Digital agencies are improving their skills to help clients strategically, but still fall short in their ability to lead broader marketing and brand strategy, according to a new report by Forrester Research.I find it interesting coming from a traditional background and now working primarily in the interactive realm how true this is. In some instances I've seen, it's not so much that the interactive agencies don't have the ability to think globally or to lead concepts across channels. The statement to me seems a disconnect, to be honest. It's not so much that there is not the ability to do so, it's the lack of organization to do so.
That inability means Web agencies in the near term will continue to be relegated to the role of implementer, while a client's traditional shop takes the lead, said Brian Haven, a Forrester analyst.
"The interactive agencies are in a position where all their staff is focused on executing on digital," he said. "They need people who understand that broader relationship between online and offline media."
Forrester included the assessment in a report that evaluated the capabilities of top digital marketing agencies. It ranked Microsoft's Avenue A/Razorfish and WPP Group's OgilvyInteractive as the leading digital marketing shops, followed by independent Sapient.
Most of the agencies evaluated have deep expertise in "traditional" interactive media like display advertising, e-mail and search, Haven said, but there is a wider gap in new areas, particularly social media. The challenge for digital shops is not just executing campaigns with consumer-generated components or on Facebook and MySpace but figuring out what interactions in those channels means for clients, he said.
"The question is what are they going to bring to the table about what effect social media has," Haven said. "It's not going to be an impression or click through."
For a shop like Avenue A/Razorfish, its expertise in digital channels comes at a price, the report concludes: it doesn't have the expertise to lead brand strategy across channels. "The interactive agency doesn't have those chops yet," Haven said.
If interactive agencies were given the brief the same day as the traditional agency(s), perhaps there would be a better attempt to have the digital agencies lead. But this is rare. Typically, it's the client's decision to have the traditional media lead the digital - yes, even if it's the POP. This doesn't always make sense. And even if different agencies are working for a brand for their respective media expertise, it seems to me that it would be beneficial for all to be a part of the brainstorming for concepts that would work across all channels - you know, integrated.
Until that happens there is no way that any digital agency is going to take the lead. Too many clients don't see how to do that or the reason for it, and it would probably freak out a lot of the traditional agencies as well for that to happen. It's going to be up to clients to push to have their digital agency take the lead creatively - and without that decision from the money-holders, I doubt we'll see any change.
Which is the other reason for the inability. If the client doesn't have the money to support the staffing needs - why would a digital agency hire people with a background that included such knowledge? They'd rather have people on staff who have a background/experience doing what they need at that time. Granted, of course that doesn't mean that there aren't people out there who do have the experience working in the digital world. Anyone with more than 8-10 years experience had to be working in some other medium prior to the launch of interactive. Not only that, but I have seen (and am) plenty of people who work across media channels. Those who have an understanding of the concept as a whole and figuring out how it can play out in a variety of media seems to be a skill that is dying out. And yet, from the article it seems like it is something that someone apparently is looking for again. Point overall here being, when the clients start expecting this skill from their digital agency, I cannot see how it would be difficult to move forward to meet that expectation. But the expectation needs to be in place for companies (yes, that's what an agency is) to justify adding the "new" job requirement to their open position lists.