37 comments on “Merging A Digital Marketing Agency Into A Traditional One.
  1. Eugene says:

    Now everyone is talking about the American economy and eclections, nice to read something different. Eugene

  2. Shaun says:

    Some excellent well thought through insights – especially integrating a digital agency with traditional agency! Start with the creatives!

    Thanks.

  3. You should stop being anonymous my friend! There isn’t an advertising agency in Marylebone, Charlotte St or just off Regent Street who wouldn’t benefit from this post. If only they knew what you were talking about this would be pure gold.

    Keep up the good words!

  4. Jason Baer says:

    This post is killer. You are totally spot on. Especially about account managers. Because if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter whether creatives do or not.

  5. anon says:

    This article is so dead on it’s scary. I run a very small digital shop and we do a lot of work for traditional agencies who are currently in the ‘outsource’ phase of integration. In my experience, the most frustrating part of this process is sitting down with the project team during an initial brief meeting and having a creative hand over a design on the spot. At that point my internal conversation usually goes something like the following:

    ‘These people are crazy. First, the structure is clumsy and makes no sense. Second, the design fucking sucks. Third, the design really fucking sucks. Fourth, should I use swfIR or just break the news now? It’s probably best if I just break the news so I don’t have to explain what swfIR is. Fifth, the client is probably on some crap shared host and we’re going to have to sell them on and move them to proper hardware. Sixth, how am I going to explain screen resolution to these … wait, what? You need this in two weeks?’

  6. anon says:

    By swfIR, I meant sIFR, but both actually apply. Rant over.

  7. vincent says:

    Wow, I literally couldn’t have asked for a more apt and poignant article at a better time. I’m currently mulling over the topic myself, coming to rather a lot of dead ends owing to the stagnancy within the traditional media marketer’s mindset.

    Much of what you say in your article rings so true, particularly with regard to tech-developers who owing to their skill set and personas are oft so hard to work with, nay, communicate with at all. Nevertheless I find there are more of us – those who speak tech (a little), sales, research and marketing strategy and I have no doubt as money grows ever more tight and budgets are slashed more of us will come out of the woodwork with our motley-crew-skill-set.

    Great thought starters and some very insightful points to ponder for the future of the digital/traditional hybrid marketing approach.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Vincent, yes, It’s absolutely essential to the survival of agencies to have savy people with mixed skill sets like you – who can then specialise in a chosen topic when needed. Rather than the opposite of total focus on an area and are then scared to get involved or communicate with anything outside their comfort zone. Now is a time for agencies to really take a look at what their employees are doing, to bring out the very best of an agency as a whole.

      • vincent says:

        @Matt, I’d love to say, yes indeed I have the necessary skill set but you know I think as I’m a qual researcher the only reason why I’m able to stay up to date is because of sound research and thorough analysis of consumer insights generated. Were it not for that I’d probably be that guy muttering about the shopping market attempting to understand the brands on the retail shelves

        Nevertheless, what I wanted to ask is, are marketers ready for an integrated marketing strat team? I’ve tried to convince marketers of the merits of going with an integrated strategy, having an offline and online component to a single marketing challenge. Often I’m met with a single big question, a)what does a digital strategy cost (afterall its more than just the sum of the component parts it includes some strategy which costs …) and b) what is my return of investment within the digital medium?

        I think that yes, marketers are going to need to be jacks of all trades, and perhaps more importantly are going to have to learn to cut the jargon (crap) when conversing with prospective clients because I sometimes get confused when marketers attempt to look smart tossing about their abbreviations and buzz phrases.

        • Matt says:

          @vincent, I think more agencies are starting to realize it, or at least they’re starting to think properly about an integrated strategy – often it comes after failure to leverage digital fully. What I find weird though is this kind of delayed reaction to technology. It’s almost like there was a 4 year gap where agencies were hoping the internet would go away.

          Thats understandable in some respects – such as the danger of re-skilling without good reason. It’s extremely hard to judge ROI, of course while you’re at the outsources stage it’s easy, but as soon as integration comes along there’s a bogging down stage to get through as the agency has a field day with pumping work into digital while at the same time trying to understand how digital works (without suffocating it) it’s a crucial stage that can get bogged down with internalization (endless meetings) and jargon.

          If I put on my cap of doom, a digital strategy will cost jobs, (less need for account execs, or traditional artworks with digital creation, management, proofing and approval) and in the long term digital side with more advanced CMS you’ll be able to start reducing hard-core programming teams. It will also cause a heck of a lot of stress for middle-management as resources get squeezed before they get upscaled in other areas. At the end of the day the client and the agency benefits but it’s not really a dip your toe into it thing. It’s a total and utter commitment from the agency as a whole. If they do it, they’ve got to keep everyone in touch with what they’re doing, and stick with it over the rough times ahead. Of course these guys don’t normally read blogs 🙂

  8. Rena says:

    Thanks for this great and insightful article (comments are great too). Seriously, I couldn’t have asked for a clearer representation of the considerations and barriers of integrating traditional agencies with digital.

    If your suggestions were followed and in parallel, traditional agencies seek help from external sources, do you have any recommendations on training organizations or consultants that can help make sure that successful integration is achieved, say over 6 months – 1 year? I mean, is that even possible?

    Thanks.

  9. Dave Birss says:

    I think you’ve done an amazing job with this post. I’m a consultant creative director in London doing both digital and traditional stuff. And you’re saying a lot of the same things I’ve been preaching to my clients recently. Except better. Much, much better.

    • Matt says:

      @Dave Birss, Thank you Dave, I really appreciate the response, especially from a Creative Director, I’ve got to do a follow up to my latest post, which is in progress. I’ve realized as part of integration I’ve screwed up, I’ve missed out empowering the traditioanl creatives during the transition process (dur!) which can help stop a load of frustration. I’ll add a new post when I can grab an extended coffee break.
      🙂 Matt

    • Dina Zaitman says:

      I agree! This post has been really helpful. I keep seeing this issue over and over in agency land and I am constantly surprised at how slow they have been at responding to digital. Clients these days need suits who are savvy both in online and offline mediums. I am literally unable to recommend a strategy to a client without incorporating some form of online touch point. Agencies to survive need to take responsibility to be more expert than their clients. That is their value. If i can make one recommendation to agencies it’s to educate your own staff. Digital is new for everyone. Drive digital education internally and you will reap the rewards.

  10. Tim Parsons says:

    There’s one really, really big business reality here which sabotages all agency integration efforts: if the Digital group has a separate P&L, or is otherwise firewalled-off in terms of reporting its financial performance, then digital strategy people won’t be included in the high-level ideation processes which lead to truly groundbreaking cross-media ideas. Why would they, the traditional suits are working for their own P&L numbers, not the geeks’. The true opportunities/synergies that come with integration are to a) realign the culture b) stop senior staff paying lip-service to digital c) develop generalist strategy people who started in digital and d) integrate P&Ls in a smart way so everybody’s rowing on the same boat. If you don’t, you might as well outsource digital ’cause that’s how your in-house team is going to be treated.

    • Matt says:

      @Tim Parsons, Thanks Tim, I’m glad you said that – you are totally right. They can’t have their cake and eat it. This evolution of the company has to happen with complete buy in from the top. That includes reflecting that the desire for change within acounts too. You can move mountains if you get the financial team on board with the transition at the beginning – again this is all about how seriously the directors/owners want to make the transition.

  11. Jay says:

    Your stereotypical writing off of “traditional creatives” is insulting. “Traditional creatives rest on their base skill set, tend not to re-skill, do not keep up to date with online developments”.. Give us some credit – I started out doing layouts on a Mac Classic! Of course I have updated my skills and knowledge. It’s about evolution and to write off talented people with great ideas as technophobic dinosaurs is unfair and untrue. Creative people constantly have to update their knowledge otherwise they would not have been able to survive. Perhaps you should recognise that traditional creatives and digital people can both benefit from integration and that learning can be a two-way exchange.

    • Matt says:

      @Jay, you missed my point on traditional creatives, in larger agencies there are plenty of long term creatives who will argue that they don’t have to update their skills and knowledge, or rather that they cannot afford anytime to do it. You’re lucky enough not to have met many, there’s a lot of them around. Of course It isn’t just one way – what about typography and other elemental design prinicples that can benefit creatives from the digital side. I’m getting around to it in Part 3.

  12. Nice.

    Don’t integrate, conduct, execute a skill/will cull and hire t-shaped people

    All parts of the black swan agency…
    http://interactivemarketingtrends.blogspot.com/2008/11/black-swan-agency.html

    • Matt says:

      @giles rhys jones, sorry, life just isn’t that simple, we’re not about sacking 30% of the workforce. Yes people who don’t want to move will be shed, but there ARE skills and knowledge that is valuable and can be integrated.

  13. Great breakdown of why traditional agencies don’t understand the interactive development process. I think we would be good friends. 🙂

    I’ve been in the digital agency world for the past 11 years. I’ve tried to explain to non-digital agency leaders as well that typically a print/traditional creative designer or team, cannot just “plug in” on a digital project.

    The flip side of this is that digital shops can’t do what traditional advertising agencies do.

    Neither side wants to do the whole enchilada. Therein lies the problem for clients, the losers in all of this.

    Brand Managers want a one stop shop to deliver both. I’ve heard two major brand managers tell me so.

    The paying clients will dictate the outcome of this evolution.

  14. Rik Haslam says:

    Awesome. I’ve had the dubious pleasure of working in many agencies that tried the integrate digital model. Couldn’t agree more with absolutely all your arguments. But I think more and more agencies are now realising that actually they do need to be digital in structure and methodology with the traditional finding a way to work within the digital model.

  15. Hello Matt,

    I am CD at unit9. Needless to say this is a very good article and you are saying a lot of truths, and you are saying them well. Lack of knowledge and experience at account and creative as well as proj management level is an essential factor. I do think though that it is not the only factor, and there is a fundamental misconception at the hart of the Digital problem. Interactive digital media is an extension of Film production, event management, and PR, not design! This is the problem. We have been and are described as web designers and as such an extension of the traditional design department, not the TV department. This is the misconception that is making it difficult for the industry to grow. We are the “mac operators,” the tech savvy bunch that you can use for pixel pushing. Is web design just “print” design that you can click on? add a bit of motion too? NO! Definitely NOT! and this is the problem. If we all looked at interactive as “media” and we approached it as we create TV media, for example, then you will see that it is not that complicated. Agency and their creatives can be creative and sell in a script/concept and strategy. Then they can rely on a global pool of creators, “the interactive director” (for lack of better term and to keep it aligned with its TV and Film counterparts) whose experience and team will be able to bring together complex project. Creatives at agency will choose the “interactive director” whose sensibility and experience fits the bill best. And in turn the director and his producer will be able to bring together the designer, the programmers, the filmakers, the photographers, the sound designers, the post people, and the maintenance team. We don’t have to get creatives to work closely to programmers, but get them to work closely to “interactive directors.”

    • Matt says:

      @Piero Frescobaldi, Thanks Piero, I like your slant on digital media as an extension on Film Production, event management and PR. If an agency is out of the loop with digital then by comparing the production process with shooting a film is actually a pretty good comparison, with the interactive director, or information architect taking on the role of director – nice! 🙂

  16. ARagan says:

    While I agree it’s imperative for traditional creatives to want to learn more, and become involved in the digital creative to a larger extent “as a team.”

    My own frustration comes about when, the digital end of creative fails to “run with the idea,” or add to the process. As with any creative team, specialties are fantastic if woven into a process. Many of the digital end production people are just that, production people. But when I hire a production team for anything else, I expect their input into the creative. Bring something more to the project I say.

    What’s more exciting and potentially useful to me are the digital creatives who are emerging – geeks with vision so-to-speak. They can actually be a part of the creation, extension and implementation across the boards. They should. I don’t hire a director without vision. Why would i hire programmers who don’t see the bigger picture? The burden is on both sides.

    I see a lot of brick walls on that side as to extending expert advice, ideas and suggestions as much as vice-versa. It is after all a digital age… so tell me what you can do as digital experts to make it sing. Be a part of the team instead of listing what isn’t right or can’t be done. I guess I don’t see why this relationship has to be so much of a total reinvention. If everyone would jump onto the bandwagon and use their own expertise to expand on ideas, and be capable of that – well then we’d have more integration. Is it oversimplifying? Sure. But it appears overly complex as-is. Most high school students have a better grasp on what’s possible than many clients, as well as agency folks and the jargon isn’t the point. I don’t ask every person to become an expert in the print production if they don’t have to – I translate what they need to make a valid decision..

    Nobody wants to hear “it can’t be done” when “here’s a way it could be done” is a better option. Yet constantly, when farming out to digital expertise – you get that answer instead of assistance. It can’t be fixed. No, it can’t be fixed according to the “print” way – tell me yours. Teach me. I’m asking/paying/hiring you to give me answers. Meanwhile, I’m willing to learn about the problems…but not from the point of becoming a programmer myself.

    The future is slow, slower than we see I think. But the future is a group of digital experts who are also creative thinkers that work from concept onwards. And want to create, not just produce. It’s a two way learning curve.And no matter what happens, good old fashioned smart creative is not going to die. It just has to learn to adapt smartly.

    But what do I know. I’m old. To me it always comes down to the same point – don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you CAN do and then some. Seems maybe both sides have lessons to learn.

    • @ARagan,

      It’s a mistake to ask programmers to be creative with the visuals of the web design.

      The reason programmers are like that is because they feel that their creativity is in their code. Not the visuals or the overall marketing strategy. They typically don’t care about how it looks, only how it works.

      Programmers hate change and love a well defined project. Programmers are not architects, they are engineers. Another example is product design. The industrial designer and product styling team make the outside look good, but the engineer makes it function.

      For example, you don’t ask your engineer/general contractor to make your home’s dining room look inspiring, you ask the architect and interior designer. The architect and interior designer know what can be done, not always how, but they have enough technical knowledge to know the basics of the implementation to suggest workarounds.

      I do agree with you that most programmers have an unfortunate attitude of “it can’t be done” versus “how it can be done”. I attribute that attitude partially to the way programing is taught in universities and the typical personality traits of programmers.

      The only way I have been able to get around that is because I have a programming education/background and I can offer technical suggestions to solve the problem.

      This is why most digital shops have web producers or Information Architects to act as the creative digital thinkers.

  17. Ronny Karam says:

    Great article Matt. It really attacks the actual problem and breaks it apart.

    Most of the agencies miss out the importance of communication; the input of every member in a team is essential. This reveals every body’s problems and put the project on the right track.
    Programmers are not aliens. And communication between the needs, the layout and the development (or what you like to call the holy trinity) is what makes a project run smooth.

  18. Twitter Comment


    Why retrofitting digital into traditional agencies is tough – [link to post]

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  19. Rena says:

    As we are undergoing our own transformation, I am realizing the following:

    1. traditional ad professionals are more open to the digital world then we may think; they read about the digital campaigns, online advertising, award winning campaigns, search, google etc etc in every paper, every online article, blogs, award ceremonies and what not.
    2. workshops are needed to train people on digital tools and techonologies; the information must be fun, up-to-date and inspiring and if there are digital teams in the agency, they must be involved in these workshops
    3. the workshops or other forums must be centered on conversations; traditional or digital employees must be able to ask any questions that are on their minds without being made to feel stupid or lost; bringing in external experts or speakers is always a good idea and provides freshness and sparks good conversations amongst staff
    4. staff need to be encouraged to be more curious, read more and share more information about integrated campaigns and how the digital channel is transforming these campaigns; if they don’t have time to read, people in the agency should be allocated to spread the knowledge, email links or used a shared site to upload relevant links
    5. on the floor – digital employees must be paired with traditional for on-the-job learning; this builds respect and teamwork.
    6. key key key: digital employees must be involved from point A. From the moment the client briefs the account team (if the brief is handled through the traditional agency or team) and if the clients request a digital approach, then the digital team must be involved immediately. We are seeing that the best ideas/ideation and strategies are created when digital and traditional work together
    7. In parallel, HR needs to start hiring people that have expertise in both the digital/traditional advertising worlds.
    8. of course, for all this to happen, senior management needs to push all the above from top-down, preaching the importance of being digitally-savvy everday so people know that this is the way forward and there is no turning back.

    This takes time and alot of work.

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Your thoughts are helping me roll this out in our agency.

  20. Twitter Comment


    Currently Browsing: [link to post]

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  21. Twitter Comment


    @craigpladson @bradenstadlman: This link you found rocked: [link to post]. Sit me next to a programmer and creative any day!

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  22. Twitter Comment


    an intriguing read. “merging a digital marketing agency into a traditional one.” thx for passing along @bradenstadlman. [link to post]

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  23. Twitter Comment


    RT @petermarkellis: Merging A Digital Marketing Agency Into A Traditional One…a very interesting read…. [link to post]

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  24. Twitter Comment


    Merging A Digital Marketing Agency Into A Traditional One…a very interesting read…. [link to post]

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  25. Tim says:

    It seems that those of us at the coal face (I’m a Digital PM) are keen to take the approach that the author suggests; getting traction from senior suits and company management and buy-in across the agency is surely the key to bringing this to fruition.

    The agencies I have worked in all want to play digital; but few have been prepared to really invest properly and provide a truly integrated offering for clients.

    I wonder how long it will take to see some real change instead of the current cursory head-nod in Digital’s direction.

    The news has been for many years now that digital spend is increasing comparatively against ATL spend; when will it overtake it completely? Perhaps that time may be closer than we think, meaning radical change in agency land is not just a desire by a few, but a survival requirement for all.

  26. Twitter Comment


    Zanimljiv ?lanak – “Kako integrirati digitalnu agenciju u tradicionalnu?” [link to post] #in

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  27. Twitter Comment


    Reading this now: Merging A Digital Marketing Agency Into A Traditional One. via @iafnahc [link to post]

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14 Pings/Trackbacks for "Merging A Digital Marketing Agency Into A Traditional One."
  1. […] It’s a long post and its techy, but here is someone who has clearly been there. There is much that he says that needs to be listened to on Charlotte St, Marylebone, Paddington and just off Regent St. Here it is. […]

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  8. […] A colleague of mine, Zeinab Karaki, was kind enough to forward this article to me early last week. This piece is Biblical to me right now and I feel compelled to share. I do not know the author but credit is found here: […]

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    Ad agencies: how to evolve from traditional to digital [link to post] @jarrold

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    RT @bjornlee: excellent article on digital evolution problems of agencies today [link to post] @litford @carolynchan @ian_loon @vinoaj

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  11. […] more confusing. So I did some research. I found this article from October 2008, which is called How to integrate a digital agency into a traditional one. Among some of the points that THIS post brings […]