Are Agencies Simply Unimpressive…or Are They Not Enlightened?
By Mark Sneider
In a recent Adweek article (dated February 8, 2010) titled “Traditional Shops’ Digital Skills Deemed Unimpressive”, Andy McMains cites results from our latest RSW/US study, noting that key marketing decision makers aren’t terribly impressed with the digital/social skills of traditional, full service agencies. Asked to rate their traditional agency’s digital skills on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 equating to “poor” and 10 meaning “excellent” — only 3 percent of the 277 marketers polled chose “excellent”, and almost half – 47 percent — ranked their shops between 1 and 5.
This is a real warning sign for agencies that claim to “do” digital and social simply aren’t delivering the goods – but believe they are.
Simply doing isn’t enough. In our September, 2009 survey of marketers and agency principals, the chasm between what agencies believe they are giving and what marketers believe they are getting, was significant. 66% of agencies believed that they were either “somewhat” or “very” ahead of the social/digital curve as compared to only 44% of marketers feeling that way about their agencies. And while 55% of agencies believed that they were supporting their clients with social/digital media programs, only 38% of marketers surveyed felt this way. Clearly a disconnect in what agencies think their “doing” and what clients/marketers want.
Based on this study and other previous studies conducted by our team at RSW/US – and based on insights gleaned by talking directly with marketers on the Agency Search side of RSW/US’ business, I believe the issue isn’t about agencies “doing” and more about their ability to “activate” these new mediums.
Any agency can claim to know how to build a nice banner ad, or help a client start a blog, or set up a Twitter account, or open up a Facebook page. What I believe clients aren’t seeing enough of is agencies setting strategy for these mediums, developing creative that best fits these mediums, and measuring the effectiveness and return of digital/social media programs.
I recently left an agency pitch presentation in California where a number of agencies selected by RSW/US presented to a major wine marketer for an AOR position with the company. One of the agencies built an entire program around digital/social (knowing that historically this was not the approach used by the company). One of the questions asked by the marketer was: “so how are you going to drive people to all of this activity?” The agency was somewhat stumped by this question. They really didn’t have a good answer. The creative looked nice, the ideas were unique, but in the end, there was little meat on the bone relative to strategy and how this program was going to suddenly get consumers (some of whom were older) to embrace a digital/social only communications initiative.
Another agency in the same pitch took an interesting approach. They built their campaign concepts using digital as the initial platform. They then adapted the digital effort to the more traditional mediums in their campaign. They recognized the need for simplicity and directness in digital, so rather than force-fitting campaigns into a medium that wasn’t well suited for lots of explaining, they worked it the other way around. In doing so, they showed the client that they were thinking about both mediums – how they could work best together – and how to effectively integrate the mediums from a messaging, activity, and equity standpoint. They talked about measurement, they discussed how traditional and digital/social mediums could feed off of each other, and outlined how different media were selected to address specific consumer sector demands.
Digital/social is one piece of a big pie, so agencies need to think about it strategically and not just tactically. I remember when the internet first found its way into the world of research as a new data collection method. Despite the fact the method for data collection had not been well validated, marketers still rushed into it because it was sexy, new, and cheap. I see the same happening here with digital/social.
Tough questions need to be asked. Smart, strategic decisions need to be made.
Agencies need to probe questions like: Are there targets that are tougher to reach within the context of a client’s consumer pool that digital/social lends itself well to? Does digital offer the ability to add reach to a program that might otherwise be limited from a budget standpoint? How can agencies use digital so it motivates consumers to take the kind of action the brand needs and deserves? There are many more questions that need to be answered when thinking about how to best use digital/social in the context of a larger plan. I think spelling these out prior to presenting your digital/social program is one way to show the client you’re thinking about the issues, thinking about how to best use digital/social – both in terms of the opportunities it offers and the limitations inherent in the mediums.
With 67% of respondents in the AdWeek featured survey noting that they have shifted 30%+ of their media dollars into digital and social platforms, marketers are going to increasingly get more particular about how their dollars are being spent. If the marketers themselves aren’t asking the questions today, somebody tomorrow will be asking.
Agencies need to be prepared with the goods. Agencies need to know how to measure effectiveness of programs, they need to know how to react and change programs if they aren’t working at peak performance, and they need to stay ahead of the curve relative to the latest tools and offerings that help keep their marketing clients ahead of the curve. Simply “doing” might be fine for now, but tomorrow will bring a smarter marketer, a more critical marketer, and a marketer who is looking for more than just a “do-er”, but rather a thinker and “activator” of the new digital/social space.
To download the complete survey, click here: http://rswus.com/surveys/index.php
Mark Sneider is Owner/President of RSW/US, a lead generation/business development firm for the agency community. RSW/US helps agencies by setting qualified meetings and moving their agency clients closer to “close.” RSW-Agency Search is an agency search consultancy that represents marketers to help them find agencies to fulfill their marketing service needs. RSW/US and RSW-Agency Search have been in business since 2005. To reach RSW/US or RSW-Agency Search, please contact Mark Sneider at 513-559-3101 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.