Rarely has there been as much fragmentation in the media business as we are seeing today in digital. Marketers have had to deal with a variety of digital specialists. From one-man outfits to 100-plus member agencies, from digital arms of a creative agency to that of a media agency, from ‘one domain’ specialists to ‘all under one roof’ agencies. Brand managers have to manage an additional digital mandate that spans from search to apps to buying. Since one agency often did not have all the capabilities, it meant dealing with a creative agency, a media agency and in many cases, a few digital agencies.
Zoom into 2014 and you see four kinds of digital agencies in India: (i) Digital agency within a creative agency network (ii) Digital agency within a media agency network (iii) Independent digital agency with complete digital capabilities and (iv) Mid-size digital agency with specialist capabilities viz. search/ mobile…
They all have young talent, dealing with a rapidly changing technology landscape, working at the intersection of technology and brands, planning communication for an audience who is someone like them. In all cases, the lines between media and creative is getting blurred by the importance of the 3Cs: Context, Contact and Content. Whoever delivers the 3Cs better, will win this game.
Digital teams in creative agencies excel in consumer insights, brand building and content. Those in media agencies excel in context and contact. Independent digital agencies are trying to deliver all 3Cs and have done well in the last few years. The specialists have delivered contact well.
Digital is leading consumer-centric Integrated Communication Plans (ICP). Brands are imbibing the new world of bought/owned/earned and digital leads the owned and earned paradigm. Most global communication groups are buying digital agencies to satisfy advertiser demand. For some time, everyone was busy ‘collecting capabilities’ and the time has come for consolidating these to deliver what was originally intended: consumer conversations and interactions. Brand managers today are able to brief clear expectations for digital. And in all this, thank God there are no media and creative agencies within digital agencies – there’s only a communication task and a task force.
The task approach
In the old days, creative and media worked together, often creating magic. While specialisation has helped deliver depth in each domain, the single-window task force approach worked for a client managing a key project. Zoom into the digital age. Expecting media and creative from the same team is now a simple survival trick. You can’t have a creative and a media team for each of the eight to 10 digital verticals. Luckily, our digital planners were never ingrained into the media/creative silos.
Recipe to success
Digital agencies must navigate many domains to succeed. But the real recipe to success lies in their ability to deliver a project. And the magic lies on the media side – where, as opposed to the offline world, content and context are at best, enablers. Agencies (digital creative) that haven’t built media planning and buying into their DNA are missing out on a few key things: pioneering technology and new user interfaces developed by publishers, building a holistic media+creative solution, data-led communication plans, synergies of ‘mass+digital’ media buys from large media organisations, real time changes to media plans and more.
Big idea in the digital age
Consumer/brand-centric big Ideas have typically been the domain of creative agencies. The digital age has added two new dimensions: consumer-led shared/viral content and engagement/dialogue. Anyone who manages ICP well, rides the digital age. Media agencies have made huge strides in moving brands from advertising to communication planning in the last decade and digital agencies that are a part of media agencies have benefitted the most.
I would bet on the success of (digital) media agencies building content capabilities rather than wait for (digital) creative agencies to build analytical and media planning capabilities. There will always be exceptions – but, in a medium that’s built around content, context and contact will provide the winning edge.