Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pure Plays vs. Traditional Agencies - Who Gets the Conch?

Saw some great case studies at Interactive to the Max in Toronto today. Marketing Magazine hosted the event in association with IAB Canada. I have volumes of notes on the content and need to distill them over the next few days.

Today I thought I’d comment on the “Smackdown” session at the end of the conference. Geoffrey Roche, Chief Creative Officer, Lowe Roche and Mike Kasprow, Vice President, Creative Director, Trapeze held an open debate about whether advertisers are better served through pure play digital media agencies or full service traditional agencies.

Geoffrey argued that the full service agency has better mobility in that a creative concept can be born and executed quickly within the agency walls. He also pointed out the fact that campaigns require different media depending on what is trying to be achieved. He likened the digital agency to a displaced fridge during a kitchen renovation. Stating that a digital agency only has the fridge and its contents while the rest of the appliances and many ingredients found in the kitchen (traditional agency assets) are still intact and have multiple uses.

Mike politely retorted “using a traditional agency is like going to a restaurant and ordering dinner knowing that 30% of it is being outsourced”. Traditional agencies simply do not have the expertise to deliver the effectiveness that the channel can deliver.

And so went the debate.

Here are some salient points that arose from the discussion:

  • Digital agencies live, breath and eat the medium and are therefore better versed in its possibilities. (Mike)
  • In a meeting, if you’re not the one coding (or close to coding), the questions that might come up in the concept stage from the client will create delays. (Mike)
  • Media agencies are not compensated fairly although they are the ones that are finding the audiences in this fragmented landscape. (Geoffrey)
  • Canadian digital budgets have not warranted (to date) a complete shift in agency direction. (Mike and Geoffrey)

I couldn’t help but wonder whether an entirely new structure needs to occur in this day and age. Would it make sense to have a brand agency that focuses only on strategic messaging (the what) and then an agency that deals with the tactical deployments (the how). In the late 90’s, the digital agency buzzword became “practices”. An account manager has access to the practices in order to conceptualize a fully integrated program on behalf of the client. Practices include DM, Search, Print, Outdoor and so on.

But in real life, the meetings don’t happen as often or to the caliber as they should prior to presenting the client with smart solutions. When the “practices” are not fully involved in the beginning stages of a program, the entire system falls apart. Miscommunication stunts creativity. An account manager, who has experience with DM and outdoor is well versed in the potential for their client. However the same account manager, who is not a coder, simply doesn’t have the library of information about online possibilities at his or her fingertips.

The topic is much larger than this. The current digital agency landscape has fragmented itself. We now have agencies that are full service, ones that are focused on SEO and SEM, email specialists, directional agencies and most recently there are social networking agencies starting to pop out of the woodwork.

Some of the most forward thinking agencies have built out dashboards so that they can control the brain of the project and outsource where they need to. The significance of the dashboard is that the client begins to rely on this singular reporting mechanism to streamline all media. The dashboards also allow these agencies to own the data and present the fully integrated results to the client.

Ironically, most of the truly engaging case studies I’ve seen over the past few weeks, have been presented directly by solutions providers or media publishers. These individuals are so laser focused on their capabilities and on ways to innovate and inspire that they have become agents in themselves.

We weren’t going to change the world this afternoon but one thing was clearly agreed upon: at the end of the day, in this fragmented space, he who ultimately delivers the audience wins.

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