We’ve written about the “primacy of content” and how it’s one of the themes that has been emerging from all the conferences and events that we’ve been attending lately. Another theme that’s occupied a lot of the discussions is the “conflict” between “traditional” and digital agencies.
The argument goes that “traditional” agencies (i.e. big firms like Publicis or Ogilvy) are faced with the choice of developing digital capabilities in house or farming them out to an agency that specializes in digital work. The sidebar to that argument is how involved the digital agency should be in the creative portion of the work. Should they have joint ownership of the branding efforts? Or is their role similar to a production house on a television commercial, more about execution than strategy?
Both options present challenges for “traditional firms”. The first option (developing skills in house) can be a real issue for larger agencies. They’re in constant competition with media and technology firms for young talent. And while they can offer perks and compensation that smaller agencies can’t match, they often can’t offer the same degree of job flexibility or creative freedom. Traditional agencies also use methodologies that don’t fit comfortably with the demands of the digital space. When the standard copy writer/art director team is expanded to include developers and other digital experts, production can become clunky and opportunities for miscommunication abound. Even internally, the issue of creative control also raises its head.
Hiring an outside firm to handle the digital aspects of a project also presents challenges. Many companies have asked digital agencies to “white label” their efforts, largely in an effort to maintain an exclusive relationship with the client. However, more and more these days, this practice is receiving pushback from both sides of the partnership. Digital agencies are demanding a seat at the table, partially due to their own business development ambitions and partially due to the fact that direct communication with the client can save time and money for all involved. Clients also want to be able to communicate directly with the firms executing their digital efforts and they are no longer willing to pay the high markups that many advertising agencies have charged for outsourced work.
So what’s the solution for the larger agency looking to staff their digital needs?
The first step is to realize that digital agencies aren’t simply execution shops and they need to be treated as equal partners in any collaboration. The size and wealth of traditional firms has tended to give them somewhat of a condescending attitude towards digital agencies. At one conference we recently attended, a prominent industry exec stated “Agencies that develop in the digital space are not very good at storytelling.” A statement like that betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about how digital communication works. It also fosters the notion that creativity is the exclusive province of Don Draper like wizards in Madison Avenue castles. In contrast, Lucas Watson, Global Team Leader for Digital Business Strategy at Procter & Gamble has spoken about how “creativity can come from anywhere” and that his company is elevating the importance of digital in its media strategy.
Change is never easy but traditional agencies will be able to solve their business needs if they embrace digital agencies as full partners in the creative process. Doing so gives them the best of both worlds, a strong digital team thats employs a methodology that fits the project needs without the staffing and technology challenges that an in house division creates. As “traditional” agencies work more closely with their digital counterparts, they may discover an essential truth. That the tools and mediums may be different but the process for creating outstanding work is common across all successful companies. And that these days, our generation’s Don Drapers may be just as likely to be found in Bogota or Boise as well as Madison Avenue.
What do you think? Can “traditional” agencies and digital agencies find new ways to collaborate together? How can they share best practice?