Separation Anxiety

Posted by Carol Spieckerman on November 01, 2012

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“It just doesn’t make sense anymore to have separate staff to handle a separate area which is inherently impossible to separate from anything else.”

Walter Naeslund, CEO of Stockholm-based advertising agency, Honesty, recently made the above statement in a corporate missive explaining his company’s contrarian decision to eliminate all digitally-focused specialty roles such as “digital director.”

Just as retailers like Walmart, Macy’s, and Tesco have taken to acquisitions to address new technologies, the agency world has cobbled together solutions under a self-imposed mandate to pump up their digital prowess. Rather than following other agencies by bolting on capabilities as separate entities or using dedicated titles for new media functions, Naeslund decided to take a new approach. He broke down organizational silos to create a fully-integrated agency with a single account director and one creative team. Integrated approaches foster agility and collaboration, but also drive what Naeslund refers to as “new learning” as members of cross-functional teams are forced to gain insight into each other’s processes and challenges.

Naeslund’s decision removed all excuses for staff to not become acquainted with, and accountable for, digital and mobile initiatives. Retailers are leveraging this dynamic when they intentionally cycle personnel through positions across their organizations. Suppliers may not like the lack of continuity that results from working with new decision-makers on every visit to retailer HQ, but it’s all by design.

In contrast to retailers, the majority of licensors and licensees still operate under a specialization mindset. Marketers are marketers and salespeople stay in sales, while staff focused on technology, analytics and other left-brained functions are in another world entirely. In the best of situations, coworkers from different functional areas collaborate and draw from one another, but are not expected to learn from their peers and brand partners. In my experience, this leads to the very scenario that Naeslund has sought to mitigate – excuses are made, fingers are pointed, and no one gets much smarter. This is less than ideal under any circumstances, but potentially deadly as new technology, digital initiatives, and advanced data analytics become inextricably linked to supply chain and product development processes and to sales and marketing success.

Perpetuating the myth of separateness removes accountability and deprives teams of new-world learning opportunities. As Naeslund stated, that just doesn’t make sense..

Bottom line:

  • Agencies and retailers are reevaluating their organizational models in order to speed up decision-making. More importantly, they are driving accountability for increased knowledge.
  • While acquisitions make sense when internal knowledge and capabilities are deficient, these corporate weaknesses can’t be honestly assessed when no one ever moves. If enough movement and new learning occur within an organization, acquisitions may not be necessary.
  • Cross-functional “new learning” can be made an organizational expectation or just seen as a happy accident. Which is true for your company?
  • Retailers don’t claim that only one person can “do what they do,” and don’t allow teams or individuals to hold others hostage. Can you say the same?

As retailers expand their reach through new organizational transformations, acquisitions and social and digital forays, the destinies of licensors, licensees and agencies are being transformed. Join Carol Spieckerman as she reprises her very well-received LIMA Retail Symposium presentation on the eight mistakes that you can’t afford to make as retailers evolve into much more than distribution points for brands and products. Even if you attended the original presentation at the symposium, join in to hear updated content on important retail trajectories that will be vital to your brand marketing strategy in 2013 and beyond.

Register now and invite your retailer-facing teams and partners.

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