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April 28, 2009 / davebirss

Advertising and Digital go together like Lego and Sticklebricks


Partly because of the current economic situation and partly because it’s looooong overdue, I’ve noticed a number of traditional agencies trying to incorporate more digital into what they do. Some of these agencies have bought or merged with a digital agency in the effort to broaden their skills. And others are trying to hire digital people for inhouse digital facilities. As yet, I haven’t seen anyone doing it quite the way I think it should be done and I foresee issues with their efforts.

These issues lie in quite fundemental differences between the advertising and digital industries. And I thought it might be worth pointing out some of the main areas of conflict.

What does it say on your business card?

Strange one this. In advertising a Planner is a Planner, a Copywriter is a Copywriter and a Typographer is a Typographer. Job titles are standardised and the way work moves between departments is similar wherever you go. Not so with digital. The same person could be called an Art Director, Flash Designer, Interaction Director, Web Designer and a variety of other titles depending where they work. And the way work moves through the agencies is just as variable.

You need to understand it to sell it

Marketing works in siloes and it’s no surprise that companies sell-in the stuff they’re familiar with. If you give the same brief to different disciplines, it won’t be a shock when PR people recommend PR campaigns and Ad agencies recommend TV spots. So, the agency people with the client relationships need to be taught when to recommend digital, what to expect from the activity and all the other issues that go with it. Otherwise they will just recommend the stuff they understand and the digital resource that’s been hired will end up doing unrewarding (and probably ineffective) adaptations of work done elsewhere in the agency.

You earn what?!

The industries have different pay scales. There’s a world of issues that go with that. And I’m not wanting to turn this blog into an HR rant. So I’ll cough politely and move on.

Just sit over there in the ‘digital corner’

If you take on digital people and don’t properly integrate them into the rest of the agency – or if you put the word ‘digital’ in front of their title – you create an us-and-them situation. Traditional people think they understand more about strategic communication. Digital people think they know more about personal engagement and the future of communication. And they’re both right. But creating a differentiation with job titles won’t help you integrate properly. These skills can and should be complimentary and by working together, you’ll get something better.

Know your audience

The main people to please in traditional media has always been the client. That’s because you’re dealing with media that you have total control over and an audience that is forced to consume it. With digital, the main people you have to please is the target audience. If you let the client put their logo up big and talk about their product in copy that’s been through a dozen rounds of approval, you create a perfectly branded digital space that nobody will every intentionally visit. You need to do what’s right for the media.

The finish line isn’t where you think it is

For traditional agencies, launching the work is the end of the process. That’s it. You’ve finished and you can move on to the next thing. Not so with digital. It’s usually the middle of the process for online stuff. You still need to iron out glitches, update it, manage it, adjust it and moderate it. And that can be a hell of a lot of work.

So if these are some of the issues, how do traditional agencies properly incorporate digital into what they do?

I think the current approach of ‘buying-in’ the skills is short-term in the extreme. It’s just another way of resisting the fundemental changes traditional agencies need to make. They actually need to train their staff. And they need to rethink the way they work internally. It’s not easy – but I think it’s the only sustainable way forward.

What do you think? Have you seen it done successfully already? Have you seen some disasters? Fill me in.


Leave a Comment
  1. Will / Apr 28 2009 11:46 am

    “If you take on digital people and don’t properly integrate them into the rest of the agency – or if you put the word ‘digital’ in front of their title – you create an us-and-them situation”

    Yes. Precisely.

    I am an account planner. I plan in any channel. I work for a traditional agency at the moment, but have worked for digital shops.

    Anything else is a bit bonkers, to be honest.

  2. eaon pritchard / Apr 28 2009 11:54 am

    I can relate to much of this post in a very direct way.
    good job chap.

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