Farewell to the digital agency?

angela smithIn this opinion piece Angela Smith argues digital agencies have no place in the modern marketing mix. 

It’s 2015 and the term ‘digital’ in marketing as a specialisation is outmoded and the notion of ‘The Digital Agency’ is a non sequitur. Given 81 per cent of Australians have smartphones on them every waking hour, using laptops, desktops, and tablets simultaneously – it seems a little old fashioned to distinguish digital as a separate discipline.

If it’s ubiquitous in the landscape of our behaviour (and has been for some time), the fact that ad agencies continue to insist on using digital to differentiate their services is a little embarrassing. Of course your agency does digital. If it doesn’t, umm, well things are going to get a little awkward aren’t they? Instead, isn’t it a matter of how well you do digital, or more importantly, why you do digital?

Maybe it’s time for agencies to be more honest with their own advertising.

The industry pecking order

Let me explain. There’s a spectrum of agencies. At one end lurk the bigger, established organisations that have done very well for themselves over the decades plying their Mad Men-age wares. These guys are traditional in their approach– their thinking and largely, their output. Other than the odd award-focused pet project, the bulk of their product is TVC, print, radio, OOH, and a smattering of ‘digi’.

But to be fair, most of these guys understand the notion of brands and why it’s important to start there. But even though they are all shouting ‘integrated’, it’s just really hard for them to keep up with the times in their current form.

On the other end sits the ‘we are digital’ agencies. A lot of these guys are doing some seriously cool digital and tech innovation. But much of the time they do it because they can, not because they should, or because a brand needs it.

Whilst shiny and new is appealing to many clients (“give me something out of the box!”), it’s largely conceived in a vacuum, and doesn’t have the big picture brand business thinking required to drive sales and genuine ROI. Brand strategy is way down the learning curve for these guys as many of them were born from a production model of building websites.

It’s somewhere in the middle that you’ll always get your best result. This is where a brand’s goals are front and centre throughout development of the strategic and creative process. Whether it be bleeding edge digital, traditionalchannels (or both), they’re simply a means to an end. Having a Head of Digital or Technical Director on staff doesn’t do more than tick a box either.

To have an agency positioned to provide what brands need now means that each and every person involved in coming up with solutions are digital literate at worst and digital passionate at best. Each part of the process creating brand or business solutions should be empowered to innovate and consider a spectrum of solutions – digital or analog.

Let’s get personal

We now have the capacity to communicate with individuals based on what they’re doing, where they are at any point in time, and what decisions they make through any part of their journey. So isn’t it time we all started talking personalised connections, rather than broadly talking digital marketing?


Shouldn’t the word ‘digital’ be relegated to a hygiene offering along with print, radio, and ambient?

It’s a truly fantastic time to be in the business of influencing people’s behaviour. Technology has never been so accessible and adaptable. And remember – consumers expect brands to be digital, tech savvy, and adding value to their buying experience.

So how is your ‘digital agency’ faring? And instead, why aren’t they a brand agency that uses digital to help get the most from a myriad of opportunities? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the expired agency structure.

  • Angela Smith is head of strategy for Affinity

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