care. In its world, there are no silos. I’m not sure clients care that much either. They just want fresh and effective creative solutions that can solve their problems. Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer, has said many times that he wants to see agencies work together more and, for that to happen, they need to trust each other.

In any case, the word silo carries a lot of negative baggage. So let’s change the word for a bit. Let’s try "specialisms". Expertise is good and specialism is valuable. The world has become so big and complex – there’s so much to know that it is critical to have a specialist who really understands a particular area.  

Ogilvy Group has a wide range of specialisms, from healthcare to PR, design to customer engagement. But we cannot cover everything. Honesty about what you can and cannot do can be refreshing and can build the kind of trust Weed talks about. So when clients want their agency to work with smaller, specialist partners, a more positive, open-armed approach could result in business upsides for all. Of course, it’s understandable to be suspicious initially and see this as a land grab by the smaller shop. But I think if you view it as a potential new vein of business, a shared venture, you can win. If we admit that we cannot do everything, we free ourselves up to work with other partners and gain more business. (Of course, it’s hard to argue this when you are discussing a quarterly revenue downside with the finance director because, sadly, the short-term view often prevails.)

So maybe the question is not "Is it the time to break down silos?" but "How do you allow for greater creative flexibility and freedom while retaining the benefits of specialisms?" It’s risky to confuse the softening of a commercial model with disbanding expert communities. For one thing, specialist talent can migrate away if they feel they’ll have no like-minded friends in the company to talk to. 

In my role as group chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather UK, I don’t want to break down expert communities but I do want to create passageways so we can move more freely between them. I’d like to make it easier for specialists from different areas of the group to come together for different client projects. Luckily, everyone at Sea Containers is well up for that. They want more collaboration, not less.

In fact, you cannot successfully break down the walls unless your people are willing to think again about the way they work. I’d go even further and say that if you try to integrate an agency while still retaining the old-school hierarchies – and the belief that an idea is always going to come from the same department or group of people – then breaking down silos will be, at best, a cosmetic exercise. You can remove the physical and financial obstacles to working together. But it will come to naught if we don’t break down the silos that exist in our attitudes and our minds. 

And if I had one final wish, it would be this: that the media agency and creative agency silos could be done away with for good. If anything truly stands in the way of creativity and productivity, it is this. The day media and creative separated might have been a happy day for the money men but it was a sad day for everyone else. Bring them back together. Let clients set their media and creative agencies joint KPIs. Those silos are the two biggest, ugliest obstacles to productivity, creativity and profitability, and we should take a bulldozer to them right away. 

Emma de la Fosse is the group chief creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather UK

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