Ad agencies don’t do digital and technology

Reading all the reports from the Dreamforce Technology and Social Media conference, recently held in San Francisco, the comments lead the way to a traditional ad industry desperately in need of reinventing itself or making way for more tech-savvy service companies.

In local industry title Ad News, the chief marketing officer of CBA, Andy Lark, is pondering whether the traditional agencies are too traditional, beyond a conversation about Facebook.

At the conference, Salesforce was applauded as a leader in social business, transforming the approach to marketing strategies for companies like Virgin, Burberry and Activision. Add to this Nick Brien, CEO of McCann Worldwide, accepting the race was already underway: “Is it the technologists who get to the brand first or is it the brand agencies that get to the technology?”

Turning the page and John McLean, digital producer at Leo Burnett, is asking why Australia’s digital and interactive offerings in the awards are not winning any awards, “one single Cyber Lion in three years”.

To be honest, if all this isn’t a wake-up call to the advertising and media industry – that they are not indestructible in this digital era, and need to change culture, people and thinking, as well as process – I am not sure what is.

The first critical issue is that the brand and media agencies need to employ people who get the technology and how to best implement it strategically. Those types of people don’t sit well in an agency culture or they would be there already. They are generally found doing clever stuff from a small local office, a home office or inventing things in their garage and not dreaming about the bright lights of advertising.

So people are the first challenge. Buying them in isn’t a solution, because culturally it’s not a natural home for them.

Next issue is these agencies are large, huge global organizations with entrenched processes, payment models and systems. They are struggling to transform with the pace and changes of the digital era, just like many of their large global clients. Marketing in the digital era requires completely different thinking to how these companies are set up and how their revenues are structured.

Thinking is the next issue. Creating a digital strategy is not marketing in isolation; it is transforming marketing into social marketing. This means marketing and brand cuts across and blends into customer service being brand, word-of-mouth being brand, direct marketing is social-CRM, employees are marketing, usability (UX) experience is marketing, I could go on. This doesn’t even consider the impact on media, the whole concept of media buying and PR has shifted completely as earned organic social media and recommendation is by far, more valuable.

It changes how strategy is formulated and delivered, as the strategic skills required is an understanding of the behavioural science associated with digital interfaces coupled with strong business analytical skills. Add to this a strong knowledge of the digital channel and technology; this is a different person to the ad guy.

It’s no wonder the debate ended up here. It’s been coming for a while and discussed in hushed tones across boardrooms for some time. Now it is being publically debated, who will win, the Geek or the Ad Man?

Fi Bendall is the managing director of digital and interactive consultancy company Bendalls Group. With over 20 years’ experience, Bendall has worked with global brands including BBC and Virgin, and is an expert in how businesses can approach strategy in the digital world. You can follow her on Twitter at @FiBendall, and can contact her through Bendalls Group.



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.