Written by Christos Karakanna | UK
on May 16, 2018

I’m an integrated realist.

Don’t worry, that’s not a term you are meant to have heard before, but it is one I’ve been toying with for a few months now.

I think it quite nicely sums up my beliefs, my approach and the marketeer I am.


Is it possible to remain neutral and engaged?

It’s not always easy to approach your work from a neutral point of view. You’re bound to be biased or influenced by the environment you’re in. Throughout my career I have always had the freedom to approach work from a neutral PoV and I’ve been lucky enough to work for the most part privately owned agencies (which believe me the opposite does limit your neutrality!).

Is being neutral a dream?

You’ve probably heard all of these terms used to describe agencies (I know I’ve used them):

Media neutral
Full service
Through the line
And even omni-channel

So I ask: What do these mean to you? Do you think they mean the same thing to everyone? I believe the intention of all of these terms is to convey some sense of neutrality of platform to reassure clients that we have their best interests at heart. But does this mean the agencies are really neutral?

Throughout my career journey I have seen several developments in the industry that threatened to derail my neutrality; CRM, the digital revolution, tech, social media, big data and most recently, Inbound, to name a few.

From tech to touch - finding what works

I have truly been in awe of what is possible through the power of marketing and some of the amazing and creative minds I have met along this journey. And many of them can successfully hold an argument to why each of these is the holy grail of marketing; that this one practice will solve all of a certain brand’s issues or make the most of their opportunities.

Well, sorry, I’m really not sold.

If anyone tells you that one thing is the answer to all brands’ business problems, they are a liar, very arrogant or just happen to be selling you that one thing! Put simply it’s very hard for a PR agency to give you an answer that’s anything other than PR. The same way it was very hard for the big Ad agencies to give you any answer other than a big Ad!

And the proof that clients have seen through this is out there because both of these two types of agencies (PR and big Ad) have changed massively in the last few years — creeping into the world of “below the line", digital and generally encroaching into areas they before would not dare to venture before.Through necessity and fear.

The rise and general change in our digital culture has fuelled this shift, but smart clients demanding ROI for the marketing dollars is also a driver.And why wouldn’t clients, or anyone, not demand payback for budgets spent? It makes complete business sense.

Put the brand first

Don’t get me wrong, absolutely none of those developments I mentioned earlier are a negative, they are very much positives…new options to approach a business problem in a creative or effective way to the benefit of your client. It’s just one thing cannot be the right answer to every problem or opportunity. That’s impossible.

In fact, one of the things you have to do to continue to stay neutral is keep up with all of these developments and options and continue to learn what is out there. The important thing is to understand when and where to apply them. And the requires truly understanding brand, and the audience.

I truly get excited learning new approaches and adding new strings to my bow that can help address business problems in new ways. Who wouldn’t?

whatever it takes


Tech that can improve the brand experience. Content that can create a relationship between a brand and its customers. Data that gives you true insight and effectiveness. Each one is a marketers dream.

But who can honestly tell me that one thing, one marketing practice, is the answer to absolutely everything? I’d like to hear that point of view, but my twenty years of marketing experience tell me it’s not one I’d believe.

So what does an integrated realist believe? Here’s my golden list….

  1. Marketing activity has to be aligned to an overall business benefit — And therefore ROI is key.
  2. On the flip side - if a client's marketing isn’t aligned (and championed by) the leadership and sales team it’s already broken.
  3. People buy relationships and will invest in them, but they must get something out of them in return.
  4. Sometimes the answer is really simple or even something the agency can’t deliver, and it’s the agency’s duty to see that and be honest (why? see relationships!)
  5. A test and learn strategy should be ubiquitous to your marketing approach - report, improve and repeat.
  6. Agile thinking and strategies shouldn’t be limited to digital.
  7. Every member of a business and every interaction can affect a brand’s equity - sometimes a poor process or a unmotivated workforce can be your biggest dangers.
  8. Internal communication and PR can be as important as external communication for a company.
  9. Sometimes it’s best to go backwards to go forwards and that might mean more time or money but ultimately it is more cost effective. It could even save your brand's equity.
  10. Always think of the short-, medium- and long-term goals and deliver on all as you go.
  11. Sometimes delivering an experience is more important than making a sale.
  12. To solve a real business problem with marketing, a client should demand at least one strategic account person and an expert in the solution they put forward from their agency....whether that’s creative, tech, direct, brand...and sometimes you just need a pure (neutral) planner to get to the answer, but the ‘suit’ should always be present and be able to keep up strategically.

These are the things that have resonated and rung true with me the most over the years.

I’ve always wanted to find the right answer for my clients, which has fulled my need to stay neutral and my natural pragmatism fuels the realist in me.

So integrated realist that I am, I can’t wait to learn the next development us marketers can add to our armoury.

What’s your list look like? (leave me a comment below).


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