Posted by: Shalabh | September 19, 2008

Part 1: ‘This Digital thing’-tips for agencies to get it right!

Are you a digital marketer whose boss (or worse- chief bloke of your agency) wonders if you could manage the agency’s servers? Or worse, thinks that his mobile phone display being darker in sunlight has something to do with Symbian?

Well I’ve been there… done that. Actually more than a few times now… *scary feeling*

Unfortunately, like these blokes, most advertising agencies are at a loss figuring out ‘this digital thing’. I remember- about 2 years back, the Head Regional (Asia) Planner of a world renowned agency commented (about this whole ‘online/digital thing’) “It’s all a scam. A big scam!” Bruce Nussbaum, assistant manging editor of businessweek has a similar feeling about the cluelessness of the big agencies.

Of course it is not new- and Bob Garfield- in this video says that unless we agency types reinvent our business model, we’re flockd! (ahem-it’s 6 letters and I’m talking folksonomy here- no bad words)

Turn to today – planners and media guys all sing praises (Hallelujah! and all that) and all client pitches and presentations include this ‘cool marketing thing’ they prefer to call “social marketing” (whew! how is marketing done otherwise? Unsocially? You son of a ‘folkin’ gun..better buy my stuff? Like that eh?)

They probably mean ‘marketing to communities’. Or something like that..nobody knows for sure, but you get the idea. ‘Social marketing’. Sounds cool to them- just like a 70 year old feels wearing a torn low cut jeans..and thinks flashing his crack is sexy. Sure! (Look- I think  she just winked at me!) Maybe that’s where the phrase ‘old fart’ came from.

OK..OK.. I’m ‘almost’ verging on being disgusting (always happens when I think about these guys)- I’ll change the topic and be more somber. (Uncle if you are reading this post- please go and watch some YouTube videos- and while you are watching Ms Paris…leave a comment- she might wink back at you)

That hopefully takes care of the old fart…and since it is just me and you now- read on!

So what ails the big agencies? Though I’m a fan of the concept of Integrated Marketing, first steps first: Getting ‘digital’ to be well integrated in an ‘agency’

Some pointers:

Expectations from the medium: While every agency worth its salt is figuring out this digital thing (and that is very noble- even if it is a decade too late!) it is important to manage expectations. The traditional time tested fundamentals of marketing still apply and it is not something that is going to turn everything around on its head in an instant. Any other line of thought will make you over commit, over dramatize and raise expectations to unrealistic levels. Stay!

Expectations from the people: It is not enough to get people at high salaries from digital specialist agencies- they are good at their line of thought, but they are probably young and have not had ‘full steam’ marketing understanding. Big picture helps always- do not just hire them to train your existing staff (these guys will beome redundant in a few years- we HAVE to make them digital! Hello?? They are not your HD ready TV- these are people- they’ll still remain analogue- can’t “make them digital”).

What is important is- Hire guys from digital background and train THEM. Let them know the bigger picture. (And there IS a bigger picture-aside to my digital media colleagues- Steve Balmer might not like it, but all media on a screen is still a few years from now, if not many years) Marketing and advertising as it exists today has been around for decades- some things have been perfected to a great degree and there are some great processes to arriving at the right “communication plan”. Good for fundamentals.

Another observation is important here (which I shared with a country CEO sometime back, mediating a  digital/non-digital friction) – since this medium ‘arrived’- say almost a decade back, the people in the digital space have been too busy selling and evangelizing. Advertising was bought on a project basis at best, and most of the time,, getting pittance business was a lot of hard work, and executing it flawlessly required huge operational and marketing skillsets. The, since the past 2-3 years, and as if almost suddenly, mainstream agencies bungee jumped- pushed overboard by the brands- and hoped digital media personnel could be the bungee ropes (Now you know I like telling stories to kids!). Expectations from these guys was humongous- and one of the skill sets expected was – “Strategy” Or “communications planning”. Unfortunately these guys were not trained to be that- these guys were ‘hands-on executers’- they did not need to do too much strategy- mostly because they usually did not have the full marketing/brand/market/insights picture. Duane Schultz of Xerox has said -“The Old Model was “Build and measure” and new age marketing is Measure and improve”(Also quoted in a very good book- “Do it wrong Quickly- How the web changes the old Marketing rules”). Mostly the digital guys were stuck in measurement and optimization- and were not expected to deliver a full picture strategy.

But now, in these times of turmoil, they need to know the full picture.

Common P&L: How many times did you hear the story- that there is a online/digital target and an rest of media revenue/billing target? Does NOT work that way! Does it take rocket science to understand this? And Uncle-Do you need to hire NASA scientists to fix a silicon microchip in your head to hypnotically remind you it CANNOT work that way! (I know they are space scientists not brain surgeons- but you get the idea don’t you?) So please let everyone work together and let there be peace.

Silos or Milos? It works differently for different people, but many a times it helps if all the teams drink MILO together rather than sit in silos.  You say you have an ‘integrated’ offering right?

Walk the talk: Do not expect ‘digital training presentations’- do not think this is something that could be explained in a few sessions- it is like saying someone can teach you how to trade in the stock exchange in a few sessions- unless YOU do it yourself, read up and develp your own insights, acumen and discipline, presentations and theory won’t work.

Water flows from top to bottom: Senior management has to get this first and then unleash. Otherwise it bites real hard. (Uncle- quick- hide that crack!)

Of course, integrating in this way is just a single step, and by its own self it won’t matter so much. We need to reinvent our remuneration models and turn things on their heads. There are other things like client readiness and ownership of strategy and co-ordination from clients, but we need to fix our home first- so we are ready for an Enterprise Level Digital Strategy for our clients.

Too many other thoughts, but this is one of my super long posts, and fingers are getting tired (not fingering people but typing).

The long and short: Digital marketing is a mindset- some get it and some don’t. It is like being a rock star- nothing too technical about it, and most of the times, it is the attitude that makes you!

More in Part 2. So what do you think?



  1. Online / Digital.
    That’s what the majority of the marketers view the business / brand….but does customers / consumer view a brand as Offline or Online ?

    It’s not bad the good or bad of online vs offline. End of the day…is how we as the brand owners / evangelist having fully utilize and tapped into the communication channels as a integrated / holistic approach and not as individual silos.

    What’s happening now is…marketers whom thought what used to work in the past will feel that it will continue to work….whereas for Online / digital initiatives there’s the uncertainty.

    Just like whenever we learn or try something new…there’s always the uncertainty of what’s going to happen next….

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