advertising, digital, industry

Are Advertising Agencies Speaking The Right Language For Digital?

"Mayday!" radios the English ship. "We are sinking!" The German Coast Guard replies, "What are you sinking about?"

A few days ago, we went to meet someone who’d be a massive and extremely prestigious client to have.

And the senior client opened the meeting with a statement I will never forget.

“Eventually, I plan to pull out all mainline advertising for brand XXXX and do only digital advertising.”

What the…!?!?!

Make no mistake here – this is no lala company we’re talking about. This is a brand (I obviously can’t mention the name) that’s a quintessential part of Indian womanhood. No Indian woman goes through her life without interacting with this brand. ‘Nuff said.

And what this brand has just said is, “Our mainline communication isn’t doing the job for us. We may be selling brilliantly, but it’s not taking us where we want to be. I’m willing to pull the plug on my mainline agency, my brand custodians, my strategic partners, and bet on a digital shop. They may not have the biggest creative minds, or the most well-known planners. But they understand my business, where my audience is and what drives them – and they can make it work.”

That’s huge.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that if this client tastes even a hint of success, more will follow. Leaving their mainline agencies in the lurch.

Now, it’s tough to imagine this client going to the digital wing of a mainline agency. Because few mainline agencies look beyond the 30-second television commercial. And fewer still have account managers, planners and creatives who actually like, use and understand digital.

So how do mainline agencies make sure they retain business in a post-digital world?

Most agencies – the large ones especially – are trying very hard to integrate. But I can think of only two that have got it right – DDB Mudra and Contract. Because, IMHO, they’ve got the definition of integration right – sharing brand custodianship across multiple verticals.

They’re speaking the right language.

Better minds than mine have developed, implemented and rejected better solutions than this. But here’s an idea how a large mainline agency with multiple verticals can pull things in tighter. Keep the best brains on the brand even as it shifts focus to digital.

The structure can be used across Creative, Account Management and Account Planning. I’ll use the Creative Department to illustrate it.

At the top, a Chief Creative Officer (CCO). Reporting to him, a National Creative Director (Mainline) and a National Creative Director (Digital). Let’s call ‘em NCD-M and NCD-D.

NCD-M has an army of Creative Directors (Mainline), each of whom commands teams of mainline copy and art personnel. NCD-D has an army of digital creative personnel, copy and design.

Now here’s where the fun begins. Each CD-M has, seeded into his team, a digital copy-design team. Said digital creative team works with the CD-M on all his brands and briefs. They sit in on all briefs, working with mainline to crack the big idea, all of that. Except that they’re focused on bringing alive the digital solution while the mainline creative teams grapple with the TVC.

Once the ideas have been cracked, this digital creative team reports in to NCD-D. Their work is vetted by him before making it into the presentation.

CCO, of course, overlooks both mainline and digital. And thus needs to be up to speed on the digital medium, and enjoy working in it.

The same structure can be expanded to include verticals that churn out fresh work every day – like PR, for example.

What works well for this structure?

Firstly, each member of the chain has clear and distinct roles and responsibilities, and is yet tightly integrated with other disciplines. Which will work beautifully when, a few years down the line, digital will be thought of as part of mainline, as both teams learn invaluable skills from each other.

Secondly, and most importantly, each and every person on the brand will be a brand custodian. He or she will be thinking on the big idea from day one. No disconnect between what mainline is doing and what digital is doing. Imagine the cohesiveness, the integrity of the communication solution!

One more function needs to be taken care of – production. Agencies already have print production teams in-house, and get films outsourced. I believe agencies also need in-house digital production teams, up to speed on the latest technologies. Specialised work – animation, augmented reality, digital outdoor, etc. – can be outsourced, but daily jobs need in-house teams. Such a team would be headed by a Production Director (Digital), who’d report to NCD-D.

I believe that this could be one potential way to take agency integration. And I would love to know what you think.


5 thoughts on “Are Advertising Agencies Speaking The Right Language For Digital?

  1. Hi Abhid,I'm not sure that your comment is exactly relevant to this post. I wrote this post to begin a discussion on the ideal structure for a digitally integrated agency. Your comment seems to lead on from an older post. While your comments are insightful and merit discussion, please do re-post your comment on the relevant blog post. We will take up that discussion there.Thanks for reading.Samit


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