Steve Henry over at Brand Republic discusses in a very intriguing article an idea that I have been pondering for a couple of years, ever since I was asked about the future of the relationship between Digital Agencies and Clients at an eConsultancy panel. UPDATE: eConsultancy has joined the debate with Agency – the new four-letter word.
Aging Digital pioneers
The idea goes like this: Digital was supposed to be the promised land of innovation and opportunity. But then the pioneers developed bald patches and beer bellies, and traditional players entered the market with deep pockets, bulldozing the pristine ladscape and installing their prefab ideas from another medium.
Steve’s blog quotes Richard Stacy talking about advertising being the answer to a question nobody ever asked. I’m not sure I fully agree with Richard: advertising has worked wonders for some advertisers, especialy in a world where broadcast TV was at the centre of every house. But the world has changed, and the arms-length, mass produced, standardised offline advertising model doesn’t fit the fluid nature of the online environment.
We are at a crossroads in the evolution of the commercial Internet: large advertisers and agencies could end up dominating the environment, imposing standards on content and media formats to fit the needs of the advertiser pushing the Net’s version of the 30 second clip. Or we could be around the corner from a new flourishing of creativity, engagement and dialogue.
To quote Richard again, we could stop stop thinking of media as something you buy and move to a world where we see ourselves, the advertiser as creating experiences. To me, this means no longer separating your message, your product and your brand. It’s all part of your organisational persona, and it is way too precious to give to anyone to manage for you. The barriers to entry of the old world made the agency a necessity and a generation later nobody knew any different than doing Marketing the way it’s always been done. Advertising had turned in a utility, and lost a lot of its sheen and power in the process. Now that those barriers have been shattered, agencies need to reinvent themselves to keep adding value to thir clients. It’s all about the caliber of their people and their ability to engage. But in a people game, they run the risk of losing their human capital to their customers and end up removed from the value equation altogether. Richard highlights the example of Dell, who apparently have 40 staff members running their social media presence. No need for an agency in there, it would seem.
The new Digital client
Now we have a responsibility to rewrite the rules of the game, and it may be that we end up playing a very diffwerent game indeed. I, for one, wil continue dreaming of a future where Digital is at the core of what we do and eBusinesses nurture, develop and expand their Digital capability in a new ecosystem of complex interactions between client, consumer and specialists.
Wil the agency monolith give way to the network? Will clients seize this opportunity and engage with the medium and their customers in an open, productive way? Let me know what you think in the comments. Engage!