Separation Anxiety

“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.

This article originally ran on the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association (LIMA) website.