Digital: All talk no digital

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 29 September 2006 12:00AM

While agencies are keen to assert their commitment to cutting-edge, integrated digital thinking, how many can actually back it up? Lucy Aitken can't find many.

Digital used to be the gorilla in the ad agency reception. Today, being able to service clients in digital as well as analogue media should no longer be that bit in the creds that gets glossed over, but a key plank in agencies' business strategy.

Those agencies that are emotionally attached to a bygone era of TV and press need to change their mindsets.

There is no one way to supply clients with the digital capability that they increasingly seek. Some networked ad agencies favour a collaborative approach, working alongside direct agencies from within the same holding company (Leo Burnett, Euro RSCG), while others have formed alliances with digital agencies (Mother, Bartle Bogle Hegarty). Surprisingly few agencies have an in-house digital function (Clemmow Hornby Inge, VCCP).

Many defend this approach by saying that creative teams are encouraged to think across all media; putting digital in a silo is at odds with how people consume media. Indeed, logic dictates that, when an appropriate digital strategy comes from an in-house creative team, as long as the implementation is well managed by a third party and the client is happy with the end result, how an agency got there is academic.

Yet, all too often, the decision not to have in-house expertise can seem a convenient excuse behind which agencies hide - particularly those whose digital credentials remain unproven, or where the creative department prefers working on more familiar turf.

So what of media agencies (see next page)? Whereas the planning functions of their digital teams can show sparks of imagination, buying is often their Achilles heel. Agencies tend to buy in bulk from the big-name sites - Yahoo!, MSN et al - rather than investigating more niche sites that could deliver a more targeted media buy.

It is encouraging to see certain media agencies putting digital at the heart of their business strategies as they reposition themselves better to service client needs.

But cynics would say this could be more to do with favourable commissions than a passion for digital media. Either way, the world is changing, and the faster agencies fully grasp the implications, the better.

SCORE KEY: 7 Outstanding; 6 Excellent; 5 Good; 4 Satisfactory; 3 Adequate; 2 Below average; 1 Poor

HOW GOOD ARE ADVERTISING AGENCIES' DIGITAL DEPARTMENTS?

- AMV BBDO

AMV inked a joint venture with the US digital shop iChameleon Group in April and then appointed Alistair Beattie, a senior planner at Wheel, to the new post of director of digital strategy. It commissioned Lean Mean Fighting Machine to create an Alien microsite for Wrigley's, yet there's been little other notable digital output. With Beattie and iChameleon now in place, the agency needs to show what it can do.

How AMV rates itself: 5

"Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO stepped up the pace in 2006 and is committed to integrating digital at the core of its creative and strategic thinking."

Campaign score: 3

- BBH

BBH has had a 25 per cent stake in Dare since 2000. The two agencies collaborate on Diageo, Vodafone, Woolworths and Barclays; notable work includes Axe's "feather". BBH says it is reviewing its in-house strategic and creative capability - a sensible move now that clients' digital needs are growing.

How BBH rates itself: 7

"BBH is proud of its relationship with Dare and awards a high score for Dare's brilliance."

Campaign score: 6

- CHI

CHI's digital team expanded from three to ten in 2006; appointments included Tequila's Thiago de Moraes, who joined as the digital creative director. CHI's more integrated approach is evident in work such as the ubiquitous Free Broadband campaign for Talk Talk, but creative output could be stronger.

How CHI rates itself: 6

"Our digital practice has transformed CHI. Digital thinking is now at the heart of our business."

Campaign score: 3

- DDB

Tribal DDB, the network's established digital arm, was appointed to Unilever's global roster in August, as well as contributing to DDB's successful pitches for Getty Images and Garmin. Craig Morgan joined as the client services director from Arc Worldwide.

How DDB rates itself: 6

"2006 is Tribal London's tenth anniversary and it is on pace for 100 per cent revenue growth from 2005."

Campaign score: 5

- EURO RSCG LONDON

Through a complex network arrangement, Euro RSCG London is affiliated with the catchily named Euro RSCG 4D Digital. 4D merged with the direct shop EHS Brann in 2005 and occupies separate headquarters. Euro RSCG London works with 4D on clients including bmibaby and News International. Euro RSCG would benefit from in-house digital expertise based at the agency.

How Euro RSCG rates itself: 6

"One year post-merger, we're firing on all cylinders."

Campaign score: 3

- GREY

Digital highlights of Grey's year include AOL's "discuss" campaign and the Pringles "Keepy Uppy" microsite. Grey and Joshua G2 claim six new-business wins and double-digit growth, mostly from existing accounts such as Nokia and Procter & Gamble. Off the back of its work, particularly with "discuss", the agency should be working harder to push its digital credentials.

How Grey rates itself: 5

"Ideas and holistic solutions are at the heart of our business."

Campaign score: 3

- JWT

JWT works with RMG Connect, which is based at JWT HQ and is responsible for work such as HSBC's Your Point Of View site. Despite some impressive work from RMG Connect, the UK's second-largest advertising agency should be investing in its own capability.

How JWT rates itself: 3

"Digital has grown hugely this year. The world is changing fast so there's no room for complacency."

Campaign score: 2

- LEO BURNETT

Burnett's creative director, Jim Thornton, has built an environment where the idea comes first, the channel second. This was best evidenced in Leo Burnett's teen road safety campaign, which was shot on mobile phones, and collected an impressive haul of awards. Digital work is executed via collaboration with the marketing services arm Arc; the creative teams share a floor.

How Leo Burnett rates itself: 5

"Three D&AD silvers and a Future Marketing Awards gold show we're not just digitally capable, we're digitally excellent."

Campaign score: 3

- LOWE LONDON

Lowe works alongside other Interpublic agencies to fulfil its clients' digital requirements, citing its work on Stella - on which it collaborates with Draft - as a case in point. It also works with the respected IPG shop R/GA on Nokia. Despite the advantages of a collaborative approach, Lowe could certainly benefit from upping the digital ante internally.

How Lowe London rates itself: 5

"We are used to producing ideas which work in the digital space, working alongside sister agencies or other specialist companies."

Campaign score: 2

- M&C SAATCHI

Play, a 20-strong joint venture between M&C Saatchi and itraffic, was formed in January last year. In May, Play won a brief to reposition Ribena as a drink for adults, and work for ITV included a brief to make Coronation Street appealing to younger viewers. While Play is clearly performing well, integration with M&C Saatchi could be better.

How M&C Saatchi rates itself: 5

"Play has seen consistent growth in revenue and profitability. It's been a decent start but there's much more to come."

Campaign score: 4

- MCCANN ERICKSON

In March, McCann set up Chrome Digital, an in-house production facility, to work with creative teams on ideas for new communications channels for clients such as Xbox and Mastercard. McCann has yet to prove what it can do in the digital space, though.

How McCann Erickson rates itself: 4

"With the launch of Chrome Digital, we help clients work with teams to develop cutting-edge digital content."

Campaign score: 3

- MOTHER

Mother's digital output is handled via its digital sister agency, Poke, in a collaboration that has existed for five years. A creative highlight, "talking point" for Orange, won a Webby in New York. The relationship appears to be solid despite a lack of exclusivity: both agencies work with other shops.

How Mother rates itself: 6

"We couldn't be more proud of our digital sister."

Campaign score: 6

ADVERTISING AGENCIES

- OGILVY & MATHER

Ogilvy Interactive, which supports O&M's digital requirements, is now fully integrated into OgilvyOne. A "digital academy" is dedicated to training staff in the fundamentals of digital, while integrated new-business wins have included Avis and easyJet. There appears to be genuine cohesion and collaboration in Canary Wharf.

How Ogilvy & Mather rates itself: 6

"We are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in bringing digital into the heart of the agency."

Campaign score: 6

- PUBLICIS

Publicis' digital work is handled by Publicis Dialog. Creative highlights include Renault's "still shaking it" virals and work for the British Army. Wins include a COI brief to revamp the Financial Services Authority's website and it continues to win awards for HP and the Army. Starting to promote itself better.

How Publicis rates itself: 4

"Our existing clients come first, but in addition, we are putting ourselves on digital shortlists where new prospects are looking for great work."

Campaign score: 4

- RKCR/Y&R

Two digital creative teams work under the executive creative director, Ben Priest. Creative highlights include virals for Virgin Mobile and an iTV ad for Virgin Trains. Priest encourages an integrated approach, but the agency will need to show more willing if is going to compete with agencies with stronger digital arsenals.

How RKCR/Y&R rates itself: 4

"Client needs have necessitated our venture into digital. With increasing experimentation throughout the agency, our digital work speaks for itself."

Campaign score: 2

- SAATCHI & SAATCHI

Neil Hughston joined from Tribal DDB in October last year to head Saatchi Interactive and works alongside the executive creative director, Kate Stanners. In June, it won 3M and a £1 million Toshiba laptop task. Though late to the game, Saatchis finally has a decent offering. The search is now on for an interactive creative director.

How Saatchis rates itself: 4

"We are set up for what should be a groundbreaking 2007."

Campaign score: 4

- TBWA\LONDON

TBWA claims to be fully integrated with Agency.com; they are allegedly collaborating on two projects and pitch together, although there's nothing concrete yet, barring four desks at TBWA for Agency.com staff. Agency.com works primarily on BA, BT, Dulux and John Lewis - none of which are on TBWA's roster.

How TBWA\London rates itself: 5

"TBWA is fully integrated with Agency.com and so far it is a great marriage. Highlights for '06 include a series of new-business wins and continued work of excellence for clients such as BA, BT and COI."

Campaign score: 2

- WCRS

Meme was spawned by WCRS's creative department. In 2006, they collaborated on 3, BMW and 118 118; a creative highlight was a Honda "choir" spoof starring the famous 118 118 runners. Meme also works independently of WCRS on accounts including Sainsbury's Bank.

How WCRS rates itself: 5

"New business has been good and creative is of a consistently high quality. Integration remains a strong point, but self-promotion a weak one."

Campaign score: 4

... AND WHAT ABOUT THE UK'S BIGGEST MEDIA AGENCIES?

- CARAT

Carat Digital's joint managing directors, Henry Rowe and Ben Wood, have been in place for a year and their record is impressive so far: the 45-strong team has picked up £15 million in new business, including Abbey and Yahoo!. Billings for 2006 are forecast to be £50 million.

How Carat rates itself: 6

"Carat Digital has enjoyed a bumper year: ten new-business wins and no losses, clients, billings and team size doubled."

Campaign score: 6

- PHD

PHDiQ recruited Clare Hutchings, the marketing manager at Lycos, to run Sainsbury's and Yell.com and is about to announce a new deputy managing director. It invested heavily in integrated planning and analysis tools, and helped PHD to hang on to bmi. It integrates well with PHD.

How PHD rates itself: 5

"PHDiQ retained the bmi account, increased billings by 78 per cent and doubled its head-count."

Campaign score: 4

- INITIATIVE

Danny Donovan, Initiative's head of digital, became the agency's deputy managing director as part of a wider commitment to put integration at the core of Initiative's planning function. Digital played a role in securing wins including Burger King and Fujitsu Siemens. This brave new structure has given Initiative a new lease of life.

How Initiative rates itself: 5

"'Digital at our heart' has successfully delivered media firsts and played a pivotal role in winning new ones."

Campaign score: 4

- STARCOM

Starcom Digital lost the Barclays business when the bank transferred its media buying to Walker Media in March, but the subsequent Procter & Gamble and ntl wins helped to plug the gap. Starcom Digital claims to be well integrated with the main agency, but this integration could benefit from being better promoted.

How Starcom rates itself: 5

"Starcom Digital has seen 40 per cent growth in both billings and staff. The departure of Barclays has had no significant adverse effect."

Campaign score: 4

- MEDIACOM

Media.Com has hired 32 people so far this year and is growing its expertise in areas such as podcasting and mobile, as well as search for clients such as RBS Group and Nokia. It also bought in-game advertising for T-Mobile's Mates Rates, proving its healthy attitude towards experimentation.

How MediaCom rates itself: 6

"2006 has seen Media.Com double in size, with significant wins in the financial sector, and the creation of a search and affiliates team."

Campaign score: 5

- UNIVERSAL MCCANN

The digital veteran and former agency managing director Damian Blackden became the executive vice-president, director of strategic marketing technologies, across EMEA as Universal upped the ante on digital under its worldwide boss, Nick Brien. The spotlight is now on an integrated approach. Now the restructuring has been done, new business must head the agenda.

How UM rates itself: 5

"Digital sits at the core of Universal McCann."

Campaign score: 4

- MINDSHARE

MindShare Interaction launched as part of the agency's House of Media proposition in January. It pledged its commitment - albeit tardily - to ensure that digital media are considered for every brand within the agency. Wins to date include Napster, and appointments have included the chairman of the mobile marketing association, Nick Wiggin.

How MindShare rates itself: 6

"We lead the market in innovation and testing new technologies."

Campaign score: 4

- WALKER MEDIA

In January, Walker launched a dedicated online division, Walker - i, which had been a long time coming. Still, Walker picked up Barclays and made some good hirings, including Diffiniti's Mark Syal to head Walker - i. The head count is now 20, so Walker appears to be making up for lost time, but it has yet to prove what it can do.

How Walker Media rates itself: 3

"We have strengthened our digital proposition with the launch of Walker - i."

Campaign score: 2

- OMD

OMD Digital services the OMD group, including Manning Gottlieb OMD and OMD UK. This year, it also created OPera Digital, a buying unit with £100 million in billings. OMD Digital won 20 new clients, including Bosch and Sony BMG. Its confidence is embodied in branching out beyond online advertising into less familiar territory, including instant messenger and adver-gaming.

How OMD rates itself: 5

"The OMD group step-changed its offering to put digital at the heart of the agencies."

Campaign score: 5

- ZENITHOPTIMEDIA

Zed is ZenithOptimedia's direct and digital arm and has been under Greg Grimmer's management since 2004. Staff now number 100, with most working on ZenithOptimedia's core clients. The work it produces is imaginative, but Zed could benefit from better self-promotion.

How Zenith rates itself: 6

"Going fromgood to great is a fascinating journey, especially in digital. Great clients make it easier. Fantastic people make it possible. Must try harder, as Bernbach said."

Campaign score: 6.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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