Digital in an integrated agency environment – why smaller is better


-By Ben Shapira
For the last decade, agencies in Australia (and indeed all over the world) have struggled trying to understand how to best use digital in their integrated offerings. A lack of common ground and vocabulary makes it difficult for agencies to effectively integrate an offering they don’t understand and a disproportional budget breakdown often means digital works for much less of the pie.

There are few creative agencies with a specific digital creative team and honestly this is a good thing. Creatives should be fully integrated with at the very least a working knowledge of digital products and services. Having a specific digital creative team just reinforces the notion that digital is somehow a specialty when it is simply another channel in the agency’s offerings.

The main issue is that digital is often thought of at the last moment. Treated as matching luggage, leading to banners, eDMs and landing pages simply to be able to say that there is a digital offering. I am not saying that digital needs to take centre stage. Frankly this is a misguided notion that many digital people in agencies have. Digital represents a portion of an agency’s offering – a spoke in the wheel. It ebbs and flows as any other media option would based on the creative idea. It is simply a piece of the puzzle.

What agencies need to do is ensure that teams are trained properly in digital. When creatives and suits don’t have a significant digital vocabulary, they struggle to effectively communicate ideas to clients, while internally there can be a disconnect on how to make ideas truly integrated. On the flip side, digital team members need to engage the rest of the agency to share knowledge and not look down on those who are less informed.

Beyond education, it is important to understand that great ideas can truly come from anywhere. This is a statement I have often heard at agencies, but it rarely comes into practice. People in your production department, suits who deal with clients, even the guy who sweeps the floor can have great ideas. They each have their unique perspective and these are all important as we ultimately create for everyone.

For me, smaller, independent agencies are the key to this future growth and understanding. They are nimble. They respond to client needs on a more collaborative footing and creativity comes as everyone works together for the client. Because smaller, independent agencies often work with a variety of partners, they naturally accept ideas from a variety of sources, which leads to better results.

In closing, digital is – and will continue to be – a vital component for agencies and clients alike. Agencies need to make a considered effort to share digital knowledge to encourage creativity and conversation. Digital staff members need to be willing to share their knowledge freely and agencies need to encourage this activity. This will always be easier in smaller agencies, so clients – look beyond the usual suspects and look at your network of smaller, independent agencies – they can often bring better, more creative and cost-effective solutions for your business.

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