How my Agency Learned to Stay Relevant in the Digital Playing Field

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A few years ago I had to completely reshape my agency to adjust to the new media being developed. Simply put, I knew I needed young blood in order to remain relevant. By young blood, I mean someone who understood the rules of the digital world. And who better to lead me into this brave new world, I thought, than my son, who had grown up with it.

I was right.

I noticed that as communication technology evolved, agencies started multiplying like bunnies. I also began noticing some ambiguities in their promise assuring the key to “digital solutions.”

My hope was to be able to pass my vision as an already reputable brand to the next generation: An agency capable of doing twice as much with only half the resources and achieving measurable results by embracing projects, no matter how small, in a very strategic manner. The challenge, then, was to continue with the old school mastery of strategy (mine), while incorporating new communication methods broadly described as “digital” (my son’s).

What my son and I soon realized is that, when separate, ad agencies, media agencies and digital agencies were like 3-legged chairs. Combined, however, they formed a new species that I like to call “The Conversation Agency”, a model that merges an old school point of view—that advertising is not only about creativity, but also about structured communications—with the dynamic and interactive attributes of the modern digital media, mastered by young technical minds.

“The Conversation Agency” needs the combined skills of the three agencies: the creative excellence of the advertising agency, the analytical powers of the media agency, and the technical skills of the digital agency. But to integrate these separate abilities, we need to stop being ad men (and women) and become communicators again.

And so, I dusted off my old copy of Marshal McLuhan’s “The Message is the Medium” and as many marketing magazine cut outs I could find from my time at Leo Burnett during the 70s, and with my son, decided to list the skills we needed to re-learn in order to direct our clients in successful conversations.

The list came out short but weighty:

Verbal and writing skills

Hearing and reading skills

A clearly defined personality

Relevant topics to talk about

Knowledge in these topics

And most important: credibility

We became convinced that any brand or agency that lacked these abilities is better off remaining silent.

The Internet put distribution into the hands of everyone, but not all are capable of using it. Everybody is talking but very few are saying something, and worst, almost no one is listening. Sure anybody can make a video and have a chance of reaching the ultimate goal of becoming viral. Many do. But being viral doesn’t guarantee impact. Big budgets are no longer needed so much as big thinking and plenty of time to mange the message (and the medium). In other words, being heard, which was the goal 20 years ago, isn’t useful in the digital era unless what one is saying is relevant enough to spark action and trigger reactions.

I don’t believe that anyone truly knows quite yet how to fully handle digital and social media, not even it’s creators. Perhaps there isn’t one set of rules. What I do know is that part of the secret lies in having both a deep understanding of the technical and theoretical aspects of the new media as well as the skill set to be a good communicator.

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July 9th, 2012 1 comment Branding / Branding Personal / Corporate Branding

  1. Valerie

    Esther-I have been coming up against the very issue you describe. I am not a digital native. That doesn’t mean I can’t find my way around the Net, but I use it very differently than my daughters do. I don’t naturally think digital. I have to sit and think about it, and I make mistakes all the time. It’s just not in my DNA. However, I have been reading. The book Born Digital is giving me a guided tour of the “digital natives”–“kids” like Boris, Ilana, etc.–but still leaves questions unanswered, such as the one you describe above–the ability to discern among quality, rubbish, and everything in the middle. I’m also reading about gaming. Have you? Let’s talk about it over lunch one day. Warm hugs. VB

    July 9th, 2012 //

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