Digital Agencies are ready to lead with Traditional Agencies.

I read Ana Andjelic’s post titled ‘Why Digital Agencies Aren’t Ready to Lead’ and the subsequent firestorm of comments with intrigue. I wanted to offer a slightly different perspective: Both Digital and Traditional Agencies have a role, and the real power comes from them working together for the client, not battling to see who can get the bigger win.

Ana’s right, there is no one agency, traditional or digital, that can cover all the marketing needs of a client and expect to be strong in all aspects. The breadth and depth of knowledge required is simply too great and the technology changing too fast.

Working together doesn’t have to be a struggle. We have worked with big national agencies, from Ogilvy to The Richards Group, successfully. We have also worked unsuccessfully with traditional agencies and have learned from the experiences.

As the lead of a 40 person Digital Agency, I frequently get presented with opportunities to work with a traditional agency for a client. Here is what we have found to be the keys to a successful relationship:

  1. The agencies work ‘with’ each other, not ‘for’ one another – Digital agencies need to be in the room with both the traditional agency and the client during the early discussions for a campaign. You don’t get the digital agencies best thinking if you give them a requirements specification, and the digital agency hasn’t been able to participate in what lead up to that discussion. All parties should be invited to participate in every discussion
  2. The agencies need to respect each other – There are many aspects to creating and implementing a brand campaign that we simply aren’t setup to handle. I continue to be impressed with all the moving parts that need to come together, often in a compressed timeframe. Similarly, I would hope that traditional agencies see a similar ‘magic happen’ when the digital agency brings an idea to life.
  3. Ideas need to center on the customer, not the output – The digital agency’s efforts don’t exist in a vacuum. Everyone needs to look at the entire campaign and see how specific efforts can build from one each other, rather than overlap. I feel that our efforts with The Richards Group on Wawa’s Hoagiefest resulted in a much more successful campaign then if either agency went it alone. The client got a real winner and both agencies have great results to show for it.
  4. The Digital agency needs to own the digital experience – Once the overall campaign concept has been outlined, the traditional agency will likely develop the overall brand direction for the campaign. The digital agency should then be responsible for extending that online, following the brand direction, but tailoring it to the medium and not diverging from the overall spirit approved by the client. Again, if all parties are together from the beginning, the idea should contain the thoughts of all parties.
  5. Criticism makes your efforts stronger, regardless of where it came from – While it stings to hear from an agency partner call you out when something your team created missed the mark, in the end it helps make the final product stronger. If a level of respect can be established early between all parties (including the client), then the dialogue can help make a stronger product. ‘Biting’ and ‘setting traps for each other’ only gets the client frustrated with everyone.

As digital becomes the primary way to engage customers, digital agencies will have to get smarter with branding and ‘the big picture’ of branding. This doesn’t mean that digital agencies will replace traditional agencies, but that their efforts will be more connected from the beginning. As clients see more successes as a result of this partnership, they will demand it more. I only hope everyone is ready.

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