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Agencies Need to Embrace Digital Even If It’s Uncomfortable

Authors: Jay Baer Jay Baer
Posted Under: Content Marketing
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Excellent post by Bart Cleveland on the AdAge Small Agency blog recently about Comfort Zones.

Bart made the point that if you get too careful and comfortable in your agency, you won’t attract clients that are looking for innovative work. There’s no question this is true. His post used “risky” or groundbreaking creative as the benchmark, but I’d say what services an agency provides is perhaps an even better measure of its Comfort Zone.

Digital marketing is NOT comfortable for most “traditional” advertising and PR firms. I get that. I’ve lived it. But, given the fact that digital marketing is growing extremely fast at the expense of other tactics, and given the fact that this will be even more acute in a down economy, agencies’ resistance to fully embrace digital is confusing.

The vast majority of agency principals are very smart folks. I know this to be true. They are good businesspeople, and great marketers. They clearly recognize that digital is taking a larger and larger share of the pie every year, and that digital-only shops are a growing threat.

Thus, if the awareness is there, I conclude that fear and uncertainty is the obstacle for most agencies to really get going on digital.

Digital Marketing is Like Learning French

In my experience, many agency leaders are immediately overwhelmed by the dizzying array of numbers, vendors, acronyms and general craziness inherent in digital marketing. I absolutely understand that coming at digital head on can be frustrating and baffling.

But, there’s an awful lot of jargon and insider knowledge in traditional advertising and PR too, and agency principals managed to pick that up somewhere.

True, digital marketing has a lot of specific terms. But if you can learn a foreign language, or learn how to write up a media plan, you certainly can figure out digital marketing basics.

It’s Not Different. It’s The Same.

The number one mistake that I see agencies make is to treat digital totally differently than other elements of their organization. In a lot of shops, it’s like Area 51. The digital guys are separated, quarantined and viewed with a mix of reverence and curiosity.

This causes two huge problems.

– Your digital guys have almost no oversight because nobody can speak their language
– You never really integrate digital into the fabric of the agency or even at a campaign level, because your “traditional” teams don’t understand or work closely with the digital teams.

There’s no other marketing tactic that gets treated this way. Would you hire a single radio expert and put them in a corner of the office and only deal with them when necessary and then say “okay radio guy, I don’t understand this very well, but do your stuff.” Of course not.

Ultimately, digital marketing is just that… The same rules apply. Figure out the characteristics of prospective customers. Figure out how to most efficiently reach them. Craft messages that matter to them. Deliver those message. The main difference between traditional and digital marketing is the ability to measure success definitively, and that’s an advantage that should be embraced by agencies.

Many agencies are beginning to implement digital marketing tactics on their own behalf, using themselves as guinea pigs to develop greater digital prowess and confidence. This is an approach advocated by Michael Gass at Fueling Ad Agency New Business who works with agencies to set up their own blogs.

If you’re not fully embracing digital, why not? Leave a comment.

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