By Andy Hopson
In just a few years VoiceStream Wireless has steamrolled its way onto the national stage. With a series of acquisitions and strategic alliances propelling it from a regional carrier to a leading provider of digital wireless communications in the U.S., VoiceStream now has more than 6 million subscribers and service available to 97 percent of the U.S. population. As it has grown, its business proposition has been the same: “Get More”—more minutes, more features and more service.
With Jamie Lee Curtis as its articulate spokesperson, consumers are continually reminded by this single working mom that, like her, VoiceStream can help them “get more from life.” The clarity and consistency of the message are what have made it stick.
Consumers are barraged with messages from the time they get up in the morning until their heads hit the pillow at night…television, newspapers, magazines, radio, billboards, the Internet, mail, word of mouth, sales people, newscasters, analysts, entertainers, buses, taxi cabs, store shelves, packaging, shopping bags…to name a few. Consumers don’t often segregate where they get information, they take it in holistically and what they remember helps them form opinions, brand preference and ultimately purchase decisions.
VoiceStream’s message is always the same, regardless of how you obtain the information. Your encounter could be a television commercial, catching Jamie Lee on a talk show or on the Internet. The message will always be the same. And why wouldn’t it be? Consistency works in marketing.
Few rational people would argue with the logic of integrated marketing communications. It makes sense. But despite its appeal, many major marketers, and most major agencies, are still struggling with how to put it into practice. Although many global agencies have broad-based capabilities that extend well beyond traditional advertising, they are housed in specialist companies that at worst act like competitors and at best work as loose affiliates, mirroring the silos of many client companies.
In recognition of the quagmire that has impeded the success of IMC, Maurice Lévy, president and chief executive officer of Publicis Groupe (and my ultimate boss) announced a bold move by our agency at last year’s AAAA Management Conference. Stating that integrated marketing is “faulty in practice if not in concept”—he compared it to the impossible task of reassembling a broken egg—he introduced what we call “La Holistic Differencé.”
To us, this isn’t just a new Madison Avenue buzzword, nor is it only a different way of thinking. Recognizing that we must help brands assert their compelling difference, it requires us to work differently, approaching the task holistically.
Holistic communications works from the premise that since consumers don’t segregate how they obtain information; likewise, the message, regardless of the source, must be the same in word, tone and delivery. This can only be accomplished by crafting campaigns that offer a whole solution from the start, finding the most effective channels for our brand messages. That’s not an easy task in this advertising-centric business where television is king and creative awards are often the motivator. It’s no wonder that great public relations concepts often wind up like a wart on the ass of the big advertising idea.
To make this holistic concept more than an interesting theory requires a new approach, starting with planning, where advertising solutions traditionally dominate, and extending to the creative process and ultimately through to execution. It requires people willing to step out of their comfort zones and entertain thinking from various perspectives. Egos and turf must be sacrificed as equal status is extended to all disciplines. Neutrality for the sake of the client’s success must be rewarded.
How does holistic communications differ from integrated marketing communications? While IMC is all about selling the client on disparate communications components attached to an advertising campaign, holistic communications requires complete thinking from the start that is singularly focused on meeting business needs. It’s a paradigm shift of magnificent proportions.
Sticking one’s toe in the water is not enough. Success requires a total commitment from top to bottom. Identifying the ingredients of a successful holistic agency is simple enough; putting them into practice is another thing altogether. In our experience the following components always apply:
    Commitment—The CEO must support the concept totally, rewarding success and discouraging dissidence. Although the commitment emanates from the top, it must ultimately become part of the culture.
  • Training—Marketers must be trained to be broader and more encompassing in their thinking, regardless of their backgrounds. It requires a distinct way of thinking that guides every step. The people applied to the task need broad experience and training across many communications disciplines. At Publicis Dialog we’ve adopted a cross-training curriculum that exposes our employees to wide-ranging marketing tools. Graduates become Certified Holistic Strategists.
  • Client-agency Partnerships—Only by working together can clients and agencies devise a consumer-centric, holistic approach that drives one voice through the best channels to all the brand’s constituents. It requires an equal commitment by clients who also must bridge or destroy their internal silos.
  • Holistic Planning—Since most planners are, by training and practice, advertising planners, this is more easily said than done. Like anyone, planners take the perspective of their own discipline. Consequently, a few more chairs need to be added to the planning table, inviting a broader range of input and ideas from the outset, encouraging collaboration to overcome individual prejudices. In this way the consumer is viewed more holistically and the campaign benefits from a broader perspective.
  • Multi-disciplinary Creative Development—A really big idea is one that can be more effectively applied across many communications disciplines and extended to all channels of communication. It requires that ideas be drawn from a broader range of perspectives, not devised by one discipline and later adapted to others.
  • Whole Picture Measurement—A holistic communications program can more readily be held accountable for business performance. It is also incumbent on holistic strategists to measure the independent effectiveness of each communications channel so they can modulate the marketing mix for optimal return on investment.
Since money is the biggest motivator of all eclipsing ego, turf and tradition, it cannot be ignored in the equation required to make holistic communications work. It must be addressed by clients where compartmentalized budgets lead to segmented thinking. It must also be confronted by agencies where competing profit centers are often one of the greatest impediments to success.
The financial equation always must be addressed with integrity and equity, placing the customer above everything else.
Andy Hopson is president and chief operating office of Publicis Dialog in the United States.