Interesting piece by Tony Quin in Adweek about the battle for supremacy between traditional ad agencies and digital agencies. He concludes, sensibly, that it will be a “both/and” outcome. Some clients, on some occasions will want digital as part of a ‘full service’ agency offering, others will want more specialist digital or eMarketing agencies. Yet more – in my view the smart clients – will reject the idea of any kind of lead agency and will pull together a team of experts from a variety of agencies to suit their needs. (For more on this read “So you wanna know about eMarketing” available here)
Finance directors have been doing this for years. Depending on the particular project they have, they cherry pick advisors from banks, lawyers, accountants and consultants. For regulatory reasons (e.g. when share issues are involved) there may be one lead advisor but in reality it is a team led by the FD. Marketing Directors would do well to watch closely how they do this.
In Quin’s article he criticizes digital agencies for their inexperience in acting as a lead agency. I think there is some truth in this. Digital marketers are not always very good at explaining why they do what they do and the role of technology in particular. But frankly it was the same with Ad Agencies in the early days. Clients did not really understand how it worked or the nature of the creative process (many still don’t). Over time ad agencies got better at presenting what they did and clients became much more savvy about how agencies and creativity works, or at least confident enough that it did work that they let them get on with it.
That needs to happen in digital. Yes the agency need to explain better the ins and outs of their craft but clients need to grow up. Too many are still seduced by sexy web sites that fundamentally don’t deliver and are clueless about the many other, often more important, tactics of eMarketing. They have imported rather clumsily their ‘creative appreciation’ from analogue, mass market media and it doesn’t help. At least the digital agencies are helped in this ‘journey towards mutual understanding’ by the numbers. They can prove their case with ROI.
While the debate at the moment is focused on the traditional ad agency versus digital specialist spectrum there is another dimension, a triangular one, that interests/frustrates clients and has done for years. Strategy versus execution versus creativity. All agencies, traditional through to digital, design to communications, even the management consultancies struggle with this perceived trade-off. If you are a great strategic thinker then chances are you’re not so creative; if you are really creative you are not always so practical; if you really know how to manage the details of the execution you probably weren’t smart enough to come up with the idea in the first place. A bit harsh but fair I think. Agencies or teams of agencies that can resolve this trade off and deliver fresh work that meets the business strategy and is delivered faultlessly have the upper hand.
In my view this trade off is easier to address than the digital versus traditional debate, at least for the next 5 years or so. I explain why in more detail in my eBook but the headline is that role of metrics and technology in the thinking and practice of eMarketing is so fundamentally alien to ad agencies that they will never be able to embrace it effectively. For many – not all – marketing projects where digital is pivotal you will not find a both/and agency.