Posted May 5, 2011 10:19 am by with 8 comments

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As the commercial Internet space as evolved over the past two decades the businesses that exist to help others navigate the tricky waters have as well.

Initially, traditional ad agencies were harassed by smaller and more nimble digital agencies who did all the ‘neat-o cool’ whiz bang Internet stuff. SEO, PPC and other acronyms helped to spawn the type of agency that focused their efforts directly where their traditional competition was weakest and they have benefited for many years through that strategy.

As with most things in life though balance is a critical measure of effectiveness. It appears now that the digital agencies are being called to look at becoming more traditional to succeed.

eMarketer reports on a study conducted by RSW/US which looked at clients’ attitudes towards agency make-up regarding traditional v. digital and found the following:

I love to watch as things come full circle in any aspect of life. Only after each extreme has been found to be lacking do most companies, organizations and just people in general come to rest somewhere between the extremes.

For years now the Internet industry has tried very hard to discredit and in some cases (newspapers for one) set out to destroy old models. In the process, the young upstart Internet types have thumped their chests and claimed superiority over traditional marketing methods.

To be blunt, anyone who is actually stupid enough to believe that the Internet will completely supplant more traditional means of advertising in the coming years is going to learn some hard lessons.

So why am I being so tough on the industry that I work and play in? It’s because there can be too much of a good thing. The Internet’s rise to prominence in the marketing space has been fantastic to say the least but it has also been devoid of logic and reason at times. The cries of making magazines, TV and other more traditional forms of media obsolete have been out of youthful exuberance rather than the dreaded reality word.

Now it’s time for the wise cracking, smart ass Internet marketing crew to come to terms with the idea of holistic marketing. It’s naïve to say that one thing or the other is superior in the marketing ecosystem. The fact is that they all play together and they will for a very long time to come. If the digital only crowd doesn’t come down from its high horse and realize that they may very well find the more traditional agency model coming back to bite them as they get themselves up to digital speed.

Look at how the split occurs when respondents were asked to say what types of agencies would win what types of work.

So what do agency seekers look for in when choosing an agency partner?

I would really like to get some more information about that “Other” response. My suspicion is that in an increasingly fast paced and time crunched world many businesses are looking for more ‘one stop shops’ so they don’t have to juggle multiple vendors. I am not saying that it’s a good or bad trend but you would have to figure that it is most desirable to keep vendor management to a minimum.

So what’s your take on the digital v. traditional agency evolution? Do you see digital agencies needing to backpedal in a sense to understand the things they swore they would make obsolete? Will the balance of traditional and digital marketing channels force the balance of agency providers as well?

  • I see integration across media as being critically important for the success of all your communication efforts. That said, I think digital agencies should develop expertise in more traditional advertising (probably by adding folks already experts in this area). I don’t see traditional agencies being able to add a digital component because digital is a totally different mindset — a different pair of glasses that’s hard to take off.

    I also don’t think it works to have a digital agency and a general ad agency. Before I got my PhD, I worked for a direct marketing agency (before there was digital) and there was too much conflict between the direct and general ad agency to work together effectively.

    There are a new breed of marketers, however, who are trained in marketing and equally facile in both traditional and social media marketing because we have the understanding of how consumers make decisions, how they interact with us and each other, and other insights from marketing, psychology, and sociology. We hire the technical skills to flesh out our agencies — creatives, SEO, PPC, etc. We focus on creating the right strategy to brand you and your products. You might consider this type of agency to handle your marketing.

    • @Angela – I have to respectfully disagree with you about traditional agencies not being able to adopt a digital mindset. Why is it so easy for digital to adopt traditional through hiring and not the other way around? If a young person has worked only in a digital environment will they simply be able to adapt to traditional more readily because they are what? Young? I think that’s a major strike against them because they don’t have enough business experience to understand how to adapt and why it is necessary.

      I think there will be as many digital agency failures in the future due to their inability to work traditionally as well as there will be traditional agencies falling to the wayside due to inability to adapt to digital.

      This game isn’t based on age or mind set. It’s based on being smart and applying knowledge correctly.

  • Frank, totally agree with this post. I’ve been talking about this for a long while.

    The sad irony is that while some on the pure-play digital side talk about how traditional agencies are arrogant and “don’t get it”, the reality is that some of the digital true believers are completely blind to their own arrogance.

    The future isn’t either/or, it’s both/and.

    Here’s my POV, from the client side of the table:—Tom-Cunniff.html


    • @ Tom – Thanks for checking in. Is is certainly true the youth is wasted on the young. If the younger digeratti would get up to speed with traditional methods and learn how to integrate the new and effective with the old and effective then they could be arrogant. I don’t see that happening.

      Check out my other post from today about Google and how they are learning that you simply cannot digitize everything and think that everyone will just jump on board. At this point in the digital era that’s not what will happen. Someday it will be moreso but for now there is a healthy mix of those who are digitally inclined (and in effect blind) and those that need to do some old school things as well because they both make money.

      Keep coming back and contributing, Tom.

  • Digital marketing is not something impossible to learn, or a different point of view, in fact I see part of this shift as the fact that digital marketing is still so direct marketing focus; the amount of money and techniques used by most digital marketing firm focus solely on clicks and conversions, and really show little understanding of branding techniques and measures.

    I see things like retargeting, attribution, crowdsourcing, measuring viral referrals more than clicks, and retention of advertising messages as new possibilities for digital marketers, yet so many I know in the industry just don’t understand how to apply this to branding. This is where the balance is shifting, because brand dollars dwarf direct marketing, and to me the new agencies will be ones that do both branding initially to develop awareness, create familiarity, and promote consideration, THEN take the user to the next step, which is clicks and conversion, after the initial branding campaign is over, what digital marketers now would call a pre launch but which they don’t have the understanding of how important it is to be remembered and ingrained in the user’s actions. My term for this is Brevenue, branding that creates revenue.

    I see the “Other” comment in the study could also be related to looking for people who see the bigger picture, who are integrating the best of offline and digital advertising, and seeing that to the audience, these are not 2 different worlds, it is their world, and we need to move beyond one shot ad campaigns and create flows, games, and rewards connected to behaviors that can be redeemed in the real world especially, where the lion’s share of sales happen.

    With the importance of gaming mechanics mixed with traditional content based storytelling and narrative, agencies now have to look at the bigger picture and create ads that engage the user at various touch points. And unlike the digital agencies you mention, the claim that the Internet will destroy other forms of advertising shows a naivete, that is being evidenced by the shift this post refers to…integrated agencies who realize the ad goes onto the various mediums the customer follows, and ultimately generates activity.

  • Good post, and I agree with Tom’s point about digital specialists being blind to their own arrogance.
    Recently I worked on a project for a famous car brand. It involved traditional and digital/social media supporting each other in a tightly integrated manner – I think there’s going to be much more of that sort of work in the future. By the way, the agency where I did that project is a traditional one that’s adapted to modern times.

    • @Dean – I think we will see more of that because the traditional agencies know how to survive while most digital agencies have been riding a wave with little adversity. Now that they will need to do real business there could be some surprises ahead for the industry.

  • This is a great article. I like your point about digital agencies needing to embrace traditional just as traditional agencies need to embrace digital. Like you mentioned, people shouldn’t be naïve and focus on just on digital or only on traditional.

    At Domus, Inc., a leading marketing communications agency in Philadelphia, we have always taken the same approach, both before and since digital marketing became an option: 1) Define the market need, strategically position the client against that need (considering their core competencies and where their competitors are positioned) to create a compelling point of difference; 2) know their target audience(s) demographics, psychographics and media habits; 3) develop the creative concept that breaks through and has “legs” for promotion and longevity; 4) consistently implement a cohesive message; and 5) measure, measure, measure – and adjust accordingly to maximize our clients’ ROI on building not just their brands but, importantly, their businesses.

    You can read more about our thoughts on this matter at the following link: