For brand owners, the digital agency marketplace is getting somewhat confusing. The rise of sectors such as social media and mobile has led to a proliferation of start-ups. At the same time, so-called traditional agencies have been hoovering up digital talent to ensure that, as more money goes toward online briefs, they are able to offer their clients strength across the board.
The challenge for clients, then, is finding the most effective way to organise their digital activity as it increases in importance.
There are signs that some are moving away from the established digital specialists. Coty, for example, recently handed the global digital ad duties for Rimmel London to its advertising agency, JWT UK.
The agency is one of many big networks that have been hiring digital experts. One of its newcomers, head of experience Maciek Gorzkowski, formerly of specialist shop Play, says plenty of talent is moving to the major agencies, to which brands are looking for integrated services.
Specialist vs generalist
Rimmel is not the only brand seeking to co-ordinate its digital and above-the-line work. Paul Troy, global head of advertising and content at Barclaycard, reveals that 'one agency is where we're headed'. That agency, he says, should be able to develop creative ideas that work across different formats and channels, whether they be TV, interactive websites or gaming.
Troy expects the market to change considerably over the next three years. Initially, he says, a lead planning agency will develop ideas in conjunction with the other specialist shops working on an account. Eventually, however, all these skills will be absorbed into a single entity. Troy cites True Worldwide, a start-up agency which specialises in technology, digital and traditional advertising. WPP recently took a sizable stake in the company.
There are still plenty of brand owners, however, that are sceptical about the big agencies' ability to keep up with digital developments. Toyota, for example, uses specialists in each marketing discipline. Saatchi & Saatchi, which oversees brand strategy for the car manufacturer, collaborates with digital agency Glue where necessary. Toyota also has separate agencies for eCRM, paid search and organic search.
Lisa Fielden, brand development manager at Toyota, says the best results are achieved through specialists. 'In our experience, above-the-line agencies focus on TV ideas first and foremost,' she explains. 'Digital doesn't logically fit into that. Integration is a good objective, but we haven't seen much evidence of it.'
Her comments are echoed by Ian Armstrong, manager of European communications at Honda. He agrees that no single agency is able to offer expertise across the board, and wants specialists to work together on briefs. Honda has an agency remuneration system that encourages its shops to collaborate - it pays a collective bonus if a campaign meets agreed targets. 'I'm slightly suspicious of clients who say they want to put everything in one place,' says Armstrong. 'It tends to be about cost, but I'm not sure a cost position is the right place to start.'
A third model is offered by Pete Markey, marketing director at More Th>n, which recently formed an in-house digital team, with responsibilities spanning social media and copywriting. The team, Markey says, has saved the company money and led to more effective creative work 'produced in a matter of hours, not weeks'.
He adds, however: 'My own digital team is fantastic at running with the big idea, but I still see a clear role for a lead agency to help bring this to life and understand how it can work across a broad range of onand offline media.'
There is no one-size-fits-all model for brands developing a digital strategy, but the agency market is changing fast. If they want to stay ahead, clients need to be clear about what they are aiming to achieve with their online activity and identify the expertise that will be necessary to deliver it.
- Coty last month handed JWT UK the global digital ad duties for Rimmel London following a pitch against several digital specialists.
- At the Cannes Lions festival last month, the top three companies in the Interactive Agency of the Year category all had 'traditional' backgrounds: Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Wieden & Kennedy.
- Agency holding group Cossette is considering a merger of Dare, one of the UK's leading specialist digital creative agencies, with ad shop MCBD.
- In the media agency sector, the collapse of i-level earlier this year raised questions about whether digital specialists could survive.