Will Network Agencies Retain their Brand's Identities if They Collaborate with Sister Firms?

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Lisa Stockman, president, inVentiv Health Communications

A culture of collaboration focused on delivering client value will not result in homogeneity if a solid integration strategy is in place. You need to maintain diversification to be experts across the promotional marketing mix and to understand every angle of a client challenge. Bringing these varied yet complementary experts together produces optimal solutions.

This only works when you have best-in-class agencies in each discipline steeped in healthcare. You don't want breadth without depth. Barriers to collaboration must also be removed, allowing each discipline to play to its strengths to meet client challenges without financial implications. Incentivize agencies to reach a combined financial target to ensure the focus remains on what's best for clients.

Jim Mackie, group strategy and advisory, Greater Than One Group

Collaboration within a holding company is a positive development, but it does not go far enough to solve clients' challenges. Holding companies emerged at a time when disciplines (marketing, media, PR) were disconnected. They were designed for consolidation — not collaboration. Today's complexities, though, are causing the traditional silos to disappear. New players, higher customer expectations, digital, technology, and data are driving the need for nimble, niche capabilities, and, thus, greater integration. It's not realistic to expect one healthcare network to deal every client a complete, winning hand. Greater collaboration is needed both within and beyond the holding company. Independent agencies are vital to filling those capability gaps and innovation blind spots. By collaborating with independent agencies, holding companies can stack their deck with aces.

Brendan Ward, partner, MRB Partners

Homogeneity may not break out at networks for three major reasons. First, agencies are made of people. They come together to create a culture that evolves distinctly, with its own philosophy, attitude, and processes. This is true of acquired agencies and even spun-off conflict shops. Second, while networks exert some degree of consistency, their role is more as facilitators and as a financial association. The networks look to develop homogenous financial systems and some consistent work practices, but they recognize that clients need choice and will buy the services of individual agencies. Third, because network agencies have their own P&Ls, they don't always make perfect partners. Under pressure to perform, even team players will covet their neighbors' budgets and begin to compete. And there goes homogeneity.

John Cahill, global CEO, McCann Health

Industry transformation over the past two decades has been characterized by discipline diversification and collaboration. Today, we are in the next transformative phase of integration — client customization.
However, preservation of competency must not be a casualty. Indeed, we must defend vigorously against discipline dilution. We believe that bespoke customized units — that draw from specialist disciplines to meet the specific needs of each of our client's businesses — are the way forward.

To underscore our commitment, we've just created a new board-level position, the president of the global clients unit, devoted entirely to this service and promoted Michel Nakache to the role.